The opening minutes of Road 96: Mile 0 are incredibly bizarre. Without being given any real context as to why, the player is thrust into a fast-paced, psychedelic skating sequence where they have to avoid hazards on the road and collect glowing gems in order to pass onto the next stage. Although this opening felt like a pretty strange choice, I admired how bold and unashamedly out there it was.
Therefore, you can imagine my disappointment when I witnessed the extremely abrupt slamming of the brakes that the following sequence was. All of a sudden, the game’s pace grinds to a halt as it becomes this boring walking simulator being propped up by a clunky narrative that attempts to tackle some pretty heavy themes that the team’s narrative designers do not seem equipped enough to tackle.
Road 96: Mile 0 is out now and is available on PC, PlayStation and Xbox consoles.
As you may have gathered if you are a fan of Road 96, I knew absolutely nothing about this series when we first received the gracious offer to review Road 96: Mile 0. Other than watching a brief trailer, I wasn’t really all that sure what I was signing up for here. For a reviewer, that can sometimes be an exciting prospect, and thankfully Road 96: Mile 0 is a game worth taking a chance on, even if it is just to see how strange it is.
Although I have admittedly never played Road 96, (which Mile 0 serves as a narrative prequel to,) from what I have read, I don’t believe that game included any sort of skating sequences, and yet these moments are a major focus in Mile 0, and they are also probably the best part of the game. The combination of the cartoonish graphical style, working together with the game’s brilliant soundtrack and snappy gameplay makes for something with an incredibly stylish flow, which is both fun to play and to look at.
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The decision to suddenly transport players away from this high-concept scenario to one of the most mundane and clichéd narrative experiences that I have ever encountered is an odd one. There were several times when this pacing style conjured up images in my mind of an excited dog having his leash violently tightened. The thin narrative in Road 96: Mile 0 reads like baby’s first George Orwell story; if Orwell had tried his hand at a Young Adult novel, it would probably play out similarly to this, but at least it would have better dialogue. It feels extraordinarily trite and by the numbers in terms of its predictability; and this is coming from someone who didn’t play Road 96 to learn what was coming in Zoe’s and Kaito’s future.
Speaking of our two protagonists, they don’t exactly help the game’s tired narrative either. Kaito is the first character who players take control of and he rides a skateboard and ticks just about every single box that you would expect the teenage protagonist of an Orwellian story to tick. Beyond meeting that passé criteria, he is a largely unlikable, whiney character who even hides things from someone he calls his best friend.
Unfortunately, Zoe doesn’t come across any better. She is the nepo-baby of a powerful governor whose “problems,” consist of things like being assigned her own personal bodyguard, always being allowed to skip to the front of the queue, and not being able to relate hard enough to her best buddy who lives in a hole. Not only is it impossible for players to feel sympathy for this obnoxious princess, but it also ruins any credibility she has and causes her rebellious streak to come across as the unjustified intentions of a petulant tear-away child.
The other major thing that Road 96: Mile 0 struggles with is balancing its tone. The game randomly throws an on-rails FPS sequence at the player, which sees them firing newspapers at innocent bystanders, and then immediately follows that with a dreary tale about class divide. Would you expect a game that contains freefall sequences where you pass through a comically enormous trombone to also contain a terrorist attack which draws parallels to 9/11? Well this game does, and not only that, but it also entertains the idea that the government were the ones behind the attack, perpetrating the unthinkable for personal gain. And all of these dark revelations came to light not long after I played a sequence where a gigantic bodyguard chased me up the side of a skyscraper in the style of King Kong. The tonal shifts in this game are just as abrupt as the pacing.
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In summary, the skate sequences alone are enough to make Road 96: Mile 0 an experience worth checking out. However, even for as fun as they are, they aren’t enough to make up for the egregious pacing and tonal issues that plague the game. The off-putting protagonists also make it difficult to excuse the parts of the game that take place outside of skating.
Road 96: Mile 0 – 4/10
Road 96: Mile 0 was reviewed on PS5 with a code supplied to FandomWire by PLAION.
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