Death Road to Canada PC Developed by Rocketcat Games Released in 2016
I remember being rather cynical towards Death Road to Canada when it first came out. Being a fan of its inspiration, the ever-nostalgic Oregon Trail, I have been disappointed by a zombie-adaptation of the classic management game before. Organ Trail was boring, simplistic, and held very little replay value, so I held off on purchasing this game. That was until I played it co-op with a friend and found that this was a much more energetic and crazy take on the formula. Let’s hit the road!
Why did it have to be Florida?
Oh no! Zombies are a thing now! Better hop into the car and make your way to the nearest safe-zone, which happens to (probably) be Canada. Sadly, your character didn’t have the good sense to live in northern Minnesota, so this will take a few days of constant driving to achieve. It’s not much of a story, but it gets the job done.
Starting with two randomized characters you hop in a car and start driving, but since you have a limited amount of food, gas, medicine, and ammo, you’ll occasionally have to make decisions when places come up that you can loot. Do you drive on and avoid the risk or run into the midst of the zombie horde to salvage what you can. Whilst driving the game is entirely automated and simply gives you quick updates on what happens, how much food is consumed, and when you refill your gas. When stopping to loot a place the game turns into a top-down action game where you move your character around as the AI buddies follow. You can smack zombies around or shoot them, but oftentimes it’s more worthwhile to dodge around them, loot everything, and get back out.
Your characters can wield three items at once, but guns are limited by their ammo (and will draw foes towards you) while melee weapons are prone to breaking. The controls are simple to get a grip on and smacking enemies around has some nice impact to it, but sustained combat tires your character out, making hits less effective. You can also pick up objects to throw at enemies or shove furniture in their way to halt their advance, but sooner or later they’ll get their grubby mitts on you. Fortunately, zombies don’t instantly damage you or your AI partners. They’ll tear and grab at you, giving you some time to react. When you can’t get them off you in time, it will take away a portion your health until eventually your character dies. You’ll then switch to one of your buddies until no characters remain.
Some looting missions will give you the chance to rescue extra characters or you might run into new friends on the road or while at trading camps. However, the stats of each characters are hidden and revealed over time, and strangers you run into may be lying about how useful they truly are. You have your basic stats like strength and health, but also important are social stats like a character’s wits and loyalty to the group, as well as practical stuff like their medical and mechanical skills. I found this slightly annoying though, as the game uses a roguelite system where you earn points that can be spent on upgrading the game’s classes, giving them better starting statistics. This means early on every class is just kind of lackluster, even at skills they should be excelling at. Through random events or training at camps you may improve your stats, but you can just as easily lose them.
The roguelite nature of the game also means you shouldn’t expect to win very often. Death is frequent and I must say the game gets kind of annoying when later down the line the horde is just too big to reasonably deal with, or the random level generator sticks together buildings that are so maze-like and samey you struggle to find a way back out. It can lead to a lot of fun stuff and I found many of the random events amusing, but it’s also not shy about ruining your day and leaving you down on your luck. Sometimes you just don’t find any fuel or your car breaks down, at which point you get to walk to Canada.
It does have to be said that Death Road to Canada lacks refinement in some areas. The friendly AI tends to make bizarre choices and has poor pathfinding, though you can tinker with their behavior to find something that works for you. More annoying is the fact that a lot of the stages end up being blocked off. Many times a large map will have 80% of its buildings covered with rubble, but I have also seen instances where special buildings are partially out-of-bounds, making it impossible to enter them. It’s also pretty lame that the height of a building in the foreground blocks off everything behind it.
It’s not a game you should play non-stop, but if you got half an hour to kill it’s entertaining to give it a try and see how far you get.
Gameplay score: 7/10
The zombie apocalypse is a party
Zombie stories often come in one of two flavors: either they are grim and serious, addressing the consequences, relations, and stress of the apocalypse, or they are wacky and satirical, because who the heck still takes zombies seriously??? Death Road to Canada belongs in the second category and it’s determined to let you know it.
No somber, atmospheric music will greet you upon starting this game up, Death Road to Canada greets players with a rocking main theme and a neon-colored, flashing logo. It’s a crazy, exciting game and it manages to remind you of that constantly. The character designs are wacky, random events can lead you to meet special characters like magical girls straight out of anime and Mexican luchadores, dialogue is filled with little jokes, and the soundtrack is consistently rad. Additionally, the game uses a lot of special effects to mimic the look of old films, though in most of the screenshots used for this article I had these turned off. It’s a cool touch, but a little overbearing.
Comedy is always subjective, but personally I found the over-the-top, preposterous world of this game really amusing.
Presentation score: 8/10
Bring a friend
When the AI characters are getting you down, there is always the option to hand one of them to a friend. Plug in a second controller and a player 2 can hit start to join in on the fun, making the game as a whole much more manageable. It’s cool to hit the road together and discuss what options to take, but the multiplayer functionality has some flaws to it. Firstly, the game always prefers player 1, so when they die they will immediately gain control of the character that was originally controlled by player 2. Additionally, if this happens (or the second player dies on their own) they will be left out of the game until a new character can be found, which is entirely random. Secondly, when the first players enters a new room it will leave player 2 behind, forcing them to move through the doorway off-screen or let the computer take over movement. It’s a lame way to resolve moving between areas and again brings up the issues with the AI’s struggling pathfinding.
On a brighter note, the game has a number of alternate modes. Right off the bat you can choose to play the game normally or meddle with the random people you meet on the road. You can choose to only have randomized characters or only have special characters, the latter of which can make everything a tad easier, though it can also backfire terribly. Once you have completed a normal run you can make further adjustments, like having a short run of only 9 days or making the roads more dangerous.
Extras score: 4/10
Death Road to Canada is a fun game to fire up every once in a while and smack some zombies around while managing your dwindling resources. It’s definitely better than Organ Trail and a lot more comedic too, but it can get pretty ridiculous when the randomization is against you or the AI bugs out.