Recently we were approached by Rocketcat, the developer of Death Road to Canada to review their title relaunch on Playstation 4. At the time, I thought the game was new, it somehow never finding its way into my Steam queue despite a few rogue-like games being in my library. For those that don’t know, Death Road to Canada is a randomly generated road trip action-RPG. It runs very similar to rogue like games, where death is permanent and there’s no chance for replaying a bad section. The objective is to travel from Florida and escape to Canada, where the rumor is that the country is safe from the zombie hordes. I wasn’t sure what to expect off the title alone, so I decided to simply jump into the game.
Mechanically, the game plays much like a standard rogue-like. You start with a small party, some weapons and starter supplies, and then it’s off you go. It does deviate from the standard formula however, which help makes it stand out. First, there’s a stamina system in place. Each character uses an unseen amount of stamina to swing whatever weapon that they’re wielding. As the character tires, the time between swings increases as well as the damage. The only way for the player to know that their character is getting tired, aside from the fact that what took two hits to down you’re now apparently giving love taps to with your cricket bat, is to look at the face of their character. As they tire, their face gets ready and sweat begins to drop. It eventually will recover, but if you’re like me and go wading into a horde with a cock-sure attitude and my aforementioned cricket bat you learn it the hard way. It’s not a bad feature, in fact despite the imminent danger I put myself in I found it refreshing that I had to pick and choose which fights that I took. Is it worth fighting these three zombies to raid that dresser for the chance of finding supplies or should I try and find a less populated room, was a fairly common question I found myself asking.
Even more so when I realized, rather abruptly, that your weapons also break. Turns out that durability is also a thing in this game. Which I also found out just as I was trying to escape a horde to get out of the area that I found myself in. While it makes sense, the fact that there is some warning that your weapon is going to break, was a little frustrating. I avoided even more fights because I was scared of my steadily decreasing “decent” weapon supply exhausting itself as I used them to cave in one zombie head after the other. Like the stamina system, I expected there to be a tell tale warning that my weapon was going to break, like parts of the item growing more and more haggard as I used it. I certainly wouldn’t wander into a good sized group of zombies with an umbrella that looked more like an ‘S’.
Much like the other rogue-like games out there, the difficulty of the game can be a little unforgiving. Since everything is randomly generated, the supplies that you need are influenced by what the game decides that you encounter. While it’s great that I evidently passed through several militant towns complete with army level bullet supply caches, I found it very hard for my car to run on them. Or my crew, I had a sizable cast of characters at one point, to heal their wounds by rubbing shotgun shells on them like an antibiotic. But the game does make it easier when you do have the option to stop and it gives you a list of locations, if you need food you’re more likely to find it at a “Y’all Mart” than the local gun shop.
Which does lead to my next point, and where I feel the game manages to stand out apart from other games like it, and that’s the choices systems. Before, in games like FTL, I didn’t feel the same thought needed to be put into the options that the game presented me, especially when I had certain modules that negated almost all of the threat. In this game, every choice you make needs to be properly thought out. For example, at one point I had the option of either learning a new skill or going to a gym. While I can’t be sure that it would have helped the physical attributes of my party, since I didn’t choose it, I think I would have preferred it over what I ended up getting. I’m not saying that I made the wrong decision, the skill I got turned out to be quite useful later and justified itself, but I was on the look out later for it since afterwards I was getting options to stay up late looking for supplies causing my group to become tired which depleted their stamina faster, and played a part in the death of my party.
So what advantage does a game being ported to a console have over the PC version? As I said before, I didn’t play the PC side so take this with a grain of salt. For this, the increased control that you get from using the analog sticks is superior to what I’m assuming is WASD controlled. The ability to adjust my angled movements on the fly allowed me to skirt past sections of a horde that I don’t think could have been done on a keyboard and mouse. By that extension, having my mouse available to orient my attack to exactly where I wanted was definitely a bonus since there isn’t as much guess of where I’m swinging. That said, the one failing that I found was the information feed between levels. I tried to read some of the comments but they were so large texted and only a few messages would stay on the screen. It made it confusing to know what was happening and bonuses that several characters were receiving would be buried by a constant updating stream. As always, if there are controlls for this I didn’t find them and I’m hoping that a quick jump into the settings options can fix that.
Overall, this is a solid game with just enough of a twist that you can use your skills from other rogue-likes but at the same time, have a different experience with it. The difficulty curve on this one is a little less steep than a brick wall, so it’s likely to scare off people who have never played games like this before. But then again, with how little the game tells you and lets you figure it out as you go, they are not the targeted audience for this game. Death Road to Canada will be released to the Playstation, Nintendo Switch and Xbox One. Also, for the first two weeks they’ll be selling it with a 20% discount, so don’t you’d better hurry and grab a copy for yourself. So if you’re looking for a road trip fraught with peril and a high chance of death, then hope over to the store and pick up a copy.