Road 96: Mile 0 Review (PS5) – The Right Lane

Road 96: Mile 0 releases just under a year later and is a prequel to Road 96. The original game opened to wide acclaim, with its deeply emotive and unique approach to storytelling being the bulk of its high praise. For the uninitiated, Road 96 is an interactive story where you play an unnamed teenager meeting strangers on your road trip.

The original game is one I’ve recently picked up, but as is par for the course with being a grown up – with grown up responsibilities – it’s currently in the ever-expanding backlog. With that in mind, I’ll be referring to fellow Finger Gun critic Toby’s review. TLDR; The elements in the narrative had bright spots, but with no thorough line, and no story of your own meant the framework was lacking. As well as an abundance of minigames that felt like the devs weren’t as confident with just being a story. Needing active engagement to counter that.

I’m happy to report that most of these fair criticisms have been addressed – at a point. Mile 0 has ditched the roguelike element, as well as focusing on existing characters. A first time for Road 96, but a familiar style for Digixart, are the rhythm game sections. If the minigames frustrated you, I’m sorry but they’re still there. However, their implementation and the activities themselves are relevant and even enjoyable, except for Connect 4, I don’t even want to go there. What better place to start than the beginning, shall we?

Babylon’s Fallen

Like the first game, we’re back in the fictional country of Petria. More specifically the walled city of White Sands. The year is 1996, the city is hailed as a utopia by those who follow President Tyrak. So much so there are posters telling you how great it all is. Even ones exclaiming how safe you are because you’re constantly being watched. If you’re familiar with the first game, you know how totalitarian it all is. There’s a stark contrast between those who live in and those who work for White Sands.

The rich live in nice lavish big houses in a gated cul-de-sac. By contrast, the poor live in tower blocks in town, all ready to work their municipal jobs like cleaning, postering pro-Tyrak propaganda etc. Anything that’s honest – often hard-work, you’ll find in the poorer districts. It’s not glaringly obvious if you’re not paying attention, but the subtle dichotomy told through your environment snaps you into reality real fast.

And for our two protagonists, Zoe and Kaito, the reality is not good enough. Two tweeners at opposite ends of privilege have clearly formed a friendship over music, art and extreme sports. Zoe is the daughter of an Oil Baron, tight-knit with Tyrak, and of course, stinking rich. Kaito on the other hand lives in an apartment not dissimilar to the family in Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite. This could so easily feel played out and trite, but the game respects the audience by way of not outright addressing each other’s differences.

On the Road Again

Of course, there’s exposition to help adjust newcomers like me to this world, but it does a great job of ingratiating you into the world without being too hamfisted. The two are going about their day, wishing to be out on the open road on an adventure together. Zoe thinks Kaito is acting suspiciously and with the threat of the Black Brigade – who attacked White Sands 10 years prior – looms during the election, Zoe wants to know what Kaito is hiding.

Knowing that Zoe in Road 96 is already on the road, albeit by herself, mean questions linger even for me. How did she get here? Where’s Kaito? All of them will be explained through the 5-6 hours you’ll be playing, even if your choices decide the outcome. I absolutely loved the commentaries and themes that the story was going for. Misinformation, paranoia, oppressive governments; All through the lens of two teenagers that – realistically – shouldn’t have to worry about all this.

I also think this is something that fans were asking for with Road 96. You’re dropped into a scenario with no knowledge of your surroundings, learning little pieces. Whereas Mile 0 establishes the world and sets the tone brilliantly. Even though there is a lot of real world issues in hand the game doesn’t forget who we’re playing as, and during my time with Zoe and Kaito I really felt like the third friend in the group. This may not have the open-ended appeal of the first game, but telling a story in this way is extremely effective and I want to spend more time in the world.

Boulevard of Broken Teens

The story is told through the eyes of either of the protagonist in first person. From the offset you’ll be picking from a couple to a few dialogue options, talking to your companion. Something minor I picked up straight away is that the person you play as doesn’t speak, so often times the NPC sounds like they’re talking to themselves. It’s something I got used to, but it felt less immersive.

Your dialogue choices will go towards a bar on the top left of your screen when prompted. The bar will teeter one way or the other indicating where your allegiance to Petria lies. Do you side with their ways of living? Or are you doubtful of their methods? Other ways of adjusting your allegiance would be to spray paint political art on walls, or tag on/tear down propaganda – all under the watchful eye.

