Developer: Rocketcat Games
Publisher: Rocketcat Games
Platform Reviewed: PC
Release Date: July 22, 2016
Acquired via: Steam
As far as tired video games tropes go, the zombie game is near the top of my list. From the classic Zombies Ate Me Neighbors on my SNES to Dying Light on the PlayStation 4, I have played my share of zombie games. Honestly, I’m zombied out. It’ll take something real interesting to get me back into zombies.
Death Road to Canada for the PC sure is interesting.
The best way I can describe this game is Broforce meets Organ Trail. The premise is simple: you are a survivor of the zombie apocalypse. You are escaping zombie-ridden Florida and heading to Canada. Maybe zombies are allergic to poutine and nice people. Whatever the reason, you heard Canada is safe, and you need to get there. Along the way you will find other survivors, gather necessary resources, drive an ice cream truck, encounter traders or bandits, find a dog that can drive and shoot, and cleave through acres of walkers.
You start out by picking a character, either customized or randomly generated. You can create multiple characters and they will appear in the game as NPCs. I decided to customize my character. I ended up with a dude named Russell, because if anyone is going to survive the zombie apocalypse, it’s KURT FREAKING RUSSELL!!! I gave him a perk of “Fighter” and a trait of “Warrior”. These are important. Perks give your character stat boosts and traits determine your character’s personality. I could have picked “Medic” and “Charming”, which would have made my character handy with a first aid kit and very pleasant, but a wimp when fighting the hordes. So, basically Dr. McDreamy.
The characters all start with a range of stats – like strength, stamina, and medicine – that are displayed as varying face icons. They also have a morale meter that players must keep an eye on. Characters with sad faces for morale are less effective than characters with happy faces.
Stamina is really important when fighting zombies, and thanks to Russell’s “Fighter” perk, I got a boost to stamina. He was equipped by default with a hatchet (apparently, the submachine gun from Big Trouble in Little China was too much to ask for). There are weapons scattered about the areas you visit that you can equip, including guns, rebar, mops, flamethrowers, and even femurs. Some of the weapons can break, but my hatchet was pretty sturdy. I was able to cleave through quite a few undead with it.
And there are WAY more than “quite a few” undead. These hordes are the shambling type and can be outrun, but it’s amazing how easily you can be overwhelmed by huge mobs. In open areas, it’s best to just run past them and go around looting resources. You can move furniture around to create blockades, but that usually hinders more than hurts. My first companion, Luca, found that out the hard way. He was unable to find a path around a sofa I used as a barrier and ended up getting swallowed by a horde. It’s horrifying but oddly cool to see happen.
Those resources are obviously important. You start off driving to Canada and you will need to find gasoline to keep it running. You will also need to find food to eat. Food in this game also acts as currency for traders. Handguns and shotguns require bullets, and those can be scavenged as well. Medical supplies allow characters to heal each other. Run out of any resource and the game gets that much more complicated.
The sections where you wreck hordes and scavenge for resources constitute the Broforce sections of the game. The graphical style is very 8-bit pixelart, just like Broforce. The weapons are not as over-the-top (though a femur is pretty close) but they are still pretty satisfying to use. The zombies start off rather easy to manage, but soon enough you will encounter huge mobs that can surround you and rip you to shreds. If you’re in your car, they can pound the car to pieces. You’ll have to balance your bravery with your need to look for medical supplies or gas.
Travel in the car is handled Organ Trail style. As you travel, you go through resources. If any party members are hurt, another party will heal them, assuming you have enough medical kits on hand (if a party member has the “Medic” perk, they will heal party members better). While traveling, you will stop for random events. They range from finding stores you can loot for resources, trading posts, rest posts, bandit blockades, and even silly things like a bee flying into the car. These random events can help or hurt your party, depending on your choice. I had Russell try to swat the bee, and the bee stung Russell, requiring medical supplies. I also found out that telling a random trader to “cool it!” can be a bad thing. The trader went into a rage, pummeling my entire party and killing Reta, my Medic.
If you run of gas or your car breaks down, you have to abandon it and go at it on foot (If there’s a character with the “Mechanic” perk in your team, they may be able to fix a broken down car). Eventually, you will come to a stop where you can grab another car, provided you can tear through the hordes around it and find the key. The vehicles I ran into included a hot dog car, a hybrid, and an ice cream truck. Whether on foot or driving, you still hit those pesky random events.
Those random events are the biggest gripe I have with the game. Yes, it has that Oregon Trail/Organ Trail feel to it, and it adds to the tension of racing through a danger filled world. But the RNG is positively brutal, and the game’s mechanics don’t help. While on foot on one occasion, my party was blocked by a horde of zombies. I was given a set of choices, and I went with the one where the party would parkour around the zombies to escape. Great, except Russell has the agility of a bottle of aspirin and hurt himself in the process. That is how I “discovered” his agility stat was putrid, which was unknown to me until that point. At least no one got dysentery.
Playing it safe doesn’t help, either. On another random event, we reached a bandit blockade. In order to pass, they demanded all our weapons. If we complied, we were defenseless when fighting the zombies. If we refused, we’d have to duke it out with them and take guaranteed damage or casualties, I think you know what saying, “cool it!” would accomplish.
Although the RNG likes handing out shit sandwiches like Tic-Tacs at a bad breath convention, it’s still fun to try and survive despite it. The game does not take itself too seriously, and restarting after dying isn’t too much of a chore. It does get a bit repetitive when you make your 15th stop and have to run hatchet-first into yet another wave of shamblers because you’re out of food, but there’s enough levity in the game to egg you on. The game’s soundtrack is comprised of several chiptune tracks. They’re nice and light, but they get very repetitive over time as well.
Death Road to Canada is a fun game. I never did get Russell to Canada, and I never found the gun-toting dog I saw in the trailer. But I still had a blast playing the game. I may still be zombied out in video games, but I find myself firing this one up when I want a quick action fix.