Road 96 Accessibility Review — Can I Play That?

Ben Bayliss12 minute read

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Road 96 Accessibility

Deaf / Hard of HearingBlind / Low VisionMobilityCognitive

Road 96 may have a bare accessibility menu, but the majority of its features have been designed directly into the game itself. The experience feels well thought out, but there are areas where it falls short, particularly with making choices.

Score

7 out of 10
  • Subtitles can be adjusted in size and have a nice design
  • Simple areas to explore and not much to manage
  • Controller aiming can be slowed down when over interactive elements
  • Most gameplay inputs can be remapped
  • Interaction actions move, making it hard to select choices
  • Not many directional sound cues
  • No D-pad navigation to override cursor navigation
  • Some timed events may be too much for some and result in being unable to progress as desired

When you’re trying to escape from your country and there are many routes to take, you’re bound to end up on some interesting journeys. In Road 96, you play as numerous teens heading to the titular border to escape, and each journey has multiple moments that present numerous choices to make, subsequently changing the outcomes of your trip. While we’re not here to go deep into the general story (We will talk more about that shortly) we’re here to look at Road 96 and its accessibility features that were part of development from the start. We already spoke with DigixArt last month about these features, and now we’ve been able to see how they feel in actual play.

As usual, before I jump in I want to quickly just highlight what you can expect from this game as an experience in itself. You start each episode as a nameless teen of your choosing and along the way, each playable “chapter” unravels more about the characters, the world, and offers you moral choices or ways to influence the game’s world.

One procedurally-generated journey, for example, had me starting in a stolen car, then I got held at gunpoint to drive with robbers, after failing their quiz, they took my money and dumped me on the road, so I walked to a phone box where I helped someone reconnect with their mother. In return, they gave me a free taxi stub, but then the taxi driver had an anger management issue, so I left when I got to a motel where I met a TV personality who nearly killed her camera operator because of her desire for a story, later I ended up on the run at the border with a new friend in tow, but I had to choose to sacrifice myself so she could spread awareness of corruption or to save myself because I wanted to survive.

Whew.

A number of settings

In Road 96, you aren’t introduced to a boot menu with accessibility features, but you’re not far from a dedicated accessibility section in the settings menu. You’re able to change a few display settings such as your resolution, V-Sync, frame rate, anti-aliasing, and graphics quality from one section. But you’re required to scroll down to access the other areas, the next section being for accessibility. From here, you can change your game’s language, enable subtitles, adjust their size, adjust the interaction selection size, and enable or disable vibration.

There are also a number of sliders for audio, and while I appreciate the OST for Road 96 the music at its default 100% is incredibly overpowering and needed whacking down to 50%. There are also remappable controls for movement and interaction, and given how the number of inputs is fairly little, it’s nice to see. There’s also a camera sensitivity slider, a selection speed factor slider, and a run speed factor slider. Inverted controls are also available for camera use.

You can check out our menu deep dive if you want to specifically know what each section contains.

An Issue From the Start

It was only a few minutes into Road 96 where I noticed my first accessibility issue that would grow to become a consistent frustration. Throughout the game, you get interaction boxes that appear next to characters so you can make choices. To choose an option, simply look at them to highlight and then click. But it isn’t always simple.

My first introduction to this was meeting a very drunk John, who when prompted to communicate with him, dialogue options would appear, motion tracked to his head. What that meant, was as he ran away from me to go up the hill, I couldn’t press the dialogue option I wanted on account of having to chase the options as they danced around my visual area.

Throughout the game, this remained persistent in a lot of situations and I’d often find myself selecting the option I didn’t want. I also found, that when using the built-in zoom function, at full zoom, trying to make a selection becomes overly sensitive. You can adjust the size of these interaction elements, which I found helped a bit, and paired up with the speed factor settings so your cursor slows down did help with being more precise.

But it’s still the fact that some events had these interactions moving around so much with no alternative method for choosing them available. The issue was present when using a controller as well, if anything it was harder with a controller. What would have been nice would have been a d-pad selection as an alternative method so that you’d snap to the choices. The same for keyboard and mouse navigation, being able to press a button to scroll through the interactions while they lock on would have been nicer.

Good Subtitles, Odd Sound Cues

There’s a lot of dialogue in Road 96, as expected, and thanks to the accessibility features to allow you to adjust subtitle size and paired with good design from the off, these feel comfortable to read. They appear within one line at a time with another line appearing as a separate block that transitions in, fading from the bottom up. This seems to allow for the biggest size to not break form and as a result, the subtitles felt wonderfully uniformed and stylized at any size.

There are no captions or directional indicators, however, so don’t expect to be seeing anything for surrounding sounds. Sometimes the game will take control of your view and direct you to an important key sound or event, other times there are sounds nearby that are unimportant to the story that has no cues.

There was one moment where someone was locked in the back of a taxi and I’d not heard them knocking or screaming, finding myself confused why the camera kept automatically moving to the seat. Some captions would have helped here.

Additionally, when it comes to interacting with things, there usually appears to be something that will guide you. Adjusting a scanner will show lights when trying to get a full signal, or when filming a political talk, the camera interface will go green when in the right area.

Condensed Areas, Cognitive Confusion, and Management

Road 96 is played as a number of episodes, each episode is split up into scenes because each area has a title, for example, “Smells like teen spirit” and “A view to kill”. Each of these scenes locks you within their playable areas and while some interactions are optional, there’s always a major scenario that you must complete in order to progress. This might be having to follow an electrical cable through ceiling tiles, it may be fiddling with the dials of a radio to find a police broadcast, or it could be choosing to shout to save a man from being thrown off of a roof or staying quiet to help a selfish reporter have her story.

