Road 96: Mile 0 Review

Road 96: Mile 0 on PlayStation 5

When you stumble upon a success, it’s understandable that you’ll want to double down on it. 2021’s Road 96 wowed players with its procedurally-generated road trips to the border, its endearing cast of characters, politically-charged story and varied gameplay. It was one of my own personal favorite games of the year, so when I heard that developer DigixArt was releasing a spin-off experience, I was eager to set off down the ol’ dusty road once more. This time, though, it’s been more of a directionless amble than an epic journey to the border.

Mile 0 foregoes the procedurally-generated journey to the border, instead focusing on the lives of two best friends who come from completely different backgrounds. Zoe, the red-headed, trombone-playing teen who also happens to be the daughter of corrupt President Tyrak’s Minister of Oil that we met in the original game, and Kaito, the son of a groundskeeper and cleaner under the oppressive regime. His girlfriend, Aya was diagnosed with cancer due to the horrible pollution of Colton City, the polluted and dangerous capital city of Petria where they previously resided. You can see where this is going. Despite both Zoe and Kaito getting on like a house on fire, there are political and social issues that will inevitably hinder their friendship, and it’s this dynamic that the story of Mile 0 hones in on.

The problem is, it all feels rather obvious in its direction. Almost immediately, Zoe spots Kaito having a suspicious conversation with a stranger, of which the latter is particularly cagey about. The majority of the game focuses around the two teens skirting around awkward conversations and pretending everything’s okay when it’s anything but.

You’ll choose from a couple of dialogue conversations to try and steer the story to the resolution you want, but the choices and consequences system in the game feels so skin-deep and superficial — merely moving an arrow up and down a very vague bar in the upper left-hand corner — I oft questioned why it was included in the first place. Also, the dialogue options you choose aren’t voice acted during the normal gameplay sections, meaning that whichever of the two teens you’re not controlling appears to just be having a conversation with themselves. However, when Mile 0 transitions into a cutscene, both characters will chirp up and have a normal conversation. It’s a minor thing, but it’s jarring all the same and takes away from the level of polish that a narrative-driven experience should have.

Kaito in his family's flat in Road 96 Mile 0
Image Credit: DigixArt

That being said, there are moments of generally humorous dialogue and while the story is a little clichéd, it’s a very personal and somber one that highlights how politics and personal circumstances such as family can fracture a friendship. Where Road 96 felt focused on providing an ever-changing and surprising road trip, though, Mile 0 feels lost in what it wants its focus to be.

This primarily comes down to the gameplay, which is split between the usual Road 96 fare of exploring environments, talking with characters and engaging in some very basic mini-games, and a strange, music-based on-rails ‘Rides’ mechanic. It’s these wrinkles that I took most issue with, which is particularly damning given that’s the big selling point of the spin-off.

‘Rides’ see both Zoe and Kaito riding down very linear paths through psychedelic environments, collecting gems to rack up score and avoiding obstacles to keep their combo going. There are some nice licensed tracks in here to add to the atmosphere, but the controls feel floaty and inaccurate, leading to collisions that feel less about your own skill level and more about the mechanics itself. That, combined with level designs that can make it difficult to see whether you’re actually navigating obstacles or not, meant that despite the game clearly wanting you to replay these segments to set new high scores, I had absolutely no desire to do that.

Kaito skating through the Colton City 'Rides' section in Road 96 Mile 0
Image Credit: DigixArt

There’s no score requirement to progress through the story, either, so I’d stumble my way through these sections and then immediately forget about them, desperate to get back to the more typically-Road 96 affair. For all their faults, there are some cool set-pieces in these, and the inclusion of The Offspring’s No Brakes led to one of the most enjoyable instances of these segments.

But herein lies the problem with Mile 0. It feels like a hodgepodge of ideas, with random mini-games thrown in to pad out the runtime, rather than focusing on what made the original game so darn good to begin with — the colorful cast of characters you put along the way. While some do return such as whizz-kid Alex and news anchor Sonya Sanchez, many of them are relegated to very minor cameo roles where they’re not given a chance to truly shine.

All in all, Road 96: Mile 0 feels like a missed opportunity. Rather than building on what the original game had done so well, it deviates to tell an uninspired story with a gameplay mechanic that just doesn’t really feel all that interesting to play. Road 96 fans will find something to like here, but don’t go in expecting an epic sequel. Even at just five-hours, it can feel like a bit of a drag to finish.

Road 96: Mile 0 Critic Review

Reviewer: Chris Jecks | Copy provided by Publisher.