The Organ Trail: Director’s Cut Is Really Quite The Thing

By John Walker on April 3rd, 2013 at 11:00 am.

There a phrases that can put a man off a game. Like “retro graphics” and “zombie”. But you’re not to let that do that here. The Organ Trail is very much The Oregon Trail, the mostly-text-based game that was first created in the early 70s, with the bandits are replaced by zombies. But what you’ve got here is an extremely compelling, extremely tough little simulator, and one that should keep you enthralled for hours.

The original free Flash Organ Trail came out a couple of years back, but this Director’s Cut version only joined us on PC this year. Finally getting around to playing it, me and my ragtag team entirely failed to cross North America in the face of zombie hordes, wild zombie bears, and a real scarcity of fuel, bullets and common sense.

It is, essentially, Oregon Trail reimagined. You have a party of five, in your station wagon (geddit?), travelling across the continent after a zombie apocalypse. Beginning with initial supplies, you have to balance fuel, medkits, junk (for repairing your car), ammo, spare parts, and most importantly, your team’s health. Every so often you reach a town, in which you can buy, sell and trade, as well as take on jobs for the locals to earn you some cash or equipment. Here there are also trainers who’ll improve either your own skills, or the abilities of your car. Between towns random events befall you, as well as letting you stop at any point to rest, heal or go a-hunting for food and supplies.

However, this Director’s Cut version allows the game to deviate slightly from its source material. Having turned to Kickstarter for just $3,000 to create the mobile version, they received over $16k. This meant the game was expanded. There’s now a crude mechanic that lets you make choices about how to handle some situations (sneak through a horde in your car, attack it, hire mercenaries to defend you…), other characters to talk to, and the ability to create a team of your own. Naming the other characters after people you know gives you the very rewarding opportunity to shout, “EMILY!” in direct, personalised annoyance when “Emily breaks her leg” for no discernible reason. “Well it’s just typical that Laura’s picked a fight that’s delayed us by an hour.”

I discovered in my first play through that times of plenty are not to be enjoyed, but brutally rationed. Thinking I had too much food, and selling it off for more bullets, feels like such folly now. As indeed did forgetting just what a limited resource bullets really are, which alongside a failure to properly manage fuel levels led to my first failure around the midpoint of the US. Next time I shall know much better. And inevitably run out of everything, instead of just a few things, because I’m trying to be too careful. It is my destiny.

The full game is just $5/£4 via a Humble Store, and it successfully emerged from the murky recesses of Steam’s Greenlight last month. There’s a good deal of wit, some splendidly tough balancing, and a lot of variety as you go through. It’s definitely worth picking up.

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29 Comments »

  1. Zoogar says:

    I played it for about 3 hours on the first run through and completed it with 1 survivor besides myself. Which I was oddly disappointed with.

  2. rustybroomhandle says:

    Fine, John “Walker”, you talked me into it.

    I have also been enjoying Zafehouse Diaries of late. So many zombie games, yet they still manage to come up with wortwhile ones.

  3. Serpok says:

    So it’s FTL with zombies?
    How close is it to it on fun-scale?

    • Zoogar says:

      I thought it would be that as well, but its not. Its only “Ok”, to be honest. Does not compare to FTL at all really.

      • dubusadus says:

        Yeah, surprise! It’s actually Oregon Trail but with zombie tropes and added Choose-Your-Own-Adventure bits. It’s fun if you like grinding and resource management games and the replayability’s happens more on player imagination than in the mechanics themselves. Still, it’s not a bad deal for $5 and ended up being pretty fun for a couple of hours.

    • Pony Canyon says:

      It’s a fun distraction for 3 hours or so, but it doesn’t hold a candle to FTL’s gameplay or addictiveness. Definitely not FTL with zombies.

  4. the_fanciest_of_pants says:

    I will no sooner be put off by the word “Zombie” as I will by the words “Procedural”, “Shooter”, “Co-op”, “Pizza” and “Beer”.

    In all seriousness though I never did understand the sudden backlash against zombies as a protagonist. Damn sight more interesting than modern soldiers or nazis or whathaveyou.

    This game is highly entertaining, by the by.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Zombies as a -pro-tagonist? That should actually happen more often…the only game I can think of is Stubbs the zombie.

    • plugmonkey says:

      Amen.

      It’d be like being put off Bioshock Infinite or Far Cry 3 because they are ‘gun’ games. There are quite a few of those ‘gun’ games around these days, you’ll notice.