Each area has some form of items to collect as well, such as tapes that make up the games OST, or food and drink to increase your energy. If you get really deep into exploring an area you can deface posters of political leaders to influence the world, or you can find doors that may be hiding money or even a car key.

There is a little bit of management required as when you leave each area, you have to factor in whether you have enough energy or money to leave in that way. As you progress closer to the border, you’ll be essentially trying to make sure you have enough energy or money to successfully make it across in some way depending on what awaits you there.

When an episode is done and your teen has succeeded or failed at crossing the border, the next episode has you playing as a new teen with events from the last episode being somewhat tied in. It’s a clever system, although it’s one that offers you the need to remember what certain character’s links are to one another. While there’s no journal, the game tends to consistently remind you of events from a previous play or key scenarios, such as the robbers constantly talking about one of the characters.

Road 96 accessibility -Zoe at a campfire

Another issue I stumbled upon with Road 96 and accessibility was with some events requiring you to remember things. One example is with the robbers trying to find out a date by using a number of letters and an audiotape. But where I found myself getting flustered was being a bartender.

While you can simply let the event play out and just not serve people, originally the game makes it feel mandatory to progress. There are 3 customers, and you’ve been tasked with serving drinks to them from a number of, maybe just under 10(?), different drinks. I found myself struggling to remember what drink one person wanted almost immediately after the other customers asked for another drink.

There are visual text prompts for each different drink behind the bar, and the subtitles were my only point of reference to who was ordering, having to choose from “Man”, “Customer in green”, and whatever the other person’s speaker label was. Eventually, I just gave up and stood around which is only how I discovered I could have not done anything at all to progress, I just lost out on money for doing so.

But it turns out that Road 96 is filled with events like these. While you can’t realistically “fail” at most events like this or air hockey, you do lose out on money, food, or alternative dialogue options had you completed them.

Controls and Waypoints

While I’ve already talked about the interaction prompts being a nuisance, I want to talk about everything else. With the mouse navigation of menus and interaction prompts, your cursor moves at the speed of whatever your sensitivity is set at. But when the cursor goes yellow with the game’s speed factor enabled, it slows down slightly to give you more control over where you’re navigating to. It’s just a shame that there are no D-pad controls available for an easier time snapping to choices that move.

Walking around the area feels floaty and sprinting doesn’t feel like sprinting, but it does keep you at a speed that means you’re not rushing past everything. Instead, you’re taking your surroundings in. When nearby interactive items are available you do get an icon that opens to an actionable choice, but because playing areas are either incredibly linear, or small in size, it means you’re following a path or just exploring a small area with boundaries to keep you contained. For waypoints, the only ones that seem to appear are when you’re ready to leave an area, and you’ll get a number of waypoints to head to leave by walking, taxi, bus, stealing a car, or hitchhiking.

I found that the number of inputs was fairly simple to manage, although some interactive moments may require timing, precision, and sometimes remembering. Although, it seems to be a complicated relationship. For example, Smells Like Teen Spirit is a chapter that forces you to sit and play the trumpet, with you naturally striving to hit the right notes using the mouse to move. But I found that I could just leave the mouse and the scene played out the same as the first time I played it.

Additionally, one border method of leaving has you holding your breath under a truck, while the event didn’t start until you start holding (I waited nearly a minute and it still hadn’t started) the hold is a required input.

There are other moments that feel like you have to complete them. One radio scene required flicking a number of switches in a sequential pattern, similar to Simon Says. Thankfully, after remembering 3 switch patterns, the game locked those switches on, letting me focus on those remaining without having to fall back to the start.

Confusing Outcomes and Flashing Lights

Let’s start this section with a quick note that there are a few scenes with flashing lights. While I’m unsure if these lights would be problematic to players, one scene had a shootout that felt like there was a lot of flashing, and I experienced another scene later on that also had gunfire and flashes for a period of time.

Additionally, at the end of each episode, whether you live or die, you’ll be greeted to video that is incredibly hard to see, with a heavy black vignette, lots of lens flares, lots of smoke, and fires. I think it’s meant to determine how your choices in that run are affecting the game, but I’m not entirely clear, I just know it’s always never looking good. My one gripe outside of accessibility is that Road 96 will force you to do certain choices just in different ways which kind of kills the choose-your-path feel, but it is done in such a way that doesn’t make it feel overly forced. Unless it’s Sonya, Sonya will just scream at you.

Here’s the Border

In the end, Road 96 has a good number of accessibility features built into the game’s design, from the auto-camera movement to the subtitle style, and even to the fact that the game flips between walking around an area to just sitting and clicking dialogue options without needing to move.

The events that take place occasionally seem to affect the storyline somewhat, but it would have been nice for alternative controls (hold VS toggle, for example) to allow players to take a different path without feeling forced to endure something such as holding a button to remain hidden. There are also events where timing is needed to progress in a specific way, such as catching up with someone.

The condensed levels throughout an episode meant that I felt comfortable in just playing in short bursts and overall I had a really enjoyable experience with Road 96 and its accessibility. It just would have been nice to maybe have more cognitive help with certain things that you’re meant to remember, especially when you’re playing in short bursts as I was.

A review copy of Road 96 was provided by the developer / publisher.

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Ben
BaylissEditor-in-ChiefHe/Him

Ben is the one in charge of keeping the content cogs at Can I Play That? turning. Deafness means that he has a focus on discussing captions, but with experience in consultancy and advocacy, he covers what bases he can. Having written about accessibility in video games at DualShockers, GamesRadar+, GamesIndustry.biz, Wireframe, and more he continues his advocacy at CIPT. He was actually awarded a Good Games Writing award for an article he wrote here! He enjoys a range of games, but anything that’s open-world and with a photo mode will probably be his cup of tea. You can get in touch with him at: ben@caniplaythat.com

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