Dead Static Drive
A road trip where running out of gas is the least of your problems
As if the giant worms outside weren’t enough, poor old Axel, who simply wanted to sit down with a cup of joe in his favourite diner, now has a machetewielding psycho to worry about. The psycho in question, by the way, is us: our planned backdoor escape from the Tremors-like monsters out front goes horribly wrong when we swing our blade at the chain-link fence in our way and connect with Axel instead. He sprints around the side, evidently happier to take his chances with the worms.
Mike Blackney pitches his Roguelike road trip as Grand Theft Cthulhu, a pithy summary that might be misleading depending on what you expect from a GTA game. It’s like Rockstar’s series in the sense that you can steal cars, but mostly because it offers a reactive sandbox that can produce moments of surprise in the ways its various systems collide. And yes, there are plenty of moments of emergent physical comedy. Before the machete episode, we find a big rig, and park up carefully next to a police car. The second we climb out, a worm suddenly burrows up, flipping the truck entirely. We just about escape into the diner, where we meet Axel, whose bad day is about to get much worse.
Blackney is not, it’s fair to say, entirely sympathetic to our tale of woe. “Oh no!” he gasps, laughing long and loud. “That’s great,” he says. “I love friendly fire. I want to make sure it’s still fair, so you don’t get punished immediately. I hate insta-killing players, I hate ruining their game immediately. Like when you know you’ve killed an NPC that was valuable and you might as well restart? But yeah, I love games where you have that as an effect.”
Fairness is clearly important to Blackney. This is a game that presents several threats beyond the worms, with very different monsters awaiting in later towns. But the designer wants to give his players room to experiment, to discover the functions of the myriad items you can stuff into your pockets – and your car’s trunk – and to try different tactics to defeat those creatures. Some items have multiple uses: a hammer can be used as a weapon, or as a tool to board up a door, for example. It’s pointless to do so in this instance, since the worms can’t come inside. However, Blackney says, “There are creatures that are made out of leaves. They’re humanshaped, but they can just dissipate into leaves and then pass through anything that’s got a gap. So if you barricade a door or a window, they can just pass right through it. But if you light parts of the place on fire...” Much of the game will be about learning those tricks, he says: some will follow real-world logic, and others will be a matter of playing around with different variables and stumbling across unorthodox solutions. Punishments for failure won’t be too harsh: this may be a Roguelike of sorts, but your character is essentially invincible. “If you die, you’ll wake up and there’ll be people around you,” Blackney explains. “They’ll say, ‘We’ve patched you up as best we could, but you’ve got to watch yourself out there’.” And if we’ve wounded or killed any of the locals? “Then you’ll just wake up in a different location per town, but it’ll be an alley, or a seedy old motel that’s shut down – some kind of dodgy place. And you won’t heal as quickly. Instead of six hours, it might take you 12 to recuperate.”
The time penalty is crucial, since the game will finish after 30 days, your ending determined by how far you’ve managed to get in that time. “Whatever ending you get at that stage, that’s your lot. And then you can replay it,” Blackney says. It’s hard to imagine many players turning down the invitation to head back out on the road again. We just won’t invite Axel to ride shotgun this time.
This may be a Roguelike of sorts, but your character is essentially invincible
Developer/ publisher Kurtrussellfanclub Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Origin Australia Release 2019