“You Should Play This” focuses on modern horror games worth your time and attention.
The zombie apocalypse is overdone in much the same way saying that the zombie apocalypse is overdone is. It takes something truly novel to escape from the rancid horde of me too half-hearted undead fodder.
In the realm of video games, this is as true as anywhere else. The use of zombies and the aforementioned zombie apocalypse are rarely done well. The indie scene has plenty of the fodder, but it also houses most of the good takes as well.
Take Death Road to Canada. A beautiful hybrid of text-based adventure and roguelike dungeon crawler with a deliriously silly sense of humor, this procedurally-generated indie gem both embraces and pokes fun at the zombie genre with plenty of knowing nods to other media and the tropes they often employ.
The title is somewhat explanatory. You must guide survivors of a zombie apocalypse in the US on a road trip to the supposed safe haven that is Canada. Simple enough on the surface, but there’s plenty to be worried about on the journey there.
Your party of up to four survivors must scrape together fuel for the car they’re using for the road trip. Then there’s the small matter of weapons, ammo, food, and medical supplies as well. You can acquire these whenever the game offers up a location to raid. Then your intrepid little posse must smack, batter, and generally destroy the shambling undead as you search gas stations, hotels, sewers and more to get some goodies.
During these 2D top-down action-oriented segments, you wield whatever you can find. That can be anything from shopping carts to pistols to lump hammers and all sorts in between. They can break, of course, meaning you have to time your shots (one hit might knock a zombie down, but not end it outright) and try to keep ahead of the hordes rather than take the fight to them every time (especially as you’ll knacker your poor survivors out).
It helps that the undead are the slow and shuffling type. You plan right and you can avoid large swathes of them on your way to gathering supplies. Yet in true old-fashioned zombie tradition, it’s very easy to let a group of them surround you, and that is almost always going to end badly for you.
Lucky for you that as long as one of your party is alive, you’re still in the game. With the procedural nature of what Death Road to Canada throws at you, however, a rather relatively inane moment can see it all fall apart in morbidly amusing fashion. Then it’s time to have another crack, with new survivors, slightly different places, and more oddball moments.
The oddball moments mostly come during the text-based side of Death Road to Canada. As the group travel on the road, they’ll have conversations and be faced with choice-based scenarios. The outcome of these vary depending on a) what the character’s traits are, and b) if they’re human or otherwise. Yes, your party can consist of more than just human survivors. There are dogs and cats (who can drive, because why not?) and even a very grumpy gnome to be found on the way to the Great White North. The replay value in Death Road to Canada is found in these ever-changing mixes of apocalyptic cliches and off the wall oddities.
You may only get a small amount of time in the company of certain characters, and you may not make it to Canada (it’s not as easy as it sounds), but it’s easy to get attached sometime, and maybe have a brief regret when Hank the gentle giant who can punch a broken car into a working state is swallowed by the horde in the dank depths of a dilapidated cannery.
Death Road to Canada takes the grey grimness of the post-apocalypse and splatters it with goofy 16-bit-styled charm. It trades a darker, nastier side for its comedy edge, but it remembers what surviving a zombie apocalypse is supposed to be about, traveling to a faraway place with a surly gnome, a belligerent canine companion, and an anime-obsessed, katana-wielding young lady. All in the hope of a better life.
Death Road to Canada is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.