Review | Road 96: Mile 0

Originally published at: Review | Road 96: Mile 0 - XboxEra

Narration (in the style of a Hollywood blockbuster):

From a faraway land of oil and far-right politics, comes the tale of a relationship between a boy and a girl from opposite sides of the tracks.  She is a virtual princess while he is a lowly peasant but which of them knows what is really going on?  An explosive event from years before has a bearing on both of their daily lives but who was actually responsible?  Will these feisty kids rise up and fight the system or bow their heads and allow themselves to be broken by it?  Find out in the new springtime release Road 96: Mile 0!

Narration (from Harm0nica): Read this review and find out what XboxEra thinks of the game.

With as few spoilers as possible, the story revolves around teenagers Zoe and Kaito.  He lives in a basement apartment in the workers’ slums with his parents, while she exists at the opposite end of the class spectrum and lives in a luxurious house between the mansions of a fascist leader and the head of his biased pro-government media association.  If I described the situation as akin to living between the leader of the Conservative party and the chairman of the BBC, people in the UK would have a close-to-home idea of how awful this must be for Zoe and make Kaito’s living situation look far more attractive.

The two of them are an unlikely pair but they hang out in a half-constructed tower block and spread a little bit of chaos together whenever possible. After gaining glimpses into each other’s worlds they attempt to convince each other that their political opinions are the ones that everyone else should subscribe to.  Both are aware that everything is not quite what it seems in Petria and have a sense that something rotten is lurking beneath the veneer of normality.  Both have a longing to travel but are denied that opportunity for different reasons.  Should they work together to break free?

Anyone expecting something in the same style as the excellent Road 96 will probably be disappointed with what is on offer here.  Whereas the first game served up different challenging scenarios regarding teenagers trying to make their way to freedom with different levels of resources, this time around we are served up nothing so interesting.  Coming across more like a DLC than a stand-alone title we are merely playing through the late back story of the Zoe character. 

Wanna Take A Ride?

The challenges delivered here take the form of psychedelic rhythm-based ‘Ride’ sections which are a pretty strange addition to something that previously worked very well as a walking simulator.  I imagine that the developer wanted to mix things up and deliver something different, but to me a big fan of the first game, this approach shoots Mile 0 in the foot.

The ten rides are offered up in the form of obstacle-avoiding races that involve jumping, swerving and hitting timed cues while collecting diamonds that hang in mid-air.  Supposedly linked to the characters’ emotions, decisions can be made regarding what the characters choose to believe mid-race. 

The perspective changes from third person to side-scroller at random and a few diamond misses early in a run will ruin the combo multiplier and make attaining an ‘A’ or above for the ride impossible.  Considering that the bulk of the in-game achievements are tied to getting a very high score on these rides they become a pain very quickly.  If grind, perfect and try again is your thing you will enjoy this but I did not.  Mercifully there is an option to skip parts of these sections if it is clear you are struggling to beat them.  I was glad to see these options but persevered to the end of each one just to prove I could do it.

The same art style and similar pounding electro soundtrack as used in Road 96 are by far the best things about this experience. Various characters from the previous game are momentarily glimpsed as you work your way through this journey but they feel like wasted opportunities as you do not get to engage with most of them.

Seen From Both Sides

Swapping perspectives between Zoe and Kaito is interesting but the narrative is based on the fact that he is trying to convince her that the regime in power is a bad one.  Zoe’s father holds the government post of Minister for Oil so this idea challenges all of her experiences and assumptions.

This is where another major problem with Mile 0 lies.  For new players to this universe, the premise of who is wrong and who is right could be an interesting journey to go on, but for those of us who have played the original game (and let’s face it are most likely to play this one), it falls on its arse as we have already experienced life in Petria and are well aware of which side of the line our loyalties lie.  Playing this game before taking on Road 96 proper looks like the way to go for this concept to work properly but at the same time I cannot say that if I had played this first I would have had any interest in the far superior original game, and there lies the rub.

I did get the opportunity to make my own political statement in graffiti form at one point which was great as I never normally make any political statements (sic) and the bat-shit-crazy boss fight really was an unexpected bonus towards the end of the story. Do I feel bad about abandoning Zoe and causing her death at the border crossing in the original game?  Not really.

Another game continuing the Road 96 story has been something that many fans of the original have been waiting excitedly for since it was announced, but I have a horrible feeling that the developers have squandered their chance with this offering.  I would have much preferred a game using the same mechanics as the original but telling the story from the perspective of the border guards, police, and other authority figures trying to prevent teenagers from getting across the border to freedom.  Exploring their motivations could have been a much more intriguing experience.

The game ran perfectly on my Series X with no issues at all, although the loading times could on occasion feel a bit longer than they should do for a title in this generation. 

Rounding things off, Road 96: Mile 0 may be an interesting experience to anyone new to the universe but can hardly be classed as an essential play.  Mixing rhythm gaming sections into the standard walking simulator gameplay is somewhat jarring and frankly unnecessary.  It may have been a better idea to release a standalone title for rhythm fans than taint the gameplay style that had worked so well previously.  This game can easily be avoided without really missing out on anything, especially for fans of the original game for whom the narrative is already flawed.  If it comes to Game Pass it is worth checking out but disappointingly, I cannot recommend buying it.


Will avoid :+1:

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