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.