Greetings all! I’ve recently returned to Canada from my lengthy visit to my family in Europe, and what better way to commemorate that than with with a review about a game where you try to get to Canada?
So what is Death Road to Canada? Well, in Death Road to Canada you play the role of a character with a patholgical fear of flying as they navigate through twenty one hours worth of airplanes, airports, and turbulance, all while trying to keep the stentch of synthesized oxygen and peanuts out of your nose to prevent yourself from vomiting your organs out.
No, wait, that’s my actual plane trip home.
Death Road to Canada is a zombie Road Trip simulator that is essentially a spiritual sequel to Organ Trail, with a healthy dose of Dead Rising meets Scott Pilgrim vs The Game.
That’s three distinct games crudely fashioned into one, but if done right, it has the potential to be bigger than the sum of its parts. However, will this added fuel in your car be enough to keep you trucking in the festering corpse(s) that is the oversaturated Zombie Survival genre? I’m happy to say that the answer is a resounding “yes,” even if the car I’ve been driving in game had broken down more times than I can count.
Music to My Ears
The presentation of the overall game is clearly something far more lighthearted than your standard zombie fare, which is already a nice change of pace to a genre that’s been traditionally dark for so long that it just doesn’t have that same edge as it used too. Characters resemble the Homestuck style with a preference for “rested b—— face” and gently hop around as they bounce across the map, all while a looping rendition of the opening riff of Johnny B. Goode plays in the background.
The whole soundtrack is a deliciously upbeat and willingly fun affair that really gets you going and pushing forward through the zombie apocalypse. There aren’t a lot of songs, but what little there are are very catchy and almost inspire you to do better with each playthrough.
Organ Trail 2
The primary inspiration for the game is pretty clear. Death Road to Canada is all about managing your resources and gauging what the best decision is at any given time while trying to appease the RNG gods to work their magic in your favour. What surprised me the most about this, apart from the fact that no one can die from dysentery, is that the system feels, overall, very forgiving.
Usually when it comes to games like this, any time when I come across a situation I have a 90% chance of success, I find that I only manage to succeed about 10% of the time, but Death Road to Canada has been pretty consistent and fair when it came to gaming RNG elements - things like fixing cars, to dealing with bandits, to wrestling moose. And on the off chance that something did go wrong, I was rarely ever so screwed over that I had no chance to recover.
Many a bad encounter with bandits had led to my entire screen being filled with “[X] IS HURT!” But I always walked away with more than half my health (assuming my health was full, of course). This is fantastic, because the sting of the loss still felt like a swarm of bees, but just like the upbeat soundtrack, I felt like I could keep on trucking. And I did, quite often.
Even when your car breaks down, which deals a serious blow to your overall progress, it doesn’t take very long before you come across another one in your travels, and with plenty of opportunity to stock up on gas to boot. Finding a new car is done via Scavenging sequences (we’ll get to that), as are many of the quirky side missions.
That isn’t to say the game is easy, by any stretch of the imagination. RNG events absolutely have the capacity to kill your character, and when they do it’s devastating. But for once it never felt hopelessly beyond my control.
Frank West vs. The World
It certainly helps that at least half of the game is especially hands-on. Scavenging sections have you choose between which areas to forage for food medicine, and gas, all of which are needed to keep you going on the road as well as work as currency. Not to mention ammo.
Guns and ammo are rare, but not especially hard to come by. They’re incredibly useful, accentuated by the fact that unlike most zombie games they don’t attract hordes of zombies to your location, making them actually feel worth using for a change. Gun combat itself is similar to the original Deus Ex, in which you have to keep your crosshairs trained on your enemies for an extended period of time to get more accurate, although given that you’re facing hordes, even bullets that miss your target often hit another one (and no friendly fire, thankfully).
Primarily, however, the game is essentially a Beat-Em-Up. Scavenging missions have you wading through randomly generated areas which can consist of one or more buildings as you grab chairs, wood planks, machetes, and American flags with which to smash and chop your way through the undead. Combat is very simplistic, consisting of a single move, but different weapons have different properties, such as how quickly you get tired between blows.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t tell you the statistics of each weapon, leaving you to feel for yourself, and in my extended play I’ve never gotten quite a bead on it, except that blunt weapons are more reliable than most knives and especially useful in knocking enemies away. Still, combat manages to stay strangely fresh, largely in part of the fact that you need to swap to different weapons for different situations and are required to keep an eye out on where you’re standing and how many enemies you are up against. In particularly crowded areas, Death Road to Canada can be a riot.
Zombies, themselves, don’t attack in a traditional manner. Rather than swiping at you to do damage they instead deal damage over time by crowding you. This means you can literally walk through zombies and still make it through without a scratch, at least in theory; in practice, zombies slow you down enough for their friends to catch up and join in on the fun, which causes them to deal especially large quantities of damage. Most characters can barely last three hits without an upgrade, but that’s offset by the fact that you won’t actually get hit often if you have even a basic knowledge of what you’re doing. This isn’t Dark Souls, after all, as punishing as a single hit can be. It’s a pretty refreshing system that keeps the tension up without being frustrating.
Please Use the Z Word
However, what is pretty frustrating is that a lot of the more interesting encounters, especially with bandits, are relegated to dialogue boxes in the Road Trip portion of the game.
Zombies, and only the ordinary kind, are the sole enemy you get to fight in this game. It’s really a shame that they haven’t mixed it up with some sort of bandit encounters to spice things up, and while it was hilarious that other characters in the game start asking where the Left 4 Dead brand of zombies (tongues and all) at first, it eventually becomes grating like salt furiously applied to your wounds. Why aren’t there any zombies of the Left 4 Dead variety? I’ve never understood the appeal of zombie games which only feature vanilla zombies, especially now that the concept had become so oversaturated that you can basically open up the Steam store page and probably find three games right off the bat which do just that. But more than that, the lack of interesting zombie types and bandits just hurts the possibility of variety, which is ironic in a game which features you picking up clowns, oiled-up body builders and horse-headed TomSkas on the side of the road. Despite the wild directions the game takes, the package ultimately feels very limited in scope as a result of it. As fun and hugely replayable as the game is, these encounters tend to get very samey pretty soon. Modding support is said to be hopefully added in the future, and I certainly hope that gets put to use to remedy this.
Are We There Yet?
Death Road to Canada is a joyous romp through Florida on your journey to the zombie-free country of Canada, filled with guns, gas, and blood. It takes the formula of Organ Trail and beefs it up with a healthy dose of Dead Rising’s furniture-smashing chaos and Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Game’s retro Beat-Em-Up silliness and manages to combine it all into a fun, hilarious mess that’s addictive for hours on end. I’ve yet to make it to Canada alive yet, but where many games of its ilk have often made me give up on trying, Death Road to Canada’s optimism and forgiving nature made me feel that one day I could actually do it. Not to mention it’s a ton of fun! If there’s a game that could prove that the zombie genre isn’t quite out of fuel just yet, Death Road to Canada and the broken down lemon it rides around in is definitely that game.