No! Life! ‘Til Quebec!
As you may or may not know, I grew up in England (although some might debate the “grew up” part) meaning I never experienced The Oregon Trail. Apparently this was a big thing in American schools, with children taking their group of pioneers across the land, letting them all die of dysentery. It was educational apparently. Anyway, I did get to play the spoof game Organ Trail that came out in 2013, that took the original game and inserted it into the zombie apocalypse, complete with undead themed events and combat. It was pretty fun, albeit a little clunky. Death Road to Canada takes what Organ Trail did and builds on it, making it into its own game rather than simply a parody.
Around 6 months ago, Maggie wrote a review of the initial release of Death Road to Canada when it launched on PC. With it now being released on Switch, it seems like a good time to see how the transition to Nintendo’s portable hybrid has worked out.
After a brief tutorial, we learn that America is overrun by the undead, and that Canada may well be the only safe place left! You, and an optional buddy (either computer or player controlled) set out on a road trip to head north of the border where safety surely awaits. The journey will consist of raiding various locations for supplies, holding off zombie hordes, and deciding on how to approach different situations based on your skills. Along the way, you’ll run into other survivors who can join your quest to survive, each with their own traits and personalities, some of which can be quite…unusual.
Character creation is a big part of Death Road to Canada, as these will be who you play as, as well as who you meet along the way (with some exceptions). Creating your friends and family and having them crop up on your journey adds a lot, in the same way it does in XCOM, although here death isn’t as final as they can turn up again in future runs, or even be selected as your leader. When creating them, you can give characters skills and traits that will tie into the main game. For example, I gave my wife the Paranoid trait that meant she was always wary of everything. Sometimes this was a pain, as not listening to her concerns lead to lower morale, but other times it paid off when confronted by bandits due to having the option to use her skill to find an alternative way around. There are a lot of skills and traits to choose from, with more to unlock as you play, and you can create some fun characters that can combine to be quite effective. Characters that you haven’t created can also turn up, which is where the more unusual aspects come in. I’ve had an animatronic mascot that can bend space-time join the team. I love the unpredictability of the game; every run is different, and even when events occur again, you may get different outcomes based on the skills your team has available.
The main gameplay beyond the events is raiding buildings for weapons and supplies. You’ll be looking for food, fuel, medical supplies, and ammunition whilst trying to fend off zombies. These are traditional undead, being fairly slow moving and easily handled in small numbers, but can be overwhelming if you get swarmed. Both melee and ranged weapons are available, and are more effective if the character weilding them has suitable traits and skills. Characters can take a reasonable amount of punishment before dying, which leads to an interesting effect. When a character dies, the nearby zombies will swarm it, giving surviving characters a chance to get to somewhere safer, or return to the car and make a run for it. There are little touches like this throughout the game; sweat falling from tired characters, needing to hold A for longer to start the car as it becomes more damaged, weapons taking longer to swing if they’re heavier. All this attention to detail really adds to the game, and suggests much greater depth than the simple looking gameplay implies.
If there’s one part of the game that frustrated me, it wasn’t the difficulty (it really is pretty hard at times), but the controls. They’re simple enough, with the left stick handling movement, A to interact, Y to attack, B to change weapon and so forth, but they aren’t quite as sharp as I’d like. The characters bounce around as they move leading to occasionally getting caught on objects and walls, and they feel a little “slippy” as you change movement direction. The menus also aren’t as quick to navigate as they could be when moving between tabs. Why do I need to highlight the tab to access it instead of being able to press L or R to skip between them? The controls are serviceable, but could be a little better.
Death Road to Canada does look and sound great though. The ever popular pixel art style does a great job of keeping everything bright and interesting throughout your runs. Characters stand out from the crowd, and the sheer amount of variety on show is fantastic. There are hordes (pun not intended) of different zombie and character designs, as well as a large number of different vehicles to use on your journey. The buildings all look like what they are meant to be, with it being obvious that you are in a shop or a factory, but they tend to have very similar layouts each time. This is useful if you’re rushing to loot everything quickly, but a bit more variety would have been nice. The use of light is nice, as you need to consider the time of day when going looting. Late night raids mean everything will be pitch black if you haven’t brought a torch or two, and these sections can feel really quite intimidating. I can’t count the number of times I beat the hell out of a chair because I mistook its silhouette for a zombie.
The music is fantastic throughout, with some very catchy tunes in pretty much every situation. The time of day and what events are unfolding will lead to different tracks being played, but they’re all brilliant. The sound effects are also of a very high standard. Weapons have a satisfying “THWAK” or “POW” to them as they connect with the undead, and the car sounds great as the engine starts up (even more so when you’re being overrun by a horde of zombies. There is no voice acting in this, but that’s fine as there’s potential for so many different characters that recorded lines would end up being repeated time and again.
Would this be a game for you though? The best way to answer this question is with another question: does the idea of having a shotgun wielding dog as your party leader sound fun? Would a wrestler picking up your car and throwing it at the undead horde be something entertaining? If so, then you’re onto a winner here. Death Road to Canada is a roguelike that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s tough, but with so much variety that another run is practically demanded upon your untimely demise. On top of all of this though, is that it’s a perfect fit for Nintendo Switch. It’s a game that can be played easily in short bursts in either docked or portable mode and is worthy of your time and purchase. See you on the road!
Death Road to Canada is available now on PC, Mac & Linux, it is also available on iOS, PS4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch.