Death Road to Canada is basically the Oregon Trail but with Zombies. Oh wait, we have already got that, it’s called the Organ Trail… Okay, so the idea isn’t 100% original, but considering this game plays more like a top-down roguelite game with tonnes of action and deaths, rather than mostly consisting of random events, I would say it stands as it’s own. It’s addictive to play, great in co-op with another person, and every single playthrough will have you facing new troubling situations. This is yet another game I would add to my ‘just one more go’ and ‘have I really been playing it that long?’ lists.
The game was temporarily postponed from release due to some horrendous events which occurred in Toronto the week the game was due out, as such, I respect the publishers for doing that as not everyone would. However, the game has now officially released for PS4, Xbox One and the Switch – so let’s see what the game’s like!
The story is as basic as the beginning to any B-movie Zombie film. There has been a zombie outbreak and our protagonist has heard over the radio that everything is fine over in Canada. With a small glimmer of hope, a working car, and a survival instinct, you head out on the long trek from mainland USA to Canada thanks to your trusty car. Your trusty car which will last around 15 minutes until you’re forced to ditch it and look for another…
But don’t worry, you’re not in this alone. Along your journey, you will meet many random strangers who will offer their alliance in exchange for safe passage to this glorious haven, known as Canada! You will travel with up to three companions, who will all have their own unique stats, personalities and skills, as well as trade with various merchants for food, weapons, and money.
Not everything is as happy as it sounds though (if that sounds happy…), just like the Oregon Trail, you will also encounter random events which will damage your car or injure your companions. You also have the chance to stop off at various sites in order to loot, rescue or escape from the zombie onslaught. One thing is for certain though – It’s going to be a long journey to Canada, one which you may not all make it there alive. As such, try not to become too attached to your characters – it doesn’t end well…
If you have ever played the Oregon Trail then you will instantly understand and be aware of how this game works. I know I keep bringing up the comparison, but it’s a clear one which everyone will make. The game can be broken down into three segments: Driving, Merchants, Combat.
About a half of your time will be spent in this mode as a lot happens whilst you cruise the highway. If you are on your own then you will occasionally see hitchhikers who you can choose to give a gift too, or not. Alternatively, either if you are alone or not, you will stumble upon various locations and get asked what you wish to do. You can stop at merchant camps if you wish to barter for new gear or food, you can rest for a while even though there is a risk of attack, or you can head fists first into a zombie-infested area in order to look for some goodies! Also, whilst driving along, you will encounter the dreaded random events. These can be as simple as “your car has broken down, do you want someone to try and fix it” to “One of your party has injured himself, do you want to risk trying to tend to it? If so, who should do this?”. Both of those can end up either successfully or you could mess it up, make matters worse, and risk demotivating all of your party.
On a side note – there doesn’t appear to be any dysentery, so that’s a good thing!
These are exactly what you would expect in a zombie apocalypse. You will meet these at random camps and they seem to have a random selection of items at stupidly high prices. The majority of them will want your food in exchange for weapons, medikits or ammo yet some will do the reverse and offer a tiny amount of food in exchange for your gear. Personally, I didn’t use these as much as I should have when I played the game due to the fact I felt like I was being ripped off and refused to part with my hard-earned looted items and food.
And now we arrive at the best mechanic of the game, the combat sections. In terms of the combat itself though, it’s solid and truly satisfying to participate in. It’s delivered in a top-down format where you take control of one of your team members as you run around finding items and smashing in zombie’s brains. You can swap party members in the pause screen and even choose whether the other CPU controlled characters will be defensive, offensive, or bat-shit crazy and run head first into anyone they see!
You also have the chance to equip various items on your team before you head into the combat sections – this is where you must be tactical though as you don’t want to fill up all their avaliable slots. When you’re in the field, if you find a new weapon and you have no room, you must drop one of your existing ones, thus losing it. So be sure to always have some spare slots. The weapons are quite diverse as well, with a whole toolshed of different ones to pick up. From Crowbars to an UZI, and everything in between. Be wary though, your character gets out of breath and tires easier the bigger the weapon is which you choose to use. The combat sections come in a few varieties which I’ll touch on below, including random stop-offs, survival segments, and escape events.
Random stop-offs: These are usually ‘random event’s which happen whilst you’re on the road. You will be asked where you wish to stop in order to go looting and look for new gear and items.
Survival segments: These are annoying! Again, thanks to the random events on the road, you will eventually be in a situation where you have been stranded and can’t escape. Your goal here is to stay alive as the zombie infestation gets bigger and bigger in a small area until eventually someone comes and rescues you.
Escape events: I hate these. These have taken more lives of my team than anything else. You are stuck in the sewers and you must escape by either running past or killing all the zombies. You are in a tight, enclosed area with very little room to move and very little visibility – It’s a nightmare. Reach the ladder at the end in order to escape.
I’ve touched on your team but not actually explained it yet! Death Road to Canada is fully customisable. Not only can you create your own character along with all of your own traits, skills and perks, but you can also create a bunch of other random people who will crop up within your game (depending on which game mode you play). You can create people with fitness perks who can run faster and tire less often, or give yourself an advantage at mechanics for fixing the car, or even make yourself a more efficient medic. It’s all up to you and it allows you to fully experiment with what works best for the team you want. One thing to be aware of though, you can only pick your starting character and a buddy, all the others appear randomly at different times.
With every positive comes a negative though – not in terms of the game, but in terms of the traits. You may be super fast and really fit, but you may also be annoying and cause a lot of demotivation among the team. As such, a strategic element comes into play and you will find yourself often turning down people on the road even though you could use a hand. Why take on the help of a guy who seems like a good fighter yet won’t stop going on about how we are all going to die and we’ll never make it to Canada?
The game also adds in a few ‘famous’ characters who have been altered slightly so that they aren’t classed as using a companies IP. From the cowboy hat guy who constantly yells “Carl!” to the green tunic wearing character with the description of “isn’t based off of anything and if he is, he is a parody.” This character also appears under one of the following names: L*nk, Lenk, Lonk, Lunk, Lank, or Leyenk – so I can’t imagine who it’s trying to take off! A full list of all the rare characters is here: http://deathroadtocanada.wikia.com/wiki/Rare_Characters – I imagine some have been legally obtained and some have had their likeness ‘borrowed’.
Once you die, you will usually have acquired some Zombo Points, which you can now spend. These allow you to purchase carry-over upgrades or skills which will be present or active during every playthrough. This makes the game more akin to roguelite games where upon death you can purchase things to help you in the next run. I totally missed these on my first few playthroughs as the option isn’t clear at the start, but once I found them, I was sure to use them as best as I could.
The game has a few modes, as I mentioned above. these are:
Death Road Normal Mode: Here you pick a character and a buddy and off you go.
Familiar Characters Mode: This is where you will encounter any user-created players you have made.
Rare Characters Mode: You aren’t guaranteed to meet all of the rare ones from the above list, but you have a much higher chance of doing so.
Short Trip to Heck Mode: You arrive in Canada much faster. Is unlocked upon completion.
Long Winding Road Mode: The game takes even longer to get to Canada. Is unlocked upon completion.
Deadlier Road Mode: The game is super hard and you are guaranteed to die a lot. Unlocked upon completion.
So there is plenty of modes to play, each one is randomly generated and, other than a few set events, guaranteed to be different every single playthrough. To top this off, the conversations your team have with each other is very funny, the comedy is very tongue in cheek and some of the people you meet along the way have great dialogue. This game just seems to get better and better the more I play it and uncover new things which I’ve never seen before.
Graphically, we are looking at pixel-art style, which I’m not a massive fan of. Yet I found it easy enough to look at and everything looked comical and gory at the same time. The only issue is with the same thing that happens to the majority of pixel-art based games. The more things that appear on screen, be it moving zombies or the remaining guts of one, the harder it gets to make things out as you play. At times I would often think I was safe yet there was a zombie sitting on the entrails of another and I didn’t actually make them out until it jumped and hit me. Other than that though, the environments are well detailed and there is a number of diverse locations to visit.
Sound wise there isn’t much to say. the music is chiptune based and seems to make you feel all relaxed at times with cheery and happy music playing whilst you are being overrun by zombies. It does feel a little out of place, but it sounds great and there are a huge amount of songs within the game as each area sounds like it has a new tune. The sound effects are alright. They are your standard 8-bit sound effects which sometimes sound like Atari 2600 noises if I’m being honest. But who’s playing this game for the sound of smashing open the head of an undead supermarket worker?
I also had no issues with framerates, slowdowns or performance – which shouldn’t really shock anyone.
Death Road to Canada is a very, very fun game. You can experience it either in single player or in co-op with various different game modes and a deep character creation mechanic. No two playthroughs will be the same and each time you die you will want to spend your Zombo Points and jump straight back in for more. I honestly can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t pick this game up – you have hours of entertainment, loads of easter eggs to find, thousands of zombies to kill, and random conversations in the car (which get quite funny if using your own characters). If you want a game you can jump into and play for an hour or so with no context then pick this up today.
**A code for the game was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes**
Death Road to Canada£11.99
- Very addictive and every game is different
- Ability to fully customise your character and 'randoms' you meet on your trip
- Satisfying zombie-slaying action
- Great soundtrack
- Hours upon hours of gameplay
- The pixel-art graphics sometimes hide the action on screen
- Sometimes the zombies will just appear in massive hordes and eliminate you right before Canada