Death Road to Canada (Xbox One Review)
When I first laid eyes on Death Road to Canada, I was reminded of Outbreak – a serious small budget take on Resident Evil in a post apocalyptic world. As I spent more time with Death Road to Canada, it was clear that it was a ridiculous satire of zombie survival in the guise of a tubular road trip with an increasingly absurd cast instead of the dour first impressions.
The goal in Death Road to Canada is simple; all you have to do is haul ass to the border within 15 in game days. Each passing day in game present s new challenges in the form of looting houses, fending off bandits, and fixing your dilapidated mode of transportation accompanied by a large helping of luck.
Every obstacle, be it resting by the campfire or tinkering with the car’s engine, is a stat check. That means your choice of character then depends on their skills as the inability to fix your car can be a death sentence, a sliver of luck being required to find the person. It plays into the theory of creating a mixed party to tackle as many scenarios as possible, but can’t quite win them all – a cruel but fair set of rules.
And that’s what’s wonderful about Death Road to Canada, every trip is unique. You can limit the less desired outcomes before heading out on your trip by creating your own 8-bit version of yourself, choosing a personality trait and a single skill that will shape their role on the run to Canada. Depending on your selected stats, you could easily avert deadly situations while making new friends or create a character that’s an absolute nightmare to be around whose sole redemption rests on their ability to cook a mean stew. And the best bit about it is the more than generous 80 slots allocated to these creations, allowing you to create your full extended family tree and drag them kicking and screaming on your zombie death trip.
All of these choices are reflected in the text adventure like scenes that happen on the road throughout the day. With scenarios like: sleeping as a group, allowing one person to keep watch over night, fighting bandits, opting to talk down aggressors, and engaging with stragglers on the road will influence you party greatly – occasionally resulting in your comrades turning their backs on you and leaving. Even though every decision is posed as a life or death situation, they are often esoteric and often comedic, like a fellow traveller stinking up the car with some particularly poignant flatulence and the desecration of some antique cans as target practise.
Between the text adventures you are forced to fight for survival within the locations you choose to loot. As you gaze down upon your characters fighting, you’ll take on hordes of zombies while you collect cans of food, gasoline, ammo, and medical supplies, all of which are sparse and vital. Running out of any of these supplies will result in you limping to Canada on foot at best and in a shallow grave at worst.
There will never be a time where you can rest easy on a stockpile of any resource or that you’re prepared for everything as resources dwindle at an alarming rate as your party grows. But, without the additional support, there would be absolutely no way you’d survive the larger hordes as you draw nearer to Canada. When resources do run low you’re also able to cut somebody from the team, even if it means letting a dear friend fend for themselves on the open road. There’s never an objectively right option as everything feels like a choice between the lesser of two evils, ultimately giving Death Road to Canada its own unique vibe on the biting edge of survival.
In spite of its unique choices and gameplay, Death Road to Canada does take a few steps in the wrong direction with the upgrade system. To upgrade your player skills you’re required to progress 5 days into your journey, which can be a slog early on and result in an exceptionally slow grind to the end after numerous retries. A system similar to other games of the same ilk that would allow you to carry over some stats or steadily grow would certainly help Death Road to Canada in longevity due to the permadeath nature of its runs.
On top of that you also have the drop in/out coop feature which feels like an afterthought rather than a fleshed out cooperative experience. While the 2nd player is present and can help fend of zombies, they have very little to do in the way of meaningful interactions within conversations and even progressing in to new areas. For cooperative players, the additional player is often left feeling helpless and unimportant.
Even with a laundry list of additional modes at your finger tips, there’s very little to diversify your experience with Death Road to Canada beyond finding rarer character types and adjusting the length of your journey. When push comes to shove, Death Road to Canada occasionally relies on luck to get you through a voyage of comedic balance, dark humour, and horror that gives players a different survival experience over the usual tried and true survival games. Playing with friends does enhance the experience, but only for the primary player. It’s not a game to turn your nose up at, even if you’re going solo as its slapstick humour and reluctance to take itself seriously is exactly what I was looking for and I am more than happy for it to lead the way in reshaping the genre in its own silly image.