Road 96: Mile 0 is a prequel side story to the immensely enjoyable Road 96, which was first released back in 2021. From Digixart and Ravenscourt, this latest release explores the backstory of one of the seven key characters in Road 96, Zoe Muller, and her best friend Kaito. Living a carefree life in the exclusive community of White Sands, Zoe and Kaito await the historic announcement from Petria’s dictator Tyrax while dealing with their own personal issues.
While I am curious to learn more about Zoe’s backstory, as she was one of the more mysterious characters of the previous game, I’m approaching this prequel with caution as many of the gameplay mechanics seen in Road 96 aren’t present. However, if there was one thing that the previous title excelled in, it was the balanced delivery of a good story and engaging characters.
Are you ready to hit the road once again? Pack those bags and join us on Road 96: Mile 0!
Tyranny of Choice
As explained earlier, the previous gameplay loop of Road 96 has taken a backseat to a more traditional narrative adventure seen in titles like Life is Strange. Missing in this installment is the core loop of the previous game which saw us take control of a nameless teen drifter attempting to cross the eponymous Road 96 border. Instead, we take control of either Zoe or Kaito in their specific plotlines during the three days leading to President Tyrax’s announcement.
While I don’t mind narrative adventures of this type, it feels that much of the charm from Road 96 has been lost. We are relegated to this gameplay style where we’re told that our choices matter, but we’ve played enough of these “choose your own adventure” games where your ultimate choices really won’t. We’re treated to a few ending variants, but for the most part, most of the plot points will play out as the script intended.
The irony is that since it is a prequel, players of Road 96 will keep the role Zoe plays in the back of their minds. This leaves the only real “surprise” in the story of Kaito, who isn’t exactly a compelling character. While it feels that they were illustrating Zoe’s origin story, it’s a bit of reach to get the current Zoe we’re following to the Zoe we knew and loved from Road 96. This Zoe was so unlikeable, which is the point of this exercise, but do we really need to know that?
The gameplay loop interchanges between cutscenes, the first-person exploration, and the skating mini-game that feels like a boss battle to punctuate the episodes. During the first-person exploration scenes, you take control of either Zoe or Kaito who will become the silent protagonists. The mini-games from Road 96 are back, but without any meaningful rewards, they don’t function as well as originally intended.
Moreover, unlike Road 96, I feel the first-person view doesn’t work as well as it should because aside from the choices made in dialogue and the endless defacing of posters, there’s not much else to do. You have a political spectrum that measures your character’s current mindset, but in the end, it doesn’t bar you from making a choice that’s in agreement with your current mindset, which makes that gameplay design redundant.
The cursor, when played on a console, isn’t as responsive. I’m guessing PC players have a better experience with it, which it’s probably designed for. It’s a little bit of an irritation especially when navigating menus that require precision to move the sidebars when the analog stick could’ve been utilized to move them properly. It makes mini-games a little challenging to play at times.
The skateboarding mini-game is a good storytelling medium when done right. As these mini-games are ways to punctuate the episode, many of the ideas covered are represented in various psychedelic imagery that sometimes works, but most of the time fall flat. There are some points during this mini-game where you can choose a path that changes your mindset, which is cool, but as I keep repeating myself, ultimately really leads to nothing.
Die enough times during the mini-game and you’ll get the option of skipping to the next checkpoint. For those playing for the story, it’s a good way to skip this and play at a different time to get better scores, because the timing can feel a little off when starting out. With enough practice, they do become enjoyable IF you wish to replay them. It’s a big if, though.
What we really receive in the end is a prequel story that grasps at straws and wears its welcome really quickly. I’m just glad that Road 96: Mile 0 takes roughly 2-3 hours to complete, so it’s not too long to unpack everything. Unlike narrative adventures of its type, you can’t repeat specific points in the story to see what you’ve missed or peruse different endings.
Friends For Keeps
Road 96: Mile 0 doesn’t lack in terms of easter eggs and collectibles. If you’ve played Road 96, all of the key characters make an appearance in one way or another, while some of them even play a larger role depending on the situation, which is a cool callback.
Unlike the previous key characters, I’m not really sold on Zoe and Kaito’s friendship. Some of the chapters have convenient and stilted outcomes that feel forced, and no matter how much your mindset has changed, plot points will still play out as intended with only a handful of choices actually making a lasting impression.
Several plot points also do not pay off. There were allusions to Kaito’s friend, which feel like more of a codex entry for backstory than an actual lasting emotional payoff. Even the final scenes between Zoe and Kaito don’t really land as the handling of the scenes were far too awkward to take seriously. There were quite a handful of cringy scenes throughout many sequences as well, which really feels off.
The setting of White Sands was vastly overdone. Compared to the more restrained Petria desert, the setting of the world was quite close to our own. Road 96: Mile 0 leans in too much with the dystopia that it comes off as over the top, and it is a massive tonal shift that takes the player out of the world.
The main draw of Road 96 was the seamless weaving of its gameplay and story. When you control the countless nameless teens, their stakes become your stakes, and every activity contributes to their overall survival or demise. Unfortunately, in Mile 0, the backstory of Zoe and Kaito fails to immerse the player and it just feels like watching the end of an uninteresting situation where the story is being forced on you rather than actually experiencing it for yourself.
It is a shame because the soundtrack of Road 96: Mile 0 is top-notch. From the soothing synthwave to the great choice of licensed music including tracks from The Offspring and The Midnight, the music really takes center stage. Collecting cassettes throughout White Sands really allows you to listen to these tracks on your own accord, and is a bright spot in a mostly dreary trip.
What We Liked
- Soundtrack is top-notch. These tunes slap.
- Easter Eggs and Collectibles from the original Road 96 are scattered aplenty.
- The skateboarding mini-game is enjoyable when given a chance.
What We Didn’t Like
- The gameplay shift from Road 96 feels jarring, and the narrative adventure doesn’t do the original game justice.
- All the limitations of traditional narrative adventures without any of its conveniences.
- Cursor movement is unintuitive for consoles.
- The mystery behind Zoe and the world, in general, has been revealed, removing its allure.
Verdict: Wait For It…
Road 96: Mile 0, sadly, isn’t an essential attraction compared to Road 96‘s gameplay loop and characterization. What made Road 96 an enjoyable experience was its genius balancing act of its many moving parts. We were able to forgive its outdated visuals and even overbearing political agenda because of its enjoyable gameplay and charming characters.
Sadly, the charm that made the original game stand out is gone, and we’re left with an overdone story that dampens the allure of the original game. Moreso, many of the gameplay sequences can mostly be skipped, so if the story sadly doesn’t draw you in, it will be a long couple of hours. The fact that you can’t select specific episodes after the credits roll prevents any replay value as you’re forced to sit through the whole affair.
Road 96 is an essential indie game experience, but Road 96: Mile 0 is probably worth checking out if bundled with the original game or at a deep sale despite its already low asking price. It’s quite unfortunate because its predecessor was such a satisfying experience.
*Road 96: Mile 0 was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publisher.