After weeks of sleeping rough and struggling to find enough food to get by on each and every day, we were finally drawing close to the land of maple syrup and Ice Hockey. But then, tragedy struck. My crew’s leader who had fought so valiantly and led a ragtag group of survivors through thick and thin, was torn apart while attempting to escape a massive zombie horde. Sure, the rest of the group survived - but only long enough to witness that grizzly event. Moments later, each of them would succumb to the zombie onslaught, in what you might call one unfortunate event after another.
This is the sheer brutality of Death Road to Canada, a survival action-RPG with permadeath all rolled-up in a cross-country road trip across a zombie-filled United States. One moment you're on top of the world, with enough food to last your group for days, plenty of ammunition to keep the hordes away, and enough morale to conduct a series of post-apocalyptic TED talks. But one wrong move and you and your party could be cornered and wiped out in seconds. Or, you might lose all your invaluable supplies due to one bad decision or in a random event. After that, all that's left is to try again in hopes of one day reaching the last remaining bastion of safety - Oh Canada.
Due to every aspect being randomly generated, from character personalities to each location you discover, no road trip will ever be the same. You’ll encounter strange people in settlements, be aided or hindered by dozens of unique events, and have to make many a tough decision. As you venture across the great lengths of North America you'll be able to grow your party through saving people in need, befriending cute dogs, and just finding random folk on the road. Most of your time will be spent managing these survivors, worrying about their needs, mental state, training them for the challenges ahead and ensuring they are trustworthy.
Each member of your small crew has their own unique quirks and skills which can be useful, such as knowledge on how to fix cars or experience with guns. However, they each have own morale and hunger levels too which you need to keep an eye on and balance out, otherwise risk the chance of your road trip falling apart. You'll also need to scavenge for fuel regularly to keep your car running, or be left to walk parts of the journey, leaving you all the more vulnerable to the neverending horde of hungry zombies on the road. Although the management side of Death Road to Canada can be stressful, it is a lot of fun managing your party and satisfying when you pull your group through several days of travel.
Often though, your road trip buddies can cause you more grief than the hungry predators outside. Depending on their personality, a squad mate may be untrustworthy and betray the group at the first opportunity they get. Therefore, you'll need to do your best to learn as much as about your fellow travelers as you can, in order to figure out their strengths and weaknesses and whether you can trust them with important tasks like distracting bandits or tackling an alligator. And if you get sick of the strangers you find on the road, you can make your own with the chance of finding them each run. After my girlfriend created a digital version of herself, she would often turn up on runs, joining the road trip to regularly save me on several occasions.
Thankfully, you don't have to take on the long trip alone or be content with pixelated versions of the people you know as you can drive to Canada with another friend in local co-op. It is nice to have someone with you to appreciate the wacky humour and goofy side of Death Road to Canada, it can also add to your indecision as you may want to go different ways or disagree on who to allow into the group or even banish. Overall, co-op is a good fit for the style and mood, and sharing your inevitable failures with someone else makes them somewhat less disheartening.
Death Road to Canada attempts to mix up its zombie theme with a cute pixel art style and a poppy soundtrack that sounds right out of an arcade machine. In the sense that both the music and old school sound-effects start to grind on you quickly due to a lack of variety. And while pitched as highly replayable, many of the areas and events, despite being randomly generated, become a little too familiar, a little too quickly.
More importantly, Death Road to Canada is absolutely grueling. The game is always trying its best to kill off your group and end your run, whether it's through continuous hordes of zombies, surprise events such as bandit ambushes and even backstabbing squad members. After several poor runs and deaths, which occur more often due to the randomness of it all rather than any fault of your own, it becomes obvious making it to Canada is not an easy feat - nor a very satisfying one.
The combat is simplistic and repetitive. There are several weapons to discover but there isn’t much in the way of unique skills or tactics to master, outside of mashing the attack button over and over. Without any real progression beyond discovering new events from time to time, each new run begins to feel more like a chore than a fun challenge that you’ll eventually beat. Instead you'll simply hope for good luck and the blessing of the zombie gods in trying to reach Canada.
Death Road to Canada attempts to offset the normally dark themes of the zombie genre with zany characters, a charming pixel art style, and poppy music, but the lack of depth to its combat and randomly generated content will quickly leave you feeling frustrated and unsatisfied. There is some fun to be had here for sure, which is definitely best experienced with friends, but that doesn't make up for its issues and overall lacklustre action.