Death Road to Canada is an entirely cute and charming take on the end of the universe. It’s also a title filled with odd and outdated design choices that often hempen a game with some hidden depth.
Canada is often a place of mystery and rumours. Some people say it’s lovely up there, streets free of trash, society free of crime, and land free of the living dead. At least that’s what they say. Death Road To Canada is an entirely charming little procedurally generated survival title that mixes simplistic RPG elements and action sections. Entirely random, or crafted in the character creator, you take on the role of the “leader” of a posse of post-apocalyptic survivors tracking across the United States to the promised land of Canada.
The game is comprised of two major sections: 3rd person action sections that involve exploration and collection of items. Your adorable group bounces around stores and houses looking out for objects to raid and break while avoiding the hoard of the undead as best you can.
You can fight off the undead with a range of collected items but as always, it is more advisable to avoid close quarters alterations. Death Road To Canada is a game about resource management. Everything is a resource that can become depleted, from food to bullets and your characters own energy.
Swing with a weapon too much in an effort to survive and you will become winded or worse your weapon will break. So it pays to understand every choice you are making to weigh it up. The second important aspect of the game is the time your crew spends on the road, literally. This can be in a car you find or it can be on foot. Run out of petrol while driving the road and you have to ditch your car. Spend all night walking and you might just lack the energy you need when it comes to defending yourself.
While on the road, you will be faced with choices and randomly occurring places to visit that adds depth to a game that feels simple and adds to the trials of resource management. It’s these pit stops that start to pull the game apart. They reflect challenging choices, and when they work they can be super effective. Yet it’s the games randomness that lets down the experience. it can become entirely possible to have a section where you will run out of petrol because you happen to have stopped somewhere devoid of it. Walk for several sections only to not be provided with opportunities to stop and explore. The randomness of the game can be too random.
Death Road To Canada is already a game that features some pretty squishy protagonists, it’s very easy to be overwhelmed during the early stages by even small swarms of zombies. Factoring in its default control scheme though will cause many a player to pull out their hair. For some reason, Death Road To Canada uses the arrow keys for movement and the z,x, and c keys for in-game actions. Z is interact, X attack and so forth. there’s also a pause menu assigned to the space bar.
This menu allows for inventory management of your team, swapping items between people to preserve weapon usage. While the scheme is functional, it’s far from intuitive. If you’re used to modern WASD key setup you’ll find it takes a while to become even close to competent with the setup. Opening menus during hoard confrontations can be extremely frustrating, as can expecting to use a weapon while jabbing the use key.
This could be entirely deliberate, but it feels like a mistake. If it is deliberate it’s something that ruins the experience and if not it’s a terrible mistake.
It’s a shame too, the base here is solid. A cute art style with some interesting and well-considered mechanics that show unexpected depth make the times when it clicks totally entertaining. It just feels artificially hard, not actually mechanically challenging, just cheap on occasion. With some tweaks and more time this could be something super special, right now. Less than it should be.
Robin Smith is a freelance journalist and contributor to PN2. He’s on Twitter @seiibutsu