17th May2018

‘Death Road to Canada’ Review (NIntendo Switch)

by Britt Roberts

DRTC-screen

Chiptune surf rock greets you into the world of Death Road to Canada, and yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds (I still maintain that the Surf Coasters music for the Runabout series is one of the best in gaming, if only they’d tour in the UK…and release records on vinyl!). The game sees you form a rotating band of flawed individuals desperate to make the long journey from Florida to the assumed safety of Canada in the far north. Along the way you’ll laugh, you’ll weep in frustration….and you’ll die… a lot.

Death Road to Canada is a pixelated, cartoonish post-apocalyptic Oregon Trail with the challenge, depth and random events of Neo Scavenger crossed with a zany humour that reminded me of Super Hero League of Hoboken. Before hurtling along the roads in your rickety car on your journey, you can create a character (or randomly generate one, along with a ‘buddy’ to assist you if you are in a rush). The character generation is surprisingly detailed as along with the aesthetics of your character you also set traits and quirks that have an impact on the game such as the ability to calm dogs, add damage to shooting / melee attacks and others that may seem obscure but will come in surprisingly handy on your travels.

The game is split primarily into two parts. In the sections where you are driving (or on foot if you are unlucky enough to have lost your vehicle), your characters talk, bicker, eat food and happen upon random events that need solving. Aside from bandits, oddities, trader camps and the like, you’ll also get options to search a variety of locations that range from small towns and pet shops to hidden cabins and junkyards. The game will switch to a top-down view for these sections in which your aim is to scavenge as much food and gas as you can whilst picking up better weapons along the way with which to fight off the zombie hordes. Combat is quite satisfying and split into melee and ranged. You’ll find yourself wielding everything from zombie legs, knitting needles and planks of wood to hammers, katanas and cowboy rifles, all of which can be affected by your skill with the specific weapon. The zombies can be quite numerous and you’ll get an idea of what lies ahead before entering the location, the zombies can range from sparse to numerous and from calm to ravenously hungry, upping the difficulty ante to sometimes bewildering (and yet joyous) proportions. Alongside this is the day / night cycle which means sometimes having to use one up of your precious inventory slots for a flashlight to pierce the gloom.

Luckily, you’ll come across other survivors at trading camps and events that are willing to join you. These can range from randomly generated characters to your own custom creations and occasionally a vaguely familiar face, such as the blonde, spiky-haired ‘Nimbus Ordeal’ with his massively oversized sword…seems oddly familiar, somehow.

It’s important to keep the characters’ morale as high as possible as they can cause real issues for your group and even leave the party if they get too upset. It’s also oddly sad when you lose a character to the zombie hordes, especially if it’s a special character or one of your own creations. Considering the humourous tone of the game, the constant chat and banter between the characters along with their very defined personalities gives you an emotional connection that makes you want to keep them alive to the end, even though it’s clear that some will fall on the way to Canada (I still miss you, Arch the dog). Death Road to Canada is also two players and so a friend can join in as any one of the characters of your party, it’s an amazing addition (that I hope will be patched up to four in the future as that would be a game-changer) with the only downside that one player had to be the elected ‘leader’ at any one time, meaning that it is their character that the screen will follow mostly and it’s only this person that will be able to travel through doors in the game with the others following closely behind which can make for some awkward moments, especially when in the throes of a zombie attack, but whilst imperfect it definitely adds to the tension and is a most welcome addition.

Knowing that you cannot heal yourself unless you are on the road between scavenging hunts is also something to take into account. Depending on your medical knowledge, you may need most of your health packs to heal one hit (you can only take a few precious hits before popping your clogs) and the game features a sort of permadeath system whereby if all of your party falls, your game save is deleted, although you retain the ‘zombie-points’ that you’ve acquired which can be spend on unlocking new skills or upgrading existing ones.

“Oh, but where do you get the zombie points, Britt?” I hear you ask. Well, aside from luckily finding the occasional one scattered in rare locations, you obtain zombie points by successfully getting past the part of the game that really separates the jalapenos from the scotch bonnets…the siege.

Ah, the siege, how I learned to both love and loathe them. Ramping up in difficulty the further you get into the game (and thus, closer to sweet, sweet Canada), the siege is a sort of ‘end of level’ battle whereby you are locked in a confined space for a set amount of time and have to survive. The zombies are a constant wave and you’ll need your wits about you to last it out but when you do, the rewards are bountiful with a selection of prizes to choose from as well as extra zombie points to spend, easily one of the most fun and tense parts of the game.

As you can probably tell, I am a big fan of Rocket Cats’ Death Road to Canada. There were so many moments that stick in my memory:

  • Desperately trying to start a worn-out car as zombies ganged up, banging on the windows and doors.
  • Bumping into my created character, ‘Arthur P’, at a trading camp, taking him under my wing and then the sadness when he was defeated by a barrage of the undead (his sacrifice allowed the rest of us to run away)
  • The feeling of panic when a casual trip to a grocery store to pick up some food becomes increasing more desperate as you threaten to get overwhelmed by the hordes.
  • Travelling alone, the sole survivor of the latest siege and running low on gas and food whilst hoping to find help or temporary salvation on the long roads ahead.

Sprinkle on top of this the charm and humour that permeates throughout Death Road to Canada and you have a game that you’ll keep going back to again and again. Even reminding myself of how awesome the game is makes me want to get stuck straight back in. Easily a contender for my game of the year.

Right, I’m off to Canada, pass me that shotgun, would you?

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