With the current COVID-19 pandemic occurring at the time of this writing, it seemed appropriate to take a look at some games that prominently feature the end of the world as we know it, or at least the post-apocalyptic landscape of the time after. In this installment we will be looking at Organ Trail released by The Men Who Wear Many Hats, for PC, Mac, and Linux, in 2013. It was previously released for mobile devices in 2012, but this review was done on the PC version.
People of a certain age may remember Oregon Trail as their introduction to computer games. The Apple II computer was widely distributed to many public schools and this educational game, about pioneers trying to make the difficult journey along the titular trail, was often included. Organ Trail is a modern riff on this classic title, where you try to lead a group of survivors through a zombie infested, post-apocalyptic wasteland of what used to be the United States in order to reach the rumored zombie free Safe Zone.
When starting a new game, you can choose to play through the campaign or an Endless mode, where you just try to see how long you can survive. In Endless mode there are multiple load outs of starting gear and game modifications that you can unlock by completing various achievements. The campaign mode has 4 difficulty options, which impact your starting supplies, how fast zombies are, and how far you need to travel. The gameplay itself is essentially identical in both modes.
As a nice touch, you can choose either a male or female protagonist of either light or dark skin, well pixel, tone. After naming your main character, and four other survivors that will make up your party, there is a brief tutorial where you learn some of the basics of how the game works. You then get to pick some starting supplies before your journey begins in earnest.
The starting resources you need to choose from are fuel, food, medkits, ammo, money, spare tires, batteries, and spare mufflers. Your journey is being made in a station wagon, and with the zombie apocalypse going on, you may be hard pressed to just stop at a gas station or mechanics, so having your own supply of parts can come in handy. Food and ammo have fairly obvious uses, and money is still apparently used for trading in some locations so it can be handy to have on hand.
The group of survivors then begins its trek. Random events will occur, such as people getting sick, items being lost, car problems, blizzards, and rarely something good may also happen. You can also stop your travels in order to use items, such as medkits, to scavenge for supplies, to repair the car, change your rate of travel, change your rationing rate, put down members of the group, or rest. There are several check points, cities or other points of interest, along the way.
At these check points, you may be able to buy and sell items, repair or upgrade your vehicle, or do jobs for rewards. Jobs take the form of mini-games, where you typically need to shoot zombies or bandits, while avoiding getting bit or shot yourself. Scavenging for supplies also takes the form of a mini-game, where you walk around a map for about 30 seconds picking up randomly appearing items, while zombies come in from the sides of the screen and try to get you.
I found these slow speed chases surprisingly suspenseful at times, as you try to squeeze by incoming zombies and wait out the rest of the scavenging timer. If caught, you lose most of what you had managed to scavenge and are injured. Unlike the other survivors in your group, the main protagonist can only be healed via medkits and not be resting.
For zombie defense you have the choice of a rifle, shotgun, or pistol. The rifle has a single shot, but reloads quickly, the shotgun shoots off 3 bullets in a spread, but has a slower reload, and the pistol has four shots before you need to reload, but also has a slow reload time. These same weapons are applied to some other mini-game opponents, such as bandits.
Zombies come in a few varieties in Organ Trail: the standard green zombie, the fatter zombie that takes two bullets to dispatch, the legless zombie, and some special zombies that I won’t spoil here. You are slightly faster than they are, but not by much. There are also often barriers on maps, so you can sometimes use those to get a bit of extra distance on them.
The sound and graphics are intentionally done in a retro style, which you can see from the graphics in the screenshots above. The music does a good job of setting a gritty, post-apocalyptic tone. The tone of the game itself is an odd mix of serious dark events and silly comedic references to popular culture.
The concept alone is fairly ingenious. It seems like such an obvious match up once you hear about it, to me at least, but it took around 20 years for someone to actually make it. There are a lot of references to Oregon Trail, as well as to various zombie movies, in the game.
Probably the hardest thing about the game is the control scheme. It’s a throwback to the clunky controls from the Apple II, which makes the game more challenging than you might expect. Some people may find this frustrating, particularly if they have no fond memories of the original series.
With the nostalgia and independent studio factors, I personally give it a “B+”, or 8.5/10 stars. It is an inexpensive title to pick up, and worth checking out if you played Oregon Trail as a kid and enjoy zombie themed media. If neither of those apply to you, then you may want to take a pass on this title.