Toilet genies and BBQ death: driving the Death Road to Canada

There aren't enough games about road-tripping. Rationing food, getting lost, meeting the locals, enduring your friend's off-key singing—the systems are all there, making games perfectly suited for the surprise and stress of the open road. Fortunately, Rocketcat Games has stepped up to fill the void with Death Road to Canada, a grim 2D roguelike releasing this Friday about fleeing a zombie-riddled America to the safety of the Great White North. It's not quite the road trip I'd have planned, but it's a fun journey all the same.

In Death Road to Canada, you travel between cities while managing “a car full of jerks,” encountering Oregon Trail narrative prompts, and searching for supplies where you can. In the cities, Death Road becomes an urgent twinstick resource hunt where up to 500 zombies can chase the group at a time—the decision to brave the horde for a gallon of gas isn’t meant to be an easy one.

Dead-ja vu?

Death Road sets itself apart from other zombie survival games through its focus on group dynamics and fleeing instead of fighting. As your band of survivors grows, they start interacting with each other, chatting, arguing, and fighting over who gets to call the shots. These interactions affect their attitude and their will to survive: if you're lucky, your group will go into their next fight with a bolstered sense of camaraderie; if you're not, they might head in a member or two short.

Managing the size of your group is a tough trade-off: going solo means more food and fewer arguments, but no moral or physical support when the horde comes a-knocking. Sticking together makes zombie slaying notably easier, but if you don't keep an eye on all your survivors, they're apt to get separated while scavenging for supplies—there's no map or GPS on the Death Road, and combat isn’t easy. Your weapons are slow, weak, prone to breaking, and a few swings will drain your stamina. Survivors have no health bars, either, lending engagements an extra layer of tension, plenty of which comes by the way Death Road handles interiors.

Rooms are only visible when you're in them, which, combined with the absence of a map, forces you to be mindful of your surroundings lest you end up wandering around in circles while the zombies multiply. The kicker, though, is the peek mechanic. Whenever you approach an open door, a silhouetted glimpse of the interior appears. Zombies tend to bunch up around doorways, forming a deadly ambush for the unsuspecting survivor. Being able to spot death before it devours you is invaluable.

If only I knew all this going in. Here’s how my first few jaunts down Death Road played out.

Run #1: Trust Exercise

My two fresh-faced survivors stumbled upon a couple of houses that hadn't yet been picked clean. In we went, scooping up precious gas and food, but on the way out I got reckless, and the zombie horde fell upon one of my duo. Crestfallen, my lone survivor scampered to the car and continued on alone. A few miles on, I came across a wounded warrior on the side of the road and tried to help her out. Sadly, my survivor's lack of medical skill only made things worse. Oops. I didn't have long to feel guilty, though; bandits jumped me in the night, demanding all my weapons and half my food. Bugger that, I thought. I ran for it.

I got shot in the back. 

Run #2: Recipe for Disaster 

My second attempt began even worse than the first. After scavenging a not-so-abandoned warehouse, I lost track of one of my survivors on the way out. Thinking the zombies must have gotten him while I wasn't looking, I hoofed it to the car and took off. The results screen cheerily informed me that my partner was, in fact, alive and well—until I'd abandoned him. There was no time to mourn. I picked up a former boxer hitchhiking on the side of the road, and she proved invaluable when our car got stuck in a trench and we had to hold off an incoming horde. We didn't get much further, though, running out of gas just a few miles on. We ditched the car and happened upon a cargo container that smelled of fresh hot wings. How could I refuse? We jimmied open the container and out poured gallons of searing hot BBQ sauce, incinerating my poor crew and providing an especially tasty meal for the undead. 

Run #3: Death Wish

Okay, no more stupid mistakes. My merry band hit up a Y'All Mart and powered through the car park, hurling shopping carts at the zombies in our way. Onward to a derelict cabin in the woods, where we rescued a well-armed trucker from the brink of death. An indomitable wall of zombies forced us off the road and into the sewers, where it was so dark I could barely see my companions, let alone the zombies bursting out of the sewage. We got through and found a new set of wheels behind a looted mall. We were good until I somehow summoned an evil genie from a toilet. Suddenly, we were surrounded by so many zombies I couldn't see the floor, and our road trip was over. For as successful as I thought we'd been, we only made it 20% of the way to Canada. 

Death Road to Canada might not be a casual, breezy road trip, but it's a memorable ride nonetheless. With an obscenely catchy soundtrack, quirky humour, and recruitable canine companions (a must for any apocalypse scenario), its toilet genies and sauce traps and tough decisions breathe life into the walking dead.