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Hitching a ride with Road 96: Mile 0 – the prologue we’re not sure we need


We had a whale of a time with Road 96. It was a narrative adventure from 2022 that didn’t relax into the habits of the genre, as it sliced up its story and made something approximating a roguelike with them. Characters would come and go, and whether you made it to the end of your journey – past the borders of Petria – was dependent on how well you handled your interactions. It set its ambitions high, and although the tech and engine had a hard time keeping up, it was one of our more memorable games of that year. Go play it, if you haven’t had the chance.

Developers Digixart clearly love their creation. In choosing their next game, they have returned to the Road 96 universe, and primarily to one of its main characters, Zoe. The red-headed runaway would often cross paths with you on your journey through Petria, and she was a compassionate standout among the serial killers, revolutionaries and criminals that you met on the road. She makes for a wise choice as a protagonist for Road 96: Mile 0. She’s joined by a deeper cut from DigixArt’s back catalogue, in the form of Kaito from Lost Harmony, their first game and a rhythm action experience that never quite made it to Xbox. “We wanted to focus on two teenagers and what creates the moment they leave, and what happens when they do”, says creative director Yoan Fanise, who introduced our playthrough of roughly two hours of Road 96: Mile 0.

road 96 mile 0 keyart

Road 96 always had its eyes forwards, looking towards a brighter future and escaping the dictatorial rule of President Tyrak. So, we will admit to being a little surprised that Digixart pressed rewind on the walkman rather than fast-forward. They’re taking us back a couple of months before the events of Road 96, to a time before President Tyrak’s re-election, before a sandstorm rolled across the country, and when Zoe was perfectly happy in her upper-class surroundings of White Sand. “The experience will be five to seven hours long – shorter than Road 96. You can play it in one night. Being shorter allows us to polish more; when you’re procedural, it becomes harder to make a story that makes sense” Fanise says.

The theme is also not political anymore. This is more focused on the mindset of these two characters. They are coming from two different backgrounds, poor and rich backgrounds, and you are going to be able to change their minds, influence their way of life – impact on their mindsets”. So, out go the gauges that represented money and hunger. The emphasis is not on survival, or whether or not you will succeed in your journey. Instead, Road 96: Mile 0 is more of a traditional adventure where success is effectively guaranteed. The only bar you will be managing is one that represents doubt about the current regime, or a belief in it. Swinging the pendulum from one way to the other unlocks dialogue options and alternate paths. 

From our time playing the supplied couple of hours of PC gameplay, DigixArt have a challenge in making us care. Take the dialogue options. They tend to be split between supporting the government or being more dubious about them. But we’ve come from Road 96 which is pretty black and white about the crimes of Tyrak’s dictatorship. We had no impulse to cozy up with the regime, and that made dialogue – and the gauge that supports it – a bit one-sided. Finding a way to make interesting choices is going to be a mighty challenge for Digixart.

road 96 mile 0 screen 1

The protagonist in Road 96 was also relatively mute – the focus was on the motley characters. And that was fine: the other characters were more than up to the task. In Road 96: Mile 0, Zoe becomes the main character and is effectively muted as a result. If you’re a fan of Zoe or want to hear more from her, then you might be disappointed as she’s always present, but rarely talking. 

The loss of the roguelike also means that Road 96: Mile 0 has more of a traditional Life is Strange-like structure, which comes with a nagging sense that we’re not having an impact on events: we’re on a rollercoaster. That’s understandable, but also loses one of the major elements that made Road 96 shine. Success was never inevitable. When you factor in how locked to the environment you often feel – Road 96: Mile 0 likes to shove you in a chair or sofa and keep you there – the events can all feel a tad static. 

There was a lot that we found inauspicious about Road 96: Mile 0 from the two-hour demo. But DigixArt have time to iron things out, and we got the sense that the game was developing; we were very much at the beginning of Zoe and Kaito’s journeys. Who knows where the story might lead, and Digixart have a habit of holding back cards until the narrative demands them. 

A couple of those cards are present in the build we played, and these point to a shinier future. More so than the first game, Road 96: Mile 0 is playing around with imagined and heightened sequences. Simple events get seen through an exaggerated lens. There’s a killer sequence that leans into the ‘80s hit Paperboy, and it had us spraying coke out of our nose. But the real winners are some dream-sequences that play out in Hi-Fi RUSH-style rhythm action sequences.

road 96 mile 0 screen 2

Ratchet and Clank fans may also get a kick out of these sequences, as they adopt the same out-of-the-camera perspectives and grindrail-hopping that the series like to dabble with. But they’re to the beats of a soundtrack that is just as varied and killer as they were in Road 96. Road 96: Mile 0 loves to play subversive games with the track, distracting you with hulking bodyguards stomping around or paths completely dissolving, and this cheekiness completely elevates the rhythm action stuff. 

It’s here that we slapped the knee and went ‘this is more like it!”. With some surprisingly recognisable bands in there (we’re on the fence about spoiling one for you: let’s just say that Crazy Taxi fans will nod with appreciation to one track), they could make up for shortfalls in other areas. “Music is emotion. We wanted to have different colours in the game, so we looked for different composers and bands. It’s a rainbow of emotions”, explains Yoan Fanise.

So, we’re wobbly on Road 96: Mile 0 so far. When it lets its imagination run riot, you can see the potential. But when it returns to reality, there’s a bump. We need convincing that there’s a compelling story to be told, away from the dream sequences and minigames, that will feel like anything other than a dead end. As a sequel to a game that was all about open roads and multiple possibilities, it’s perhaps more worrying than we had hoped. 

Huge thanks go out to DigixArt for inviting us to their presentation and allowing the opportunity to spend a few hours with Road 96: Mile 0 on PC. 

Road 96: Mile 0 is coming to Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch and PC on April 4th 2023. Stay tuned for a full review. 

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