Organ Trail – Director’s Cut – What We Think
In Organ Trail: Director’s Cut, the classic pioneer trek across the United States, Oregon Trail, gets the undead treatment and the results are spectacular. Be warned: this game may well eat your brains.
Back From the Undead
The Men Who Wear Many Hats first released Organ Trail as a free Flash game for Halloween in 2011. The response from fans was highly enthusiastic. The Director’s Cut is the end result of a successful Kickstarter campaign that netted the team the resources required to expand the game even further and create mobile device versions. In this latest release, they have improved on the main campaign, and added a slew of bonus modes and content. This review, as stated in the title, is based on the Windows PC version.
The End is
The apocalypse is afoot! Zombies are scouring the United States and feasting on the living. At the behest of the government, nuclear explosions are decimating the urban centers considered too infested to save. Death (or, more likely, undeath) is all but certain.
But wait! There’s hope! Rumor has it that a final human settlement known as Safe Haven can be found on the west coast of the United States. Grab an abandoned station wagon, load up with four friends and some supplies, and roll on towards salvation! A radio broadcast warns that the next nuke will take out your current shelter in Washington DC, so heading west sounds a darn sight better than digging in.
The 16 Colors of Terror
If the visuals were any leaner, they’d be ASCII. Organ Trail forgoes updated graphics, keeping the homage to the original Trail true to its Apple II roots. Blocky zombies may not seem like much on their own, but once a dozen or so are on screen, all zooming in on your location, you’ll be too concerned with survival to nitpick about the scenery. The chiptune soundtrack by Ben Crossbones keeps in line with the retro feel, but adds ambient, gloomy modern overtones, and surges with electric bass riffs during action sequences.
This Land Was Your Land, This Land Was My Land…
The game is broken into travel sequences, town sequences and action mini-games. While traveling, the station wagon chugs slowly across the map between checkpoints, and helpful or harmful (and often hilariously phrased) things can happen to the party on the way. You could find food, lose precious med kits, end up fending off a gang of bikers, or contract dysentery. The party can stop between turns to attempt to trade with passersby, and to scavenge for additional goods. Though initial road sequences will breeze by, they take on an edge-of-your-seat feel when the station wagon is on its last spare tire, and supplies are growing scarce.
It’s a Hell of a Town
Interactions in town will provide better opportunities to trade and to acquire goods as payment for work. The party can also rest, seek combat training upgrades, and perform repairs on the station wagon using scrap metal. Keeping the party healthy and the wagon in working condition is crucial if you want to maintain a steady pace.
Leaving some cities will require you to ford your…well, Ford, I suppose…through a giant swarm of zombies. You can sneak through, drive through quickly with guns-a-blazing, or hire mercenaries to fire at the throng while you coast through. The wrong selection can result in one of your party members being dragged from the vehicle, killing him or her instantly.
This is My Rifle
The action minigames will have the player fending off zombies, collecting supplies (while fending off zombies) and even fighting other bands of human beings. All of these are accomplished using the same shooting mechanic. To fire a rifle effectively, move the cursor over the target, hold the button, drag the cursor to the player, and release. The projectile will travel along a straight line. It’s a simple system, and can be employed on the fly. This way, you can “kite” a horde of undead behind you, firing on only on the ones in your immediate path, thus conserving ammunition.
Seeing Home Through The Eyes of a Pioneer
The rest of the game becomes a loop of these sequences, and the zombie apocalypse theme fits it all perfectly. The harrowing events that can unfold on the road make each new stop a welcome sight, though some will have very few supplies to offer. Scavenging will often net a good deal of trade-worthy goods, but there may be no one willing to trade. Meanwhile, the party has run out of medicine, is down to the last scraps of food, and ruined the wagon’s last replacement muffler while “dicking” with it.
It all added to a sinking, yet compelling feeling that I might not actually survive to the end. Several times, with food on the decline, and a woeful collection of fuel and goods, I would begrudgingly roll out for the next landmark, hoping for the best. This is where the game is most successful: the more dire the circumstances, the more likely I was to find myself saying “just one more turn”.
On my first play through, I made it to Safe Haven, but not without heavy losses. If you want to really have the game creep you out, name your party members after real-life loved ones and then dance while the game yanks you around by the heartstrings.
The Undead Rise Again, Again!
Organ Trail: Director’s Cut also presents the new Endless Mode. As implied, there is no Safe Haven as a final destination, but you must trek onwards with your party until you can carry on no longer. By eradicating swarms of zombies, combat upgrades are unlocked.
Feel like taking the edge off all the end-of-days nightmare inducing subject matter? Engage Halloween mode! All the zombies are just enthusiastic costume-party types, and all the scavenged food is now candy. If strategy-based survival isn’t your cup of tea, try Clement’s Quest. You’ll still take the station wagon west, but in an over-the-top physics based driving adventure.
The campaign mode alone is worth a play, and there is a plethora of achievements to unlock, some of which will call for several playthroughs. With all of these new features under the hood, Organ Trail: Director’s Cut is still easy to pick up, but you’ll likely find it hard to shamble away.