There is no shortage of video games featuring zombies as the antagonists. Over the past ten years they seem to be the go-to monsters of choice for TV, movies, and games, and it seems like zombie fatigue has yet to set in. Death Road To Canada takes a tried-and-true concept and twists it into a humorous action adventure game that might be worthy of your time.
When I first saw screens of Death Road To Canada I wasn’t sure what to expect from the final game. The premise is simple: get in your car and drive to Canada (a supposed safe-haven) to escape the hordes of undead. No, this isn’t a driving game. Instead, it’s one of survival, where the choices you make will impact your chances of success. However, just like in real life, you never know what consequences or random acts of God await for you on the other side of the text tree. That’s right, you’ll be making multiple decisions every day throughout your journey. Some seem benign: do you stop at the Y’all-Mart to try and stock up on supplies, or take a gamble at the local police station in hopes of some weapons and ammunition? Both seem like reasonable pit stops, but thanks to the randomized nature of the game, you never know which stop will be your last.
The game plays out through two segments, the story mode where you make decisions and the action mode where you hunt down zombies and try and gather vital supplies. Each day that passes requires food and gas to keep moving on your trip. Each person in your party gobbles up more resources, so although it might seem like a great idea to rescue a lady in trouble, you might want to think twice before adding her to your team. Each person in your group will help kill the onslaught of zombies, but they’ll do more damage with the appropriate weapons. You never know when a wrench will come in handy!
The computer controls the extra characters, unless you have a friend that wants to play 2-player co-op. This is both a blessing and a curse because it can be more exciting to play a session with a friend, but at the same time the AI computer controlled characters often seem more efficient. Or maybe my friends just suck? Either way, I know one irritation when playing co-op is that player one drags player two into new rooms, making player two feel like Tails in Sonic games – somewhat helpful but not really. I would have preferred the game to split the screen like the Lego games do so well.
The gameplay loop revolves around getting in your car and driving while consuming gas and food. An event will pop up and you’ll usually get to make a choice. These can range from getting out to explore and gather resources (shopping centers, abandoned houses, police stations, pet stores, etc.), bandits threatening to attach you (do you attack them or give them some resources?), blockades (hit the gas and run them over or reason with them), stay the night and make camp to rest (everyone rests up, or have someone watch and be drowsy the next day?), and many more scenarios. If you choose to get out and explore, the game does give you an idea of how many enemies to expect. There are times where you’re swarmed and are forced to stay alive for a set amount of time before you can exit an area.
One of the more frustrating elements of the game is the randomness of everything. You can try to play it safe and only choose reasonable actions and still get screwed over by an unexpected outcome. At first I enjoyed some of the craziness of the game because oftentimes the text is laugh out loud funny. However, starting the game over for the fifteenth time from scratch with nothing much to show for more effort became a problem. I’m not a teenager with an endless summer ahead of me where I can spend hundreds of hours on a single game. I like to know I’m making progress, and true, if you make it far enough you’ll earn points that can be redeemed for special skills that make the game a tad bit easier, but the roguelike nature of the game really got to me and pretty much killed the enjoyment I was having. I think one of the reasons it bothered me so much in this title is that so many things are out of my control. It’s like playing a choose your own adventure book, where you make a decision and all of a sudden your dead! Except the difference here is that I can’t just flip back to the page I was on and choose a different outcome – I’m forced to start over from the beginning. So many times I didn’t know which choice to pick because I was so worried it could be the end of the road, and honestly I’m not sure if there is a right decision tree to go down or if everything is a roll of the dice. Yeah, good luck with that.
On the bright side, the combat side of things can be fun; especially once you find some cool weapons. Melee attacks are pretty boring, no matter if you’re using a hatchet or a nightstick. Once you get some serious firepower like a shotgun or Uzi then the action really takes off. Of course you’ll need bullets to fuel your rampage, but assuming you have the goods, it feels great to mow down the zombie hordes. I enjoyed exploring through the different buildings and grabbing all of the supplies I could find. The game’s simplistic top-down overhead view made it easy to spot the places to rummage through. You’ll have to keep a watch out though because zombies are attracted to noise, especially gunfire. One moment you’ll be all alone in a room and the next there’s like 20 of them coming at you. If all you have is a melee weapon you’ll be lucky to make it out alive, especially since you can only swing so many times before tiring out and getting overrun.
Although the game looks like an 8-bit game, it performs much better with tons of sprites on the screen and no sign of slowdown or flicker. The default settings have a CRT filter and some grain added to the screen that did nothing for me. Luckily you can toggle these on and off in the options screen. The star of the game is the soundtrack, and it’s truly great. The music is very entertaining and oddly upbeat for a game of this nature. It sort of reminds me a little bit of Zombies Ate My Neighbors, but has its own flair and style all its own. Kudos to the sound folks!
At the end of the day, when the sun sets and you’re tucking yourself into your sleeping bag, Death Road To Canada delivers a memorable experience. Whether that is a good or bad one will depend on your taste in games. For me, I appreciated the humorous dialog, the witty jokes, and the tongue-in-cheek naming of many of the places and things throughout the game. The combat system was deep enough to keep me coming back for more, but the random nature of the story and my unwitting deaths thanks to the choices I made infuriated me to no end. It’s one thing to lose a game based on skill, it’s another thing entirely to have my fate decided by some random act. Couple that with the fact that I had to start over each time and I died and I quickly grew frustrated with the game. It’s too bad, because if that one element was removed I think I would have had a great time. As it stands, I can only say it’s worth considering and you may get more mileage out of it than I did.
Death Road To Canada was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.
Editor’s Note: When reviewing the game we played on the TV for most of the time. When we took it portably the game suffered from a staggering amount of slowdown and the frames dropped to an unplayable state. Restarting the Switch system fixed this problem and it was completely back to normal for both handheld and TV modes. So, if you experience this issue, a reset of the console should do the trick.