I don’t know if it’s the fact I’ve always cautioned more to the side of rebellion, especially when Government sounds less fair by the day, but I felt like the only way to play this is to defy the totalitarian state that White Sands is in. This doesn’t mean that the other option is bad, but it’s these choices woven into the narrative that plays into the paranoia. Am I doing the right thing? I think so, but like life, it’s not black and white, just a lot of greys that no bar indicating my allegiance can ever quell any doubt, even when I rolled credits.

Pledging Allegiance

Between the story beats of discussions, you can explore these small open areas where you can decide which order to go in. These open areas once explored and exhausted the narrative of crescendo into rhythm sections. These are usually heightened exaggerated interpretations of the current events unfolding.

To say these sections are a highlight is an understatement. They are by far the most exhilarating part of Road 96: Mile 0. With Kaito’s Skateboard and Zoe’s Rollerblades, you’ll be skating down a track collecting coins to gain a high score. Difficulty increases as the levels throw in new aspects every time. Obstacles to duck or jump, rails to grind, QTEs and lanes to swerve between without failing.

These sections of the game are called ‘Rides’, which are all soundtracked to some incredible anthemic synth-rock, pop-punk and electronic music. There’s not a bad track to play through in the game and the incentive of being graded at the end of each ride kept me coming back for that S+. The controls didn’t feel absolutely spot on for some of the harder levels, but outside of the last ride, they’re short enough to replay – making it more about remembering the course than reacting efficiently. I truly hope this is a direction they take in potential sequels because I just wanted more of them.

Connect No More

In between the intense story beats and blood-pumping rides, the game always makes time for kids to be kids. After every section, you’ll be back at your hideout or respective homes for a little downtime. These are where the minigames come in. Whether you’re throwing newspapers at pedestrians, giving your hideout a graffiti makeover or getting served on Connect 4 – all bring much needed levity to the game.

It reminded me whilst playing this just who Zoe and Kaito are – teenagers. These moments are usually sprinkled in during finding out more about each other in a passive yet engaging way. It just builds your own relationships with the characters and really makes you care whilst you’re having fun doing so.

This is all accompanied by a colourful palette. The world may just be sand and brutalist structures, but those rides in between really spur on the young imagination. They manage to explore aspects of the story that we might never have gotten to see. On one of the Rides, we’re between White Sands and Kaito’s hometown of Colton City. We skate through a split world between the two of privilege and poverty, perfectly executing the emotion it tries to convey. It’s all believable because we’re in their minds, yet it adds so much depth

I would agree with Toby on the style being low-poly with bold and charming characteristics. However, the animations of some of the NPCs and even the main characters look stiff. It feels last gen and there’s nothing in the game that requires so much horsepower. Even crowds of people were limited in instances where they were on screen. It’s minor compared to everything else, but it does take you out of it when things get too janky.

End of the Road

Fans of the original might not approve of the direction of Road 96: Mile 0. The big attraction of no player’s journey is the same is gone in service of telling something more focused and concise. It’s a direction I appreciated as it really made me care about the world I was in. I think my biggest disappointment is that it really feels like it’s just about to kick off and then it ends.

It’s done a perfect job of making me want to now jump into Road 96, but I know that the wider story of these characters I’ve just spent hours with isn’t going to conclude. The ‘Rides’ or rhythm sections need to stay. They’re an absolute delight to experience and they tackle complex themes in a really digestible way.

Overall, I had a great time with the game. This is a perfect starting point for the franchise, but also rewarding for current fans. Whilst the structure of taking on levels as and when felt freeing, it meant tying the story beats just loose enough to make sense, but not perfectly. The atmosphere, music and narrative are still all there and the changes for me were extremely welcomed.

Mile 0 is a new and exciting avenue for Road 96. The rhythm sections are euphoric and the world-building is complex and fulfilling. Zoe and Kaito’s story is a great entry point but it does feel like it’s just getting started as it ends, falling under the traps of being a prequel.

Road 96: Mile 0 releases 4th April 2023 on PlayStation 5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox Series S|X, Xbox One,Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.

Developer: Digixart

Publisher: Ravenscourt, PLAION

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here. If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.

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