Road 96: Mile 0

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Ravenscourt
Developer: Digixart Entertainment
Release Date: April 4, 2023


As an Amazon Associate, we earn commission from qualifying purchases.

PC Review - 'Road 96: Mile 0'

by Cody Medellin on April 17, 2023 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Road 96: Mile 0 is the prequel to Road 96 that follows the original's narrative adventure roots while tying in heartfelt musical scenes.

Road 96 was a bit of a surprise when it came out. What looked like a simple but intriguing road trip adventure turned out to be a heavily political tale that kept people going with the cast of characters and situations. The game ended in a way that felt good as a self-contained story, so there wasn't a legion of people clamoring for a sequel. Road 96: Mile 0 isn't a sequel but a prequel to the roughly 18-month-old game, and while that prospect might seem to be full of stories, the result doesn't live up to that expectation.

Mile 0 takes place in 1996 in the country of Petria but is focused squarely on the capital of the country and two people instead of a nameless teenager. Zoe and Kaito are best friends who live in completely different conditions. Zoe is the daughter of the Minister of Oil and lives in the gated community of White Sands, which houses some of the more important people like President Tyrak. Kaito lives in the slums with the rest of the workers who aren't so privileged, often living in less-than-ideal conditions and discriminated against by those living in higher classes. The game takes place a few days before a big announcement by the president, when Zoe begins to notice Kaito running off without a trace and keeping a few secrets from her. As the announcement nears alongside an impending sandstorm, it'll be up to Zoe to see where she stands among all of this.

Those familiar with the first game will know how this one plays out, at least partially. The title plays from a first-person perspective, and most of your time is spent talking with others and selecting various options for just about every line of dialogue. Many options have icons next to them that affect which side of the belief meter you fall on, whether that's on the side of what you were raised with or on Kaito's side. You mostly start off in your hideout, an abandoned construction site near a large metal fence, but you can venture into other parts of the city to get the story moving along and pick up important details. There are also some minigames, such as hammering moving nails, chucking newspapers all around town, or playing Connect 4. There's a good amount to do, so the game feels like you're doing more than expected from a visual novel, but it's still akin to a full-blown point-and-click adventure title — at least not until you get close to the end.

The problem with prequels is that you have a good idea on how the story should end, especially since Zoe is a character you're already familiar with from the original game. You know that she ends up on a journey to the border wall to escape Petria, but Mile 0 aims to tell you why she's doing that. It also means that the choices that made Road 96 a standout among adventure fans is missing since the game is linear. Most of the decisions you make don't affect anything, and the ending sequence is the only time that you can affect the outcome. For a game with a predecessor that prided itself on living up to that "choices matter" tagline that is thrown around for most adventure games, it feels deflating to see this one go back on that ethos.

It's also disappointing that Mile 0 makes it painfully obvious which choices would be considered the right ones. Every character you meet outside of the main duo are extremely one-note and fall under the portrayals you'd expect from a corrupt dictatorship. The news reporters are fake, the cops are corrupt, the privileged are more than willing to put down everyone else. While you have options to be sympathetic to the government and believe the things that Tyrak says, it never makes sense to do any of that since Zoe has a rebellious nature. Combined with dialogue that hits bluntly, it all feels forced and the cameos from other Road 96 characters are so brief that their presence changes nothing.

The other half of the game consists of what the game calls psychedelic sequences, which should be familiar if you've played Lost in Harmony, the developer's first game. These sequences play out like endless runner sequences, and while there is music playing in the background, it's more of an aesthetic choice rather than transforming the sequences into rhythm games. For the most part, you duck, jump, and dodge obstacles while collecting icons for points. There are a few moments where these sequences sport Quick Time Events (QTEs) where you need to hit a button to be successful, but there's a lot of leeway for getting the timing right. One mistake will kill you, but the checkpoints are generous enough that you get close to your point of failure.

Mechanically, the sequences play well enough. There are a few spots later in the game where it can become difficult to see the things you're collecting since they match the environment color. There are also some spots where it's difficult to tell if you're supposed to duck or jump, since the camera angles are often poor, preventing you from being able to properly judge height and distance or even where things are appearing. The game lets you skip these sequences if you fail them enough times. Since only a handful of them are necessary for the story, some will lament the fact that they can't be skipped outright without the need for multiple level failures.

The presence of these sequences also highlights the big tonal shifts in the game. Some of the sequences play out fine, like when you're running away from your new bodyguard and imagine him becoming a giant while The Offspring plays in the background. Others have more upbeat tunes playing while you learn about the truth of life beyond the city. The game isn't afraid to go from deeply melodramatic to boisterous silliness in the blink of an eye, but that tonal whiplash never feels appropriate, especially with the game's overall short runtime of three hours.

Unlike most adventure games of this type, there's a reason to go back once you've completed the adventure. The most obvious reason is the multiple endings, and since the only important part that changes things is the final chapter, it isn't too big of a task to replay that to get all of the endings. The psychedelic sequences really are the main reason to go back, since they're all score-based, so those with a score-chasing arcade mentality might enjoy this part. There are no online leaderboards to compete in, but the game's Achievements are all tied to getting the highest ranking in every sequence, so it might be tempting for the Achievement completionists.

At least the presentation in Mile 0 doesn't stray from the original. The cartoon and semi-low-polygon look remain charming, but it benefits the characters more since the environments aren't that dazzling. There are still animation issues that appear when someone speaks, as it rarely looks like the mouth movements match the speech, but it's fine overall. The frame rate holds steady even during the big sandstorm that hits in the game's back half.

Considering that the press preview build was so close to the time period in which the full build would release, it is surprising to see that the performance on the Steam Deck has changed. The frame rate fluctuates between 40-60 and beyond, depending on if you're in a rhythm sequence or moving around open environments in a first-person perspective. Compared to the preview build having occasional pauses during gameplay, this is certainly preferred. The game can run for about two hours on the device from a full charge while still looking as good as what a full-blown PC would deliver on comparable resolutions. There are ways to squeeze a little more playtime from the game, but you'll need to do that on a system level, as the game's options are painfully sparse.

In the end, Road 96: Mile 0 doesn't quite pull together everything to create something that reaches the heights of the original title. The first-person exploration portions are flawed but fine, while the auto-runner sequences can be unfair but ultimately get a pass thanks to a skip feature. It is the uneven tone, characters, and story that sink the game, as it plays more to caricature and wild logic leaps rather than the original's more thought-out approach. The low asking price might be tempting for those looking for more from the world of Road 96, but ultimately, we were probably better off waiting for Digixart to create a brand-new project in a brand-new world.

Score: 6.0/10

More articles about Road 96: Mile 0
blog comments powered by Disqus