Death Road to Canada review code supplied by the publisher.
It’s fair to say that my first attempt at Death Road to Canada didn’t go too well. At all. As Claretta, a talented mechanic and Mike, a somewhat irritating though ultimately competent brawler, things seemed to be going smoothly; we’d stumbled across an abandoned shopping mall, smashed in some zombie skulls and came out the other side with ample amounts of food, medicine and gas to continue our journey into the Great North. Things, it seemed, were good.
However, a little further into our journey and it turned out that we were going through gas much faster than I had anticipated, the end result being that we decided to siphon some fuel from an abandoned vehicle on the side of the road. The problem here though, was that Claretta accidentally ingested some of the fuel and became both sick and depressed – even though the net gain of additional gas was a much needed result. A few miles and one zombie infested sports shop later, my originally plucky duo had now grown lethargic and miserable; the seemingly endless highway stretching out in front of them, it was obvious that neither Claretta nor Mike had particularly rosy aspirations for the future.
Death Road to Canada Review – A Ghoulish Road Trip You Won’t Want To Miss
With fate being the sort of cruel mistress that we all know her to be of course, it didn’t take long before things got even worse. Indeed, Mike found himself with an infected tooth which, when I decided to get Claretta to yank it out because we had no meds left, killed him outright owing to the fact that she had all the dentistry skills of a coked up cage fighter. Now alone, Claretta neither had neither the backup or the company to keep either her sanity or her flesh intact and so it wasn’t long until she was munched to pieces in an ill-fated raid on an nursing home and that was that. To put it all into context, that whole playthrough was just one of a near-infinite number of unique stories that can play out in any given time you pick up the pad with this game. Simply put, This is Death Road to Canada and it is brilliant.
A roguelike that leans on procedural generation to provide the player with a fresh experience with every playthrough, Death Road to Canada is essentially split into different sections from which its procedural generated shenanigans manifest themselves. The first and most immediately obvious of these is the 2D, slanted perspective exploration and zombie mashing bits where you roam about the place splattering the undead, scavenging for supplies and weapons, and generally trying to not get yourself munched in the process.
Here, Death Road to Canada takes on an aspect of a pressure-cooker top-down shooter as you spend precious time, battering the undead with a variety of melee weapons that come to hand including everything from planks of wood to knives and baseball bats, to more exotic fare such as chainsaws, zombie bones and even a trademark-dodging version of Link’s Master Sword. In addition to this range of intimately devastating weaponry, Death Road to Canada also allows players to get their hands on a range of firearms and explosives too, ranging from basic handguns and snub-nose pistols through to rifles, shotguns, grenades and pipe-bombs to name just a few. It also doesn’t hurt that combat feels routinely great, with each swing from your weapon of choice either knocking the undead down to the ground with a notable thud, or eviscerating them completely into a comically mucky mess of grey brains, eyeballs and intensities.
Rather than just swinging and blasting away with reckless abandon however, Death Road to Canada insists that players pick and choose their battles, lest they succumb to a quick death. A big reason for this sort of frugal battle strategy is that your characters can tire easily if they spend too much time attacking and so, assuming you don’t want to join the ranks of the dead, it behooves you to pace your onslaught accordingly and always make sure you have a good amount of space to retreat to should the battle go south. Luckily, there are a number of additional things that you can do to ward off the advance of the dead, such as wedging furniture in front of doors or even just shutting doors in order to slow the advance of your shambling foes; all of which contributes to the combat feeling much deeper than it initially appears.
Speaking of the zombies themselves, they are a collection of fetid fiends belonging to the George Romero variety, which is to say that the emphasis is very much on their movements and physicality as a slow-moving horde that can corner you when you least expect it, rather than the super-agile, Olympian caliber sprinters that appear in more contemporary efforts such as World War Z.
Though slow, each zombie horde you encounter also has both a mood and a ‘thickness’ rating, meaning that some zombie crowds might be lightly populated with relatively docile undead that you can sneak through, whereas another encounter might have a super-dense swarm of zombies that are hugely pissed off and will follow you anywhere and everywhere until you put them all down. Add to this, the various siege encounters where you must outlast wave after wave of zombies as the undead fall through the ceiling or claw their way up through the earth and it becomes clear really early on that though plodding, their threat should never be underestimated at any time.
Then there’s the resource management side of Death Road to Canada that players must also contend with, too. Though obviously staying alive is the ultimate goal, you will need a decent amount of fuel, food and medicine to help make that happen. Food helps to keep the morale of your group high (while starvation has its own predictably unpleasant effect on your health), gas keeps your vehicle on the road and medicine allows you to heal injuries and other maladies in-between the fighting and looting bits (the better your medical skills are the less medicine you’ll use). Much like the rest of the game, the resource management in Death Road to Canada feels well constructed, not an afterthought and compliments all other aspects of its design exceedingly well.
The second cornerstone of Death Road to Canada that facilitates its procedural design sensibilities are the narrative actions that pop up when you’re not knee deep in the the dead. Here, you are given decisions to make based on random events and depending on the decision you make, and more importantly the skills that you have (or don’t have which might support those choices) can cause you to end up with additional resources, damage to your party, an increase or decrease to your statuses or even an outright death.
It’s arguably here that the only real chink in the armor of Death Road to Canada reveals itself, too. Because these interactive novel style choices can have such brutal outcomes (see the aforementioned ill-fated attempt at roadside dentistry), it can be frustrating to be completely on-point in the action segments of the game, but then to lose a member to a narrative choice that you have little control over can prove quite frustrating indeed.
Tying directly into all this decision-making are the characters that you’ll recruit on your journey. More than just a colorful avatar, each character in Death Road to Canada that you bring onto your fateful road trip (you can have a maximum of four), boasts their own traits, personalities and quirks that help define them both as entertaining companions and also as functionally contributing members to your ongoing odyssey.
From a wide range of perks such as athlete (you tire slower), fighter (you do more damage with melee weapons) and mechanic (you have a chance of repairing broken down vehicles and equipment), to personality traits such as irritating (speaks for itself) and confident (raises the group’s morale), Death Road to Canada offers an almost unlimited range of companions ranging from regular humans of different shapes and sizes to dogs, cats, pigs and even Kaiju (don’t ask).
And if that wasn’t enough, even better is the fact that you can create your own characters for use in the game with Death Road to Canada’s wonderfully handy character creation tool. Where things get especially interesting though is that Death Road to Canada rewards you with ‘Zombo’ points for completing special milestones in the game, which in turn allow you to purchase and upgrade various traits for use with any of your custom characters. Not only that, but you can choose to start the game as one of your creations, or, you can just include them in the game as randoms for you to recruit along the way.
Ultimately, that’s the thing with Death Road to Canada; betwixt the procedurally generated areas, the random narrative events that pop up in between and the wildly different characters that you’ll bump into along the way, no two playthroughs ever look the same and by achieving that, Death Road to Canada avoids repetition with commendable deftness.
If Death Road to Canada’s already generous design isn’t enough from a value perspective, the game also provides five additional campaign modes beyond the regular story mode and also chucks in fiendishly compelling local jump in co-op play for kicks. In the end though, if a game has to make a point to tell you that a pig cannot drive a car, then it must be pretty great regardless. I’ll be surprised if Death Road to Canada ever leaves my PS4 Pro hard drive, quite honestly.
If you enjoyed this Death Road to Canada review, why not unearth some other independently developed gems in our best PS4 indie games feature. Oh and also, you might want to check out the interview we did with the developers of Death Road to Canada too – it was very insightful if we do say so ourselves.