      Or being put off XCOM because it features aliens invading the earth. Now there’s a concept which is virtually unheard of in the medium…

      It’s just one of those things that’s very fashionable to say these days regardless of the diversity of games like this, Day Z and Telltale’s Walking Dead games.

      (P.S. Zombies are usually (but not always) the antagonist.)
      /pedant.

      Edit: I’m getting so slow in my old age. :(

      • Soldancer says:

        I like your point a lot, but you do have to take market saturation into account. In other words, yes, you shouldn’t simply dismiss something out of hand simply because it’s in a [genre/style/approach/control method/etc.] you don’t care for. BUT…

        On the flip side, however – there are a LOT of zombie games (and media in general) out there right now, and it really takes something special for one to distiguish itself. Same goes for your example of gun games, too. It can be tough to find the goodies in a world of me-too! development.

        One of the things that’s great about both RPS and the vast majority of its community: helping us find the diamonds in the rough of oversaturation.

  5. Dezztroy says:

    Those “new” things are all in the free flash version as well, aren’t they?

  6. djbriandamage says:

    I was immediately turned off by the controls. I’ve found an even dirtier name than console port, and that’s phone port.

    • Dachannien says:

      This. The control mechanic is to draw a line from your target back toward your character and then release to shoot. Makes sense when you’re using touch, but makes less sense with a mouse. Worse yet is when you realize that you’re about to shoot the wrong way, and you start trying to move your aim point around – sometimes it works intuitively, and other times it works backwards.

  7. Turkey says:

    It’s fun, but I don’t really get the reason for having a party at all. They don’t really do anything besides eating all the food and getting killed, and if the main character dies the game just ends. They don’t elect a new leader or anything.

    I made it further by just killing off my party. Much less hunting required.

    • plugmonkey says:

      You get more points, and they’re helpful in the finale which (if it’s the same as the iOS version) is a homage to certain other zombie related title…

      Other than that, they’re a liability and you’d do as well to just shoot them in the balls on day 1.

  8. Discopanda says:

    The worst part about the game in my humble opinion, is that it relies on its clumsy-on-purpose “retro” game mechanics and mini games way too much. The best part about Oregon Trail for me was the decision making, supply handling, deciding how best to treat a wound (and learning things in the process!).

    Maybe that kind of game would bore me now… but I wish someone could make another Oregon Trail! For da kids!

  9. The Random One says:

    “Naming the other characters after people you know gives you the very rewarding opportunity to shout, “EMILY!” in direct, personalised annoyance when “Emily breaks her leg” for no discernible reason.”

    Wait. Would that be…

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/12/04/hijinks-square-say-threaten-hits-on-your-friends

    Emily Madeupname?

  10. Pony Canyon says:

    Maybe I’m remembering things incorrectly, but I seem to remember that you couldn’t repeatedly hunt in the same spot in Oregon Trail. Well, you could, there just weren’t many animals around after you shot up the joint once. This mechanic forced you to keep moving.

    Organ Trail doesn’t seem to have this. As soon as zombie activity is Low, you can just scavenge in the same place over and over and the food/scrap never dries up. Playing on Hard, I just stocked up right at the start of the game doing this, made some trades at the first town, and then basically took a nap while I drove to Oregon, never needing to scavenge again.

    • Mordsung says:

      Zombie numbers will increase as you scavenge, but the shooting controls are so easy that I never found myself overwhelmed.

  11. Joshua Northey says:

    “The Oregon Trail, the mostly-text-based game that was first created in the early 70s, with the bandits are replaced by zombies”

    Written by someone who clearly never played Oregon Trail…

  12. Phasma Felis says:

    So does this suck less than the original Flash game? IIRC, it was a mechanically identical port of Oregon Trail with a graphics/text reskin and “days” replaced with “hours”, so you were constantly getting silly shit like multiple broken limbs without leaving the car, or everybody starving to death in less than a day. Granted it’s a silly concept to begin with, but if you’re going to remake Oregon Trail itself (and not just do an action game with an Oregon Trail theme like Super Amazing Wagon Adventure or Fuck Oregon, Let’s Go Find El Dorado), I do think you should be aiming for some degree of verisimilitude/simulation.

    Mind you, the Flash game acknowledged all that and said the full version would fix it, but John’s mention of broken legs doesn’t fill me with hope.

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