“Tom is dicking around and you lose one tire.”
Cheers Tom, you were my friend – but since the zombie apocalypse, catching measles and now this, you’ll be lucky if I don’t kill you in your sleep.
The Men Who Wear Many Hats have done to The Oregon Trail what Seth Grahame-Smith did to Pride and Prejudice – add zombies. The result is a zombie-survival experience that will play with your emotions as well as test your resource-management skills. Simply micro-managing your food consumption is key to making across this once great country in your less than dependable station wagon.
As you start the game, one man stands at the bottom of the screen behind what appears to be sand bags in the simplistic black space. Green men start to make their way closer to the lone man who stands just above some text directing you what to do, clicking on the enemy and dragging a line towards yourself, the enemies drop one by one but a wave of them becomes too much and after running out of ammo nothing can stop you from turning into one of them once they are in jaw biting distance. A priest called Clements walks in dispatching zombies like John Wayne, and after saving your bacon asks you your name. This is when you can tailor Organ Trail to how emotionally close you want it to be. Naming him after your self is one way to grow attached to your character and when asked the names of the people you want in your party naming them after your family or best friends will make those tricky decisions of possible having to kill one that little trickier as your heart and your mind conflict each other, deciding whether to live with the guilt or risk feeding that extra mouth.
When this is done, you’re then escorted to a station wagon which will act as your means of travel. From Washington D.C to Safe Haven, as you react to each random encounter and event, you may not be able to control what happens – but you’re at least given the choice of how to resolve the situations the game throws at you.
This introduction with Clements can be skipped, as it acts as your tutorial into the game and is one of few elements which doesn’t change. You are a spectator for the next 30 seconds as he gets injured, ill and then bitten by the time you reach D.C.
“Why can’t you stay in the capital?” you may ask. The answer: Because it’s about to get shelled, and all you have time for now is to gather your family, friends, enemies or cartoon characters. I’ve tried all of them, and its amazing how much you can find out about yourself in a zombie apocalypse. The difficulty you pick as you start the game comes into play as you’re asked what supplies you want to gather with the hours you have left – fuel, food, med kit, ammo, Tires, money, Battery and Muffler: these are all items you need to get across the country. Some may be lost in events, some you may need to trade to get that extra medkit to heal your mother, or you may need to purchase fuel just so you can make it to the next state capital.
The basic graphics are an homage to The Oregon Trail. Despite their basic nature, they’re attractive. Twinned with the text based gameplay, your imagination fills in the gaps. More could be done to fill in the vast empty black spaces, particularly on the scavenger missions, but the developer’s aim is to emulate the Apple 2, a home computer released in 1977.
I played Organ Trail on my home computer, but The Men Who Wear Many Hats took the game to Kickstarter so that they could reproduce it on mobile platforms. Thankfully, the result is a game which I would like to experience on a commute someday; rather than reading a newspaper, I’d rather try to keep my friends alive until I have to get off the bus or train.
The sound and music is fitting for a mobile platform; the blips and bloops are a tribute to the bygone days of floppy disks, and would be satisfying for a game in your hands especially with an excellent chip tune soundtrack by Ben Crossbones, though I never felt I had been cheated of quality on the PC, a game with retro graphics and bit music will appeal more to people who grew up on consoles earlier than the NES.
As fun as it is, The Organ Trail can feel repetitive and sometimes you can hit a run of bad luck, intercepting bad weather, losing a can of fuel, fight bandits, become ill – but as each run feels entirely unique what supplies you may have in abundance to overcome a certain situation, e.g. med kits to cure injuries, you may find you lack in another play through and find yourself having to take riskier jobs from the city job boards.
Ultimately, The Organ Trail asks how you – both as a player and a human – would deal with a dire situation. Could you kill your girlfriend, could you make it from east coast to west and still have a bit of your sanity remaining to live the rest of your life, or tackle inevitable doom in endless mode? The Organ Trail poses all of these quandries and more. But it’s never less than compelling.
The Organ Trail may be a parody; but it’s a parody with brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaains.