Death Road to Canada is an Oregon Trail-inspired, roguelike game where your group must survive the long road from Florida to Canada during the zombie apocalypse. Along the way, you encounter new people to recruit to your team, gather supplies, and make tough decisions that can have serious consequences. And once a team member dies, that’s it! The Death Road has claimed yet another victim, and all you can do is move forward and hope for the best.
The first major draw, at least for me anyway, is the game’s randomly generated events, meaning that every single playthrough will be different. (Sure, there will be repeat events, but your entire playthrough in general should still be unique.) And secondly, I love the option to create custom characters (just choose Familiar Faces Mode so that your own characters appear as recruits throughout your journey). In a manner similar to Miitopia (just a lot more pixelated), you can add yourself into the game, along with friends, family, and even your favorite fictional characters. You can also give these characters perks and traits, which can have various pros and cons. For example, the Friend of Dog perk means you’re more likely to be able to tame and recruit a dog to your team. And the Frantic Whiner trait means this character will always have less health, but can run faster.
It takes 15 driving days to reach Canada, the last safe haven during the zombie apocalypse. During your adventure, you will choose various locations in which to search for loot and recruits, be presented with tough decisions that can lead to disaster if you exercise poor judgment, and sieges where you must survive the zombie horde for a set amount of time. Along the way, you must manage food, medical supplies, gas, and ammo. You will also be given options from time to time to upgrade skills like medical for healing and mechanical for repairing your car. In the process, you must ensure that your characters’ morale doesn’t drop too low. I’m not entirely familiar with the effects of low morale, but the only time one of my character’s morale got too low, they threatened to leave the team. Oh, and you’re also in rough shape if your car breaks down because then you’ll be vulnerable to bandits and the elements.
This game is very difficult and will likely take you multiple playthroughs to beat. I managed to reach Canada on my fifth playthrough. While your success can sometimes feel as if it’s based on luck, this isn’t entirely the case because, after a few playthroughs, I learned to be prepared for anything. Plus, there are some useful strategies that I developed along the way, which I will summarize below.
One, it’s a good idea to stockpile as many good weapons as you can so you don’t reach the end ill-prepared, as the worst zombie hordes are going to annihilate you otherwise. I would often have only two of my three weapon slots full so I can pick something up during one of our outings and add it to our expanding collection. Plus, more weapons means more things you might be able to trade. You can also close doors behind you to keep zombies from following you. Don’t do this if you’re inside the room, though, because this can lead to zombies congregating outside the door. Which leads to my next tip, which is to never just run through a thick swarm of zombies. You will die. Oftentimes, if there are a lot of zombies, you should just patiently try to take them out in an open space so they won’t follow you indoors. (This won’t help as much during the final few sieges because zombies arrive too quickly, though.)
Basically, just always stay on the move and don’t get cornered. Because once you’re trapped, your best hope is escaping after someone’s been killed and the zombies are distracted. Which isn’t exactly ideal, now is it?
I really enjoyed this game, and it really helped that I added some custom characters representing a handful of personal favorites and some characters from recent games I had played. For me, Fred Bonaparte and Crispin Whytehead from Psychonauts showed up the most often, making the whole journey feel a lot more personal. Poor Fred, whom I made a Frantic Whiner, wasn’t terribly useful, but at least he had speed on his side. As for Crispin, I gave him the Paranoid trait, which gave him high wits and the ability to form plans that got us out of a lot of tough situations.
Considering I had chosen to play alongside characters with which I was already attached meant that I was all the more saddened whenever one of my beloved team members died. And I felt all the more thrilled when we finally made it to Canada after a long and hard journey. Considering how difficult this game is and our many struggles and bouts of bad luck, it felt so rewarding to finally finish the game and see my characters escape into Canada, alive and well.
And considering the game’s random nature, I can still play plenty more times and have a different experience each playthrough. You can also collect Zombo Points, which allow you to unlock new Traits and Perks for more personalities and skills, along with the option to upgrade the ones I already have available to me. So then I can eventually create even more unique characters that can potentially show up during my journey.
Maybe I’m just being silly, but one thing I couldn’t figure out was how to save. When I tried to quit from the menu, it said that I would have my save file deleted if I quit during a mission. When I looked online, people said you could only quit the game during the traveling scenes when your characters were either running or driving a car, during which I didn’t notice any option to quit. Fortunately, a full playthrough for this game can take 1.5 to 2 hours, shorter if you die. Plus, I just left the game running and put my Switch into sleep mode to avoid any issues. But honestly, am I really just supposed to return to the Switch home screen at the right spot in order to save my progress? It seems a bit strange to me.
Just because this game is about surviving the zombie apocalypse, though, that doesn’t mean it’s serious. Death Road to Canada has a quirky sense of humor, along with a pixelated artstyle and an upbeat soundtrack (although I do wonder if more somber and creepy music would have been more appropriate). The game is usually $15, but I managed to get it on sale for about $6-7. Either way, that’s a great price for a game where every playthrough is unique!
I feel like I’ve only seen a small portion of what this game has to offer. I haven’t utilized many of the Traits or Perks available or attempted some of the game modes (what is Short Trip to Heck Mode!?), and I can only imagine that I’ve seen just a small portion of the events and character interactions, as well. As such, I think I’ll be having a lot more fun with this game in the future.
This post was originally published on Virtual Bastion on June 9, 2022.