Many developers have been going darker with the tones of stories lately. It's time we stop asking definitively if this is a good or bad thing and consider the artistic value at hand.
Organ Trail Review: Great Nostalgia With a Twist
While others might cite sitting cross-legged on a basement floor in front of an NES, one of my earliest gaming memories was playing Oregon Trail on my elementary school PCs during recess time.
While it might not have quite the renown of the likes of Mario, Oregon Trail is no less iconic or unique. Guiding your pixelated settlers and covered wagon, you traveled across the plains battling foes, hunting animals, trading items, and stopping at the occasional outpost and town to buy or sell items in order to survive the trek west.
It was a challenging and brilliant game that required you to use resource management, reflexes, and some strategy in order to successfully reach your destination without dying or losing everyone in your group.
And try to tell me of another game that made dysentery a popular running gag.
Well, those of you craving some familiar nostalgia can officially rejoice. Indie game Organ Trail is out on Steam, and Developer Men Who Wear Many Hats has taken the basic formula of the classic Oregon Trail and injected it with one of the more popular settings found in games today: the zombie apocalypse.
Rather than traveling as a settler before the turn of the century, you’re a survivor living in modern day America and trying to get away from the zombie madness with a group of your friends. You’ll swap a covered wagon for an abandoned station wagon, fuel for cattle, and tires for wagon wheels as you make your way across the zombie-infested United States.
From the pixelated and simplistic art style to the varied gameplay, Organ Trail feels exactly like its predecessor in nearly every way. You’ll randomly encounter enemies and mishaps, trade with other survivors, scavenge for precious items, and attempt to manage a team by making sure they have their basic survival needs met. And yes, you can contract dysentery.
Of course, there are a few new ideas present in Organ Trail that separate it from the likes of Oregon Trail as well. Being that zombies are ever present, you always run the risk of your party members being infected by a zombie bite, in which case you have to make the call of whether or not to kill them off to prevent the virus from spreading to any others in your group. Jobs available in each of the towns see you taking on bandits, clearing out an area full of zombies, and even hunting down precious items for fellow survivors in order to earn money and supplies.
Where the game gets really interesting, however, is in its random encounters. You’ll have to choose how to navigate through a horde of zombies, make decisions about engaging with other survivors or stopping by graves, and you’ll have to deal with issues such as weather and car troubles creating problems for you and your friends. It all weaves itself together well to create an experience that feels both nostalgic and unique in its execution.
Of course, there were parts of the game that felt a bit rough around the edges. Many sequences repeated themselves over and over during my different playthroughs, making the game take on a slight air of repetition that would feel tedious at times. And while it has its own sense of humor, it sometimes felt divided between being both goofy and self-serious, giving the game an overall conflicted tonal quality that could have been a bit more smooth. Jumping from jokes about dysentery to shooting my infected friend in the face sometimes felt a bit jarring and disjointed, even if it was told through the use of pixels.
Throughout the experience, you’ll see many nods and references to other games and films in the same genre, from Left 4 Dead to Zombieland. It was fun to spot references like this during the game, but it also contributed somewhat to the game’s tonal issues as it pulled you away from Organ Trail’s very distinct feel.
Being that is is attempting to embrace the classic feel of the original Oregon Trail, Organ Trail’s aesthetic is plain and simplistic, much like the classic games found on an Apple 2 or PCs of the ’90s. But despite having a simplistic art style, the visual design in the game has its own sense of beauty that was fun to look at, especially when seeing the amount of detail poured into the city illustrations each time you reached a new destination.
The soundtrack also helped to set the overall mood of the game and has a somewhat more modernized sound than the simple music found in retro PC games. Much like some of the occurrences in the game, it tended to repeat itself a lot. But despite its repetition, it really does a great job of lending a certain gloomy atmosphere to the experience.
Overall, Organ Trail is a fun game that not only managed to capture the essence of classic Oregon Trail, it took the formula and made it into a more modernized and interesting zombie survival game built on random encounters and some of the varied gameplay modes first seen in the classic. While it may have some repetition, there’s still a lot to see and do in this game with each individual playthrough that shouldn’t be missed by zombie and strategy fans alike.
(Note: This review was conducted after five hours on a copy provided to the reviewer by the developer. Organ Trail is also available on iOS and Android devices)