The Canada Trail?
Death Road to Canada (DRtC), developed by Madgarden and Rocketcat Games, is very much a roguelike dungeon crawl that has been blended with a zombie survival game and The Oregon Trail (TOT). For those of you who aren’t familiar with The Oregon Trail, it is a text-based adventure game that debuted in the 1970s where players were tasked with keeping a group of pioneers alive as they traveled The Oregon Trail in 1848. It has been released on countless platforms and was even inducted into the World Videogame Hall of Fame in 2016. DRtC takes a lot of design elements from The Oregon Trail, namely its road trip mechanics and morale system. A number of random and usually grim events would strike the pioneers of The Oregon Trail at any given time and the same thing will happen to the adventurers that brave the death road to Canada. DRtC may borrow heavily from TOT but it definitely cements its own identity along the way.
A Random Encounter!
Almost every aspect of DRtC is randomized. The locations you discover, the threats that strike you along the way, and the zombie-filled “dungeons” are all designed at random. You can even have the game randomize the perks/traits and appearance of your starting team. This makes each and every playthrough unique. Even if you decide to use the same characters each and every time you will never get the same story twice. This uniqueness is what kept me coming back for more regardless of the game’s steep difficulty and learning curve. I seemed to always want to boot the game up just to see how I was going to wind up meeting my end. Would it be a horde of the undead that put me in my coffin or would it be one of my own team members to put me in the grave? Would I end up going hungry or would I actually make it to the last safe place on Earth? To Canada!
DRtC can be very disheartening in the beginning. It’s a game that doesn’t tell you much and there really isn’t a tutorial to speak of at all. There is a small info button you can click on sometimes, but even then the information it provides is extremely limited. The best way to learn DRtC is to just keep playing it over and over again. Each attempt at making it to Canada will be a learning experience on what you should and shouldn’t be doing during your journey. You have to connect the dots yourself, but once you do things will start to get easier. Just figuring out how everything works is a very rewarding experience all on its own.
The game presents you with three different modes of play when you first get things started. You have Death Road Normal Mode, which is self-explanatory. It’s the game’s default normal mode. There is the Familiar Characters Mode that places all of your custom characters into the game. I had a ton of fun creating my family and my twitter followers and then seeing them placed into the game. The results were always hilariously fantastic. There is also a little something called Rare Characters Mode.
Have you ever wanted to kill zombies with an anime girl or a poor man’s version of Link from The Legend of Zelda? Have you ever thought about using Cloud’s Buster Sword to kill swarms of the undead? Well, this mode allows you to do those things and more. I met a man named Lunk who looked a lot like Link and a guy named Nimbus who I swore was Cloud from Final Fantasy. I even ran into a certain hockey mask-wearing killer during my journeys on the road. I spent more time in this mode than any of the others because the situations were just so unexpected and so much fun to experience. The game also throws three more modes of play at you once you finally make it to Canada. Two of these make the game even more difficult than it already is and the other one shortens the length of time it takes to reach Canada. Whether or not that actually makes the game easier is highly debatable.
On The Road Again
Once you’ve built your team and chosen a mode of play, you can start the perilous journey from Florida, driving up the east coast of the United States, in hopes of arriving in Canada. Why are we going to Canada you ask? Well, word has it that it is the last safe place on Earth and zombie-free. The gameplay of DRtC is split into two segments. Those where you are on the road traveling by car, sometimes by foot when you run out of gas or your car breaks down, and the others that have you exploring the randomly generated grocery stores, medical supply stations, and junkyards that inhabit this pixelated zombie apocalypse.
When you’re traveling on the road danger will be everywhere and it’s your characters’ traits/perks that will decide how things play out. If you roll into bandit territory, it’s good to send someone to talk to them that is charming rather than sending in a frantic whiner or someone who is irritated easily. Knowing which traits are useful in any given situation can be the difference between life and death for your team. You’ll want to have a mechanic or car nut to help you out with your car because you DO NOT want to be traveling on foot in this game. The only problem with that is that you can only start the game with up to two characters, so there isn’t any way to get all of the really good traits/perks on any one team. You will find and rescue many people on your journey, but each addition to your team will eat at your resources and without enough food or medical supplies each member of your group will start to mentally break down. Once all of the group’s morale is gone, you’re sure to be seeing the game over screen following soon.
Fun With Friends
If you are playing alone, the game’s AI does an excellent job at providing support and keeping up with your character, but I found that having a player two with me just made everything even more enjoyable than it already is. There isn’t any online multiplayer in DrtC, but it does have the couch co-op option available. Feel free to have a friend or family member drop in or out at any moment. Whether you travel solo or decide to bring someone along, good times are guaranteed.
To Y’all Mart We Go
You will find all of the game’s precious resources scattered around the randomly generated “dungeons”. While on the road you will come across various looting points. You will be presented with a choice to make. Do you raid the grocery store to collect mainly food? How about the gun shop to stock up on ammo and firearms? There are a medical supply shop and a gym, but which one do you choose? Every little decision in this game could make or break your attempt at getting to the end.
You will walk among up to 500 zombies at once as you search for just one more can of food or just a little more gas. Death Road’s zombies are easy to deal with when they are in small groups, but should you find yourself surrounded there will be nothing you can do. Most weapons in DRtC are breakable and ammo is extremely limited. Even the weapons with extreme durability can make your characters tire quickly if they don’t have the proper stats to wield them effectively.
Even in battle, the choices you make are everything. Do you save all your ammo until the game throws out a siege or use it every step of the way? A siege is an event where you must simply stay alive for a set amount of time. During these events, the game will throw wave after wave of zombies at you. It is much easier to clear these if you have plenty of guns and ammo, so naturally, you’ll want to save them up. It makes perfect sense, but DRtC is a game that just can’t be prepared for. You can try to prepare all you want, but the game will constantly surprise you with new ways to screw you over. During several of my attempts to hold onto my precious ammo, I would somehow wind up having it taken by bandits or lost in some other grim way. Even the save system is hard on the player. Feel free to take a break while on the open road but should you quit (or the system loses power) during any other section, then the game will completely delete your save file.
I know I’ve painted a bleak picture in regards to the game’s difficulty but the constant struggle against the game is what makes this title so much fun. You will become more familiar with everything each time you retry and things seem to get just a little bit more manageable with each bit of knowledge you gain. As you play the game, you are also rewarded with Zombo Points. Zombo Points can be spent to permanently upgrade character perks. You can start the game with a better mechanic or with more guns in your inventory. These upgrades do make things a bit easier, but they don’t guarantee victory. They do add to the insane amount of replay value this title offers. You will want to play it over and over again even if you don’t ever make it to Canada.
When I was given this game to review, I didn’t have a clue as to what to expect from the title. At first glance it was yet another zombie game, only this time it was coated with a very rough looking pixel art coat of paint. I quickly fell in love with its odd meld of text-based adventuring and survival style roguelike dungeons. The music had me and my family humming along as we tried our best to survive the rough journey. We rode along, we laughed, and we died many horrible deaths along the way. I became addicted to learning the game’s mechanics and I always ended up thinking, “Let’s try this just one more time.”, every time I was met with a game over. It’s not the prettiest game on the market, but Death Road to Canada certainly stands up there as being one of the most fun.
Developers Madgarden and Rocketcat Games have crafted something very special with this title. I still don’t know what to expect when booting it up. The only thing you can expect with DRtC is the unexpected. You’ll never know what’s coming, but I promise you that you will have a ton of fun along the way.
- Fun to learn
- Extreme replay value.
- Absolutely hilarious.
- Difficulty/learning curve may turn some off.