Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Death Road to Canada Review (XONE)

Death Road to Canada is most easily described as The Oregon Trail with zombies, but it’s much more than that. Hitting the road to Canada in any ol’ jalopy you can find, picking up survivors along the way, mourning said survivors when the inevitably die, stopping for supplies, and smashing through thousands of zombies along the way is an absolute treat here. Since it is procedurally generated it’s different every time, too, with unique events and level layouts and even unique survivors, Death Road to Canada is extremely fun and addictive and will keep you playing for a long, long time in solo and local co-op play. Death Road to Canada is awesome.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Ukiyo Publishing
  • Developer: Rocketcat Games
  • ESRB Rating: “T for Teen
  • Genre: Roguelike
  • Pros: Sense of humor; great presentation; replay value; co-op; rare characters
  • Cons: Brutal difficulty
  • MSRP: $15

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The idea behind Death Road to Canada is pretty simple. Zombies have taken over the world and rumors suggest Canada is the safest place to go so you load up the car and hit the road. The only problem is that it takes 14-days to get there so you’ll have to scrounge up food and fuel as often as possible and try to get some rest as often as you can even as the undead creep ever closer.

The gameplay is split between a couple of sequences – driving (or walking if you car breaks down), and exploring and fighting zombies. The driving sections happen automatically and feature conversations between characters as well as moments where you have to make decisions about stuff. Decisions include whether to stop at a trading camp, who should stand guard at night, whether to pick up a survivor or not, where to go next, and many other things.

The action sequences play like an oldschool three-quarter perspective beat-em-up where you pick up guns and melee weapons and smash and shoot your way through hordes of zombies while looking for new supplies. You always, always, always need more food, better weapons, gas, and medical supplies, so exploring every nook and cranny of each level is vital. It is incredibly thrilling to find a big stash of supplies or some cool new weapon and the carrot of new loot can really get you hooked.

What makes Death Road to Canada so interesting is that in addition to the world and loot distribution being totally random, the characters you meet are randomized as well based on a huge number of perks and personality traits and varying ability levels (not to mention their looks). Because your party will always be made up of different mixes of character traits, every playthrough plays out differently even if the same scenarios start to repeat. Seeing how differently things can be based on just a few slightly different variables is another thing that makes Death Road to Canada so addictive and fun. You can make your own custom characters if you’d like, but I kind of like just letting random chance take over most of the time.

Something else I have really enjoyed is the possibility of meeting unique characters based on real world characters or archetypes. Along my travels I’ve met a girl in a Godzilla costume, Garfield the cat, creepy clowns, macho body builders, an anime magical girl, an alien, an armored knight, and many more. Normally your chances of meeting these unique characters is fairly low, but you can also play on a special mode that makes them more prevalent (and can potentially make the game easier), which is awesome.

With all of that said, however, one thing needs to be made clear – Everyone is definitely going to die so getting too attached to the characters isn’t a good idea. The game is brutally hard to the point that it seems unfair sometimes. Just when you have a ton of food, great weapons, everyone at full health, and on day 13 with just a few hours left and you think you’re going to survive, the game will throw an extra long siege sequence (where you have to fight zombies for a long time and can’t escape) at you and everyone dies. Confession time – even after playing dozens of rounds I’ve never actually made it to Canada. A full 14-day playthrough can take roughly 35-minutes or so (just estimating based on how close I've come), so constantly dying and re-trying does eat up some time, but you won't mind if the game gets its hooks into you.

One final important note is that your party constantly changes over the course of a playthrough. You can have a maximum of 4 characters at a time, which means sometimes you might have to kick someone out to make room for a newcomer, but more likely someone will die to make an opening. There is so much death and character swapping in the game, in fact, that the chances of you making it to Canada with the character you started with are extremely low. Some people may find this frustrating and disappointing that you can’t really make connections to your characters, but that just isn’t the type of game this is. I think it’s fine.

Presentation-wise, Death Road to Canada is pretty incredible all around. It looks like a blocky (however many “bits” it is) oldschool beat-em-up with great character sprites and solid environments. There can be dozens of zombies onscreen and the game never skips a beat, though it can sometimes get so hectic that it is hard to tell what is going on. The sound is also great with an awesome and very catchy soundtrack.

All in all, Death Road to Canada is awesome. It’s difficult and occasionally seems unfair in how brutal it can become at the drop of a hat, but that is the nature of roguelikes. What is more important is that it does a ton of clever things to keep you coming back and the lure of interesting new characters, fun new weapons, and constantly changing scenarios make it incredibly addictive even if you never actually make it to Canada. Toss in a solid local co-op mode and you have a real winner here. And for just $15 it is kind of a no-brainer anyway. Death Road to Canada is highly recommended for a purchase.   
Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher