Last Friday I got a build of Rocketcat and Madgarden’s Death Road to Canada on my iPhone. Since then, I’ve been completely obsessed. After hours, and hours, and hours of playing, I’m ready to say it: As far as my own personal game of the year is concerned, Death Road to Canada is currently the game to beat. It combines Rocketcat humor, great pixel art, fantastic music, randomized gameplay, playable dogs capable of shooting guns, spooky stories about menacing goblins, Madgarden freakishly small file sized and so much more to create an experience that’s not only super fun but also surprisingly deep with new things I’m still discovering while I play.
Starting at the beginning, let’s pretend this is the first you’ve heard of Death Road to Canada (even though we’ve been covering it extensively). The basic gist of the game is zombies have taken over, you’re in Florida, you heard Canada was safe, so you’re hopping in your car with your buddy (or no buddy at all, if you choose) and heading north. The core gameplay loop involves making Oregon Trail-like decisions, stopping off at various locations to collect supplies, fighting off tons of zombies while you loot buildings, and running back to your car to continue on your way.
There’s also a hefty amount of resource management to be done. Food is your primary concern, as, well, a man’s gotta eat. Every day you’re on the road to Canada your party consumes food, so you need to decide if you want a large party which can make survival a little easier as more people means more weapons being swung (or shot) around. The down-side is, the more mouthes you have to feed, the less excess food you’ll have for trading at the various camps you’ll come across. Also, the wheels really fall off the bus when you’ve got a full party who runs out of food, as in-fighting occurs when morale gets depleted by hunger. Alternatively, you could go it alone, and have loads of food, which will buy you some great weapons, but being a loner comes with its own drawbacks as well.
Other resources you’ll be managing include gas to fuel your car, medical supplies to heal your party, and a few different types of ammo. If you’re low on one and high on another type of resource, you might get lucky and find someone willing to trade you one for the other, but overall the Death Road is a treacherous place where you only have what you can find with your own two hands.
Speaking of cars, another thing that’s cool about Death Road to Canada is that unlike other games with fuel mechanics, running out of gas doesn’t mean the end of your trek. Instead, it just means you have to find a new car. There’s lots of different cars too, ranging from fuel efficient hybrids which have great fuel economy but are damaged easily, sports cars which use a bunch of gas but can do sweet jumps, and more. You don’t often have a lot of choice regarding which car you’ll have, as you typically just take the first vehicle you come across, but like everything else, this all gets rolled into your overall strategy for survival. (You’ll sometimes even need to find keys for your new car, which can be pretty treacherous as well.)
Every character in game has their own set of statistics, and one thing that’s incredibly clever about Death Road to Canada is you have no idea what these stats are until you get into a situation that requires them. For instance, you might come across a wanderer who wants to join your party who turns out to be good at nothing and have a terrible attitude. Or you might come across someone who has an incredibly high “wits" stat, but you don’t realize it until you come across a random decision that calls on that character’s particular wits.
It’s a … oddly realistic element in a game that otherwise has a otherwise silly tone to it. Why should you automatically know the full stat sheet of every character you come across until they have an opportunity to either show (or tell you) they’re good at something? Characters also have “perks" and “traits" which act as modifiers on both their stats as well as how they interact in the game world. For instance someone with the perk “mechanic" will have higher mechanical and fitness stats (along with starting with a wrench). Traits can be hilarious, like you might come across someone with the “irritating" trait who basically contributes nothing of value aside from making everyone else angry. On the up side, an irritating person will give you the dialog option “COOL IT!" which… in my experience always makes things worse. There’s tons of different perks and traits, and experimenting with different party members with different combinations of perks and traits are just one more thing that add to Death Road to Canada’s seemingly infinite replay value.
Once you’ve got your party and make a stop to collect loot, there’s a few different ways you can proceed. If you’ve got a nimble party that can move quickly, you can avoid a lot of zombies and just grab the supplies you need and make it back to the car. Alternatively, if you’ve got good weapons and buff dudes in your crew you can just smash everything in sight. The combat initially seems super simple, in that you basically just swing your weapon and pick up things to throw, but once you dig deeper you’ll discover all sorts of neat tricks to mitigate zombie threats.
Another thing I really like about Death Road to Canada is that just because your party leader dies doesn’t mean your run is over. I’ve had games where I had my core group of three characters, picked up a fourth, and then have the original three all quickly die leaving your sole survivor who didn’t even know your original party collecting their supplies and continuing to head north- Potentially forming their own party on the way. Also, you’ll naturally collect party members who are more annoying than others, and the game effectively encourages you to send people who irritate you out to do dangerous things… Almost hoping they get hurt or die in the process.
Oh, and as far as controls are concerned, if you’ve played Wayward Souls ($6.99), it’s the same basic idea here. A virtual joystick handles movement, tapping attacks, and you’ve got a button to pick things up and a button to cycle weapons. Menus and dialog options are all touch-based. I’ve found myself preferring playing on the iPhone to the iPad, but I typically gravitate that direction with any game that uses a virtual joystick anyway. While MFi support isn’t in the build I’m playing, it sounds like that’s potentially on the horizon.
I feel like I could write about Death Road to Canada for hours, but in the interest of saving some stuff to write about in the review when it eventually comes to iOS, I’ll just leave you guys with this taste. If you’re anxious to play it now, you can download the game on Steam, which is effectively identical to the iOS version except you’re playing with a keyboard (or controller) instead of virtual controls. As I mentioned before, there’s tons to discover and this preview is barely even scratching the surface of what Death Road to Canada has to offer between customization, depth, secret characters, different game modes, and so much more. Rocketcat isn’t saying when exactly Death Road to Canada will be hitting the App Store, but I absolutely promise you, this is a game you’re going to want to pick up when it does.