Now let me start right off the bat by saying that being Canadian offers absolutely no advantage when playing this game. None whatsoever. Now the premise is quite simple. The zombie apocalypse is goin’ down and your character has heard that Canada is safe, so he embarks on an undead-filled road trip northwards. Actually getting there intact? Not so simple. If you die on the Death Road to Canada, you’re gone for good. And if your whole party of survivors gets wiped out it’s back to the title screen for you thanks to our old pal Permadeath. So grab your weapons and your snacks, maybe a few friends and get ready for a life or death road trip with a heavy dose of humor. Think National Lampoon’s Vacation, but with zombies instead of Chevy Chase.
Before you jump into a new game there are a few things you can tinker around with to make your game more interesting. First and foremost, Death Road to Canada is a roguelike. Most of the game is randomized, from the maps and special events to the characters you may bump in to. So that means every playthrough will be a unique one. You can choose a randomized character if you want to just jump in, but the fun part is making use of the robust character creation system they have in place. There are a plethora of appearance options to mess around with to make sure you can take advantage of the 80 character save slots without having to make an army of clones, but these are just superficial. More importantly, you can customize your avatar with powerful perks and traits, but more on that later. Once you’ve chosen a character, you get to choose if you want to start off with an AI buddy or go it alone. This is a good option if you have a friend at your house and you want to take advantage of the drop in/drop out local co-op. Finally, you can choose which mode you would like to play. There are 10 different game modes but only 3 are unlocked when you initially start off. They are basically just modified versions of the normal game mode. One of the special modes you start off with is the Familiar Characters Mode. This is a cool one. Only the custom characters you created will show up in the game, so let’s say if you want to make characters after a bunch of your friends or a popular T.V. show, you choose this mode and randomly bump into them during your trip. Want to cruise through the apocalypse with Kevin Hart and The Rock? Sure, why not?
Now as for the trip itself, you have 15 days of driving until you make it to Canada, indicated by the number next to the clock in the top-left corner of the screen. Resource management is the most important aspect of the game. You’ll need to search for food to eat, gas for the car, meds to heal up when you take damage, and a steady supply of weapons and ammo. Most weapons are breakable, so that’s another thing to worry about. Scavenging is a necessity. At regular intervals, you’ll be given a choice of areas to investigate. The areas get more dangerous as you progress, with zombie hordes getting larger and more aggressive. You’ll get a notice telling you the size of the horde and how active they are. Up to 500 zombies can attack you at any given time, so things can get very tense, considering how fast they can kill you when you get surrounded. They also get more wound up at night, so you have to pay attention to the clock at all times. To exit an area you will need to get back to your car, which can get surrounded and damaged by zombies. While driving around you’ll also run into a variety of random events that require skill checks. These can result in good things happening, like characters joining you or acquiring valuable supplies. However, sometimes your characters can end up being injured and sometimes killed outright. It all depends on choosing the right person for the right job, which brings us to the next paragraph: skillz to pay the billz.
Not all characters are created equal. There are ten different stats to look at, but you usually can’t see how good the person is at something unless you either have a special ability that reveals the hidden value to you or you try a skill check. The values are denoted by a range of face emojis, which takes some getting used to. It would have been more convenient to have a grade scale, instead of wondering just how happy the happy faces get when the skill is maxed. Mechanical, shooting and fitness are the ones I like to keep an eye out for. The last thing you want to do is run out of energy when surrounded by a horde or break down on the road and have to walk. Once your car goes caput, you have to walk until you find a new one. The occurrence of negative events is much higher when walking so it is definitely something to be avoided if you want to have a better shot at succeeding. Each character has one personality trait and a perk. They can be quite powerful but also offer detrimental effects, like the perk T*S*T*C, for example. It starts you off with full strength and allows you to train it six times over the maximum level, but you cannot increase your fitness stat at all. You can assign these when creating a character, but they’re not all unlocked. You can unlock them from the main menu with zombo points, a special and rare currency found in the game and after certain special events. These unlocks apply for every character and new game so it’s a nice way to feel like you’re making progression instead of just dying repeatedly for no reason. Perks can also be leveled up by spending zombo points, so it gives you something to look forward to. I love the depth this gives to the characters. It goes a long way to making each one feel unique.
Death Road to Canada goes for the retro game-type aesthetic and pulls it off wonderfully. The pixels are not overly rough, so they’re fairly nice looking, probably closer to the 16-bit era than the 8-bit. The soundtrack is a lot better than I would have expected. It’s made up of a series of incredibly upbeat and catchy chiptune tracks, though there are a few more serious tracks to ratchet up the tension in the appropriate places. Still, it’s an infectiously groovy thing to listen to while busting zombie skulls. I was really quite surprised by this game, overall. I wasn’t expecting the depth of the mechanics and character customization, combined with the thrill of gathering supplies as fast as you can to avoid certain death at the hands of the zombie hordes. All the elements of Death Road to Canada come together to form an incredibly addictive experience. I can’t recommend this game highly enough!
Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 9/10
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