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Community Article: Indie Insights - Road 96

Written by John Edwards

Being a teenager is hard. You've got increasingly difficult schoolwork, pressures of social media, surging hormones and the constant threat of vanishing due to being abducted by your government to work in some mines.

The last one is, hopefully, only a concern for teenagers living in Petria, the authoritarian setting for Road 96. Petria has built a wall at its borders and there is growing unrest in the lead up to an election that happens to coincide with the tenth anniversary of a 'terrorist' incident that resulted in several deaths. Against this backdrop, you step into the shoes of a series of teens hoping to flee the country for a better life.

Road 96 is a procedurally generated road trip, starting each journey in different places across the map, you try to get your teen over the border with just a limited amount of money and a variable amount of energy. As you wend your way across dusty plains, through run-down diners and cliffside roads, you encounter a variety of different folk who may or may not have your best interests at heart.

While there are a fair few supporting cast on your journey, the crucial players in this story are key to driving the plot forward with each step you take. I won't detail precisely who you encounter on the roads to the border as discovering each one and their significance is one of the joys of this game. But there are five solo characters and one duo who you'll meet in the different chapters that make up your journey to freedom.

Your first trip through Petria you'll learn a little about each of them, but it'll take multiple runs before you really flesh out their character and motivations. The game helpfully provides a percentage for each of them to show how much you've learned about them. At first, they may all seem quite isolated and disparate people, but the more you journey through Petria the more connections you discover between them until they're as networked as the roads you're travelling on.

Your route is broken up into sections, usually with one of the main characters to talk to. These can be remote gas stations, a trip on a bus or a Burning Man-style festival. Wherever you end up, your priorities are to try to get more money or food and drink to help you keep going forward. Sometimes it may involve illegal activities, or one of several mini-games, on one run I found honest work as a bartender for the evening, which became particularly tense when a specific one of the main characters came in for a drink.

Progressing the stories with the different characters will unlock bonuses relevant to them which makes life in Petria a lot easier and less likely to involve eating rotting food and sleeping on cardboard just to have enough energy to get to the next place safely. These bonuses will help give you more options in navigating the branching plot and possibly even save your life.

If successful, your story will end at the wall, one way or another and you'll get a small coda about how the election went and possibly even your own fate, should it be important enough to feature on the news. Then it starts all over again, with another teen in another location, also looking for freedom and possibly political upheaval.

Road 96 is the epitome of it's the journey, not the destination that counts. Your trips across Petria will be varied and see your sympathies shifting as you learn more about the idiosyncratic characters you run into along the way. Crisscrossing the country as different teens gradually collates a clear picture of the machinations in the country and what happened 10 years ago. Not bad for a bunch of random hitchhikers.