Hitchhiking has always been a dangerous practice, as you never know what kind of people you could meet on the way or what are their intentions. Also, most hitchhikers tend to be on their own, tired, with not enough food or water, and sometimes having to spend the cold nights unsheltered. Still, hitchhiking may be your only option when you're running away from home and have no resources...
Did you ever imagine that someone would create a game about hitchhiking? Well, Road 96 is exactly that, but with a political twist!
What Are the Chances...?
Road 96 takes place in a fictional country called Petria that's governed by president Tyrak. He's an oppressor, he'll do whatever it takes to be re-elected, but his political party still has lots of followers. Since elections are around the corner—probably rigged, but at least they still have elections, right?—candidate Florres (a woman, and that's a lot to say in this context) places herself as the alternative. With nothing to look forward to and in fear of Tyrak's tyrannical rules, teenagers all over the country are trying to escape to a neighboring country.
While trying to flee Petria, you'll meet different people with completely different political stances. Some are okay with Tyrak's ideology, others try to encourage you to vote for a change, and other teenagers will be in your same position, only looking forward to crossing the borders. Since all events depend on luck, you never know what characters will ask for your help or put you in danger; plus, your actions may have an impact on them.
We have the rebellious teenager, a narcissistic TV presenter, a whiz kid who ran away from home, a suspicious trucker, a police officer, a dumb bandits duo, and a shady taxi driver. All their stories are connected, but it will take you several trips with different hitchhikers—and some clever thinking—to unearth their deepest hopes and fears.
Getting to Your Destination Is Nothing but the Beginning
Of course, not all teenagers will make it to the border, let alone cross it, but you learn something new on each run. If you help people, they may get you special items that will help you later on, even on a different character. For instance, police agent Fanny could leave a government pass that helps you deal with the cops, and vandals Stan and Mitch will give you a crowbar if you help them.
Just because escaping Petria appears as the most obvious goal doesn't mean that's the only one. Freedom is an important concept in this game, and that's why you are encouraged to try different things and follow different paths. You can be a hardcore Florres supporter, somehow side with Tyrak, or just show how much you hate the whole political system and stick the middle finger to both candidates. Vandalizing posters is tempting, but challenging people's beliefs is even more so. How much you roleplay is up to you, and there are several approaches to winning.
Road 96 is a game that makes you think, and not just for solving a puzzle. The gameplay and minigames are simple enough to concentrate on the dialogues, which really helps with immersion. Although Tyrak and his people are presented as indirect antagonists, you can still make your own choices, and that's why the story shines.
There's an event where Fanny is riding the bus as she transports a boy she just arrested—there's a separate event showing her car broke. In an attempt to get you on his side, the guy says he did nothing wrong other than just trying to escape the country; since you're on the same boat, you should help him... or do you? We won't tell you how this minigame plays out, but let's say it's difficult not to empathize with the cop once you learn more about her in other events. All in all, there are no wrong choices in Road 96; and if there are, you could easily justify yourself for not following the rules.
Surviving and escaping the cops is just a tiny part of the gameplay, and even if you succeed in your first attempt at crossing the border, there's always something new to try with your next character and new secrets to uncover.
Road 96, the thought-provoking indie game about hitchhiking, is now available on PC (via Steam) and Nintendo Switch.