Road 96: Mile 0 Preview – Long Road Ahead

A follow-up prequel to Digixart’s 2021 release, Road 96: Mile 0 will park on all platforms this April. And while there’s still about a month to go, I recently got a chance to go hands-on with the title’s opening. The preview, like the game, focuses on Zoe and Kaito, a pair of unlikely friends from opposite sides of the track whose life perspectives’ are soon to clash. While I enjoyed the game’s world-building, characterizations, and art style, Mile 0 has a way to go before launch.

Fans of Road 96 may recognize the affluent Zoe as a playable character from the original title, but she’s not the only one to come from the developer’s earlier games. Her best friend, Kaito, stars in Digixart’s Lost in Harmony, and I feel its influence immediately. That’s because Mile 0 kicks off with a skating-based dreamscape, quite a departure from Road 96’s typical gameplay. Controlling Kaito, my goal is to skate down a track while picking up as many shining collectibles as possible and occasionally jumping over and ducking under obstacles. Though simplistic, the constantly morphing visuals and upbeat music keep things fun.

During the course of my run, I find myself gliding through impossibly large tubas — which is great. But the whimsical notes soon turn sour with frustration. My slow response time makes attempting to avoid several moving parts feel impossible, and I’m forced to replay a single section over and over until I give up trying to take the route littered with collectables altogether.

I wake from the vexing — but fixable — dream, to find myself sitting on a worn couch with my best friend, Zoe. Unfortunately, the first words out of the characters’ mouths also feel discordant. The writing is well done, but the voice acting doesn’t do it justice. In a game so focused on narrative delivered through dialogue, the unnatural performance — which strikes my ear like the actors read lines alone in a room with no reference to their scene partner — does the game a huge disservice.

It’s impressive how much the prequel communicates about the politically charged world in a short period of time with both visual and audio storytelling. It leaves me assured that players who didn’t pick up the first game won’t get lost. Crumbling infrastructure clashes against rising statues and radio broadcasts abruptly gloss over possible natural disasters to focus on upcoming campaign speeches. But not every aspect of communication hits the mark. I often feel like I don’t have enough information on what to do or where to go, sometimes leaving me wandering around aimlessly.

That’s not always bad, as there is a lot to explore in the world. I discover an arcade in the characters’ secret hangout spot that plays a fun, lo-fi version of the opening’s skating level. And I actually chuckled out loud at one point when, as teenager Zoe, I attempted to go down a kiddie slide in my neighborhood park only to eke slowly down the short length of sheet metal.

Ultimately, there are glowing elements in Road 96: Mile 0, but parts of the experience still need to be adjusted before the game’s April release.

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