Almost two years after Road 96 released, developer Digixart has released another slice of its story: a prequel. And it’s every bit as captivating – perhaps even more so.
While Road 96 was a randomly-generated tale of several teens taking a road trip to escape their corrupt country, its brand new prequel, Road 96: Mile 0, is a more carefully-sculpted, narrative-driven experience. This time, you’re focusing solely on two characters: Kaito, the son of two workers from the city, and Zoe, the privileged daughter of the country’s oil minister. If Zoe sounds familiar, that’s because she is: she’s one of the characters you meet in Road 96. And Mile 0 leads directly into the events of that game.
Road 96: Mile 0 isn’t a long experience: we were done in around four hours, but it’s four hours that kept us hooked. We quickly came to care for Zoe and Kaito, both very different kids with their own struggles, brought together as best friends despite their polarising backgrounds and upbringings. You don’t need to have played Road 96 to enjoy this – in fact, when we previewed Mile 0 earlier this year, creative director Yoan Fanise made it clear that Mile 0 is an ideal entry point for newcomers. We can concur: as a prequel, it makes sense to start here. But if you have already played Road 96, you’ll undoubtedly get a kick out of meeting some familiar faces. Sonia, John and Alex all play a role, and you’ll come across other familiar names and faces, too.
Tonally, Mile 0 feels a little different to Road 96. Both games share a deep-rooted political theme, and while Mile 0 focuses more on the individual lives of Zoe and Kaito, the overbearing weight of their country’s politics can never be ignored. That said, this isn’t all heavy-going: there are plenty of light moments, and it’s those where Mile 0‘s gameplay shines. Along with taking control of Zoe and Kaito, players will engage in music-driven skateboarding sections and various other minigames as a means to propel the story forward.
Related: Read our Road 96 review
The skateboarding sections are great fun, challenging you to set a high score (and can be accessed at any time from the main menu if you simply want to beat your record). There’s a few well-known tracks in there, including The Offspring’s ‘No Brakes’, and while tapping your foot to the beat of the music you’ll be avoiding obstacles and collecting pick-ups as you skate through various – and often fantastical – environments. One sees you being chased by Zoe’s new bodyguard, who grows to the size of a goliath giant. Another, an allegory for Zoe’s state of mind, will see you go behind the curtain of your country of Petria, seeing it for what it really is.
But as great as these light-hearted sections are, it’s Road 96: Mile 0‘s story that kept us transfixed. Kaito and Zoe’s very different upbringings give them opposite political opinions, and over the course of the game your actions can influence their leanings. Kaito tries to persuade Zoe that her government isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In turn, she can try to dissuade him from dangerous activism. That means your choices have some impact on how the pair’s story ends, and there are multiple outcomes to uncover. Since it’s a fairly short experience, you might be compelled to play through again, just to see how differently things end up. But for most players, the replayability will come only through the skateboarding sections.
We cared deeply for both Kaito and Zoe throughout our time with Road 96: Mile 0, wanting to make the best choices for both of them. Their journey may be brief, but it’s filled with sincere moments, whether emotional, funny or tense – and it’s a story we simply couldn’t put down once we’d started. This is an excellent addition to Road 96, adding extra weight and context to the events of that game, but also standing strong on its own two feet, as a tale of two teenagers struggling to make sense of the complicated world around them. Once again, Digixart has created something wonderfully unique, and the studio’s talent for storytelling shines brighter than ever.