I remember playing Oregon Trail in the library of my middle school back in the day. Even with the best planning, hunting, and river rafting skills, you died often enough on your journey that the ability to leave witty messages on your tombstone for a future passerby to read became a regular ritual.
Bandits stealing all your supplies and dying of dysentery became part of the expedition. Luck played in almost as much as skill, but we kept playing, again and again, determined to get a bit further this time and, eventually, make it all the way to Oregon.
Death Road To Canada Review
Death Road to Canada, a rogue-like title set during the zombie apocalypse, takes a lot of the simple concepts from earlier adventure titles such as Oregon Trail and sets you on a fun, addictive, and often hilarious journey. Like that childhood trip to Oregon long ago, death comes often in this game, but you will almost instantly find yourself ready to get back on the road.
Your goal in Death Road to Canada is clear and likely self-explanatory. You must guide a ragtag group of survivors to Canada, the only allegedly safe place after the world has been ravaged by the ravenous undead. Everything you have you must scavenge from locations you visit along the way. Food, medical supplies, gasoline, weapons, and any other items you need must be obtained at the risk of life and limb. And, as if fending off hordes of the undead wasn’t difficult enough, you also have to keep up morale.
Along with ensuring everyone is fed and rested, you must also keep characters happy and loyal and, obviously, keep them from getting murdered. The events in the game are randomized, so you don’t always know how your choices will turn out. Sometimes, your choices appear fairly straightforward.
We chose not to accept an overnight invitation from a creepy-looking caretaker (and, yes, the game explicitly told us the caretaker was incredibly creepy). Of course, perhaps we shouldn’t judge by appearances, but as we have learned from TV shows like The Walking Dead, trust doesn’t come easy and is rarely rewarded during the zombie apocalypse.
Other times, choices seem more capricious. Once, I had a character shoot a deer that was standing in front of our car, blocking our path. One of my other members became angry I hadn’t chosen him instead, thus dropping his morale. After losing our car later due to an unfortunate encounter with a man wearing heavy body armour standing in the road, this member’s morale dropped so low he became despondent and wandered off into the woods to an unknown fate.
Oh, and I also learned not to tell bandits to “Cool it.” They don’t appreciate it and can become surprisingly violent as one of my former teammates tragically discovered. On second thought, perhaps that really isn’t so surprising.
What you do have more control over during the game is how you handle your inventory. Weapons range from rifles and shotguns to blunt weapons such as wrenches, hammers, and even femurs. There are also less common weapons such as grenades, and you might even get the chance to buy a turret.
You can easily swap weapons between team members during missions by pulling up the menu, as long as you are within range of that teammate. Some characters can hold more weapons than others, but most can hold three. You are able to drop weapons if you find one during the scavenging event you would like to keep, rather than one you came with. You can also easily switch between the weapons you are carrying during a battle with the press of a single button.
There is no crafting in Death Road to Canada, so weapon management is simply a matter of distributing weapons thoughtfully, and only keeping the ones you think you will need. You have a total of 14 slots that can be used for storing weapons not currently being carried by characters. Before each mission, you can select which weapons you would like to take. Things like medical supplies are used automatically by team members after certain events and do not need to be managed.
In fact, one of the best aspects of the game is how it keeps it simple while offering just the right amount of customization. For example, each character comes with a certain set of skills and attributes which includes things like Medical, Shooting, Strength, and Mechanical ability. It might also include personality traits like a low morale, or low loyalty.
In the regular game mode where you will encounter random characters, you can increase some of their skills and attributes through certain activities or choices. For instance, you may get the opportunity to take shooting lessons, thus increasing everyone’s shooting skill. Or, you might have a certain character tinker overnight while at a rest stop, increasing their mechanical skill.
You also have the option of building your own custom characters. Each character comes with a certain set of traits. Traits can both positively and negatively affect skill sets and attributes. For instance, the “Inventive” trait will add two points to your mechanical skill, which might help you fix your car eventually if it breaks down.
I say eventually because on the negative side it might take a little practice. Sometimes the negative effects are comical. The “Nurturing” trait says it adds two points to your medical skill and gives you a great attitude. On the negative side, your positivity “may be an act.” For the risk taker, you can choose more extreme traits like “BESERK!” This boosts the character’s strength, fitness, and shooting ability by four points, but they can also be killed in one bite.
Being Surrounded On All Sides
You earn Zombo Points throughout the game that can be traded for perks. For instance, “Phoenix” resurrects a character upon death to full health, though it can also be used once per game. There are also more bizarre perks such as “Anime Fan”, which gives the player an overpowered Katana that cannot be dropped upon death. Just what every anime fan needs.
Combat is super simple, but fun. Cracking zombie skulls never seems to get old, and the splat they make when defeated is always satisfying. Using guns is also super simple and doesn’t require careful aiming, only that you are facing in the right direction.
But, be careful. Don’t be too overzealous with your zombie slaying. Your weapons break, and bullets, though not particularly scarce, are valuable, particularly when you find yourself in a siege event. What is a siege event, you ask? Only your worst nightmare, if your worst nightmare involves being surrounded on all sides by zombies.
There are five different game options available aside from the regular mode. Familiar Characters mode increases your chances of running into your custom characters. Rare Characters Mode increases your chances of coming across special characters, some with incredibly useful abilities, and some that look a lot like well-known characters such as Link from the Legend of Zelda series.
Deadlier Road Mode makes the game, well, more deadly than usual. The two remaining options either significantly shorten or elongate your road trip.
Best of all, the game never takes itself too seriously. The music, a 16-bit style techno and rock mix, is exhilarating and sometimes even quite catchy.
Quirky And Weird
The characters themselves are quirky and weird. My first character was using his time at the end of humanity to write a comic book about his life. I also ran across a man in a horse mask who, for all intents and purposes, considered himself an actual horse. I found him running along the highway, perhaps trying to locate his four-legged compadres, before my team forcibly pulled him into the car and made him join us.
Then, we all went to Y’all-Mart (you read that correctly). While at Y’all-Mart, I located a treadmill I had the horseman use despite the game’s warning against using a treadmill while surrounded by zombies. It all turned out for the best, however, as using the treadmill increased the horse man’s strength. Which was all well and good until I died some ten minutes later in a blaze of glory, mobbed by ravenous corpses. And, thus, the cycle began anew. The circle of life.
Death Road to Canada is one of those games that can easily suck hours away without you noticing. The simple mechanics, lack of crafting, and easy but interesting character customization makes multiple playthroughs feel like a breeze.
The pumping old-school rhythms, the thrill of battle, and the nagging feeling that you could get lucky next time, or at least make better choices, will keep the joy of the journey alive despite your numerous encounters with permadeath.