Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Organ Trail: Director's Cut Review


"Pills here!"

  • Developer: The Men Who Wear Many Hats
  • Publisher: The Men Who Wear Many Hats
  • Release Date: 20 March 2013
  • Time Played: 6 hours

So I was looking through the games during one of the Steam sales and then I came across the visuals for Organ Trail. A wave of nostalgia hit me since I remember playing games looking a lot like it back in the 80s on my IBM PC XT clone. This was the era where audio consisted of mere PC bleeps, graphics came in a choice of 4 or maybe even 16 colours and everything was loaded from 5.25" floppies, since hard disks weren't commonplace yet. So it caught my interest but what sealed the deal was the fact it was a parody of a classic edutainment title known as The Oregon Trail. While I didn't really play the original too much, I vaguely remember its premise: get your wagon train to head west across what was then the American Frontier to settle in (what is now) the state of Oregon. The game was an odyssey of sorts as you had to battle your way through Indian ambushes, hunger and even dysentery.

So I was expecting Organ Trail to be a zombie version of the Oregon Trail, and that's more or less what I got.

Plot (3/5)
In the Organ Trail, you play the role of a leader for a party of survivors during a zombie apocalypse. You start off on the eastern seaboard of the continental United States and have to make a trek in an old station wagon towards a safe house in Oregon (one of many homages to the Oregon Trail).

The story is your basic tale of survival during a zombie apocalypse so it's not terribly original in that regard but when is a film or game in this genre? What is good fun is the fact the plot slightly changes each time with respect to the car journeys - i.e. what you and your party members get up to. You're able to name your party members after your family, friends, pets, etc. which makes the game feel more personal. It can be funny when one of your mates who is geographically challenged in real life manages to get you lost in the game for example, or a friend who is jovial in real life happens to lighten the mood for your party in the game.

Another of the game's strengths is that it's filled with pop culture references to the zombie apocalypse genre in general. I'm not even that big a fan and I was even able to pick up on a few (e.g. Shaun of the Dead, Left 4 Dead, The Evil Dead, etc.)

Gameplay (3/5)
As mentioned, the aim of Organ Trail is to get your party of survivors from one side of the United States to the other in an old station wagon. On the open road, you'll encounter zombie hordes and bikie gangs to contend with which have their own mini-games. You'll also have random events occurring, either beneficial (e.g. you find some fruit on the side of the road) or detrimental (e.g. someone gets dysentery - yes, another homage to Oregon Trail). In order to survive your party requires food and rest since if their health bars reach zero then they will die. If they are infected by a zombie and their health bar reaches zero, well you know what happens. So every so often you'll need to stop and rest or scavenge for supplies, such as food, scrap (for repairing your vehicle), ammo, medkits, fuel and money. "Wait... did you say money?" you might be asking and yes you can use money in this game and this brings me on to towns. Every so often you'll stop by towns which are great places to rest (since your party recovers more health). They also sometimes have auto shops (where you can purchase upgrades for your car) or combat trainers (that can help make your player more efficient during the scavenging mini-games). You're also able to do jobs (for particular rewards) and shop for more supplies.

And that's about it. Sounds simple enough right? I actually really enjoyed the odyssey style of gameplay where you're responsible for your party's survival by ensuring you're not only good with your trigger finger but also with your planning abilities (when it comes to stockpiling supplies and preparing for the worst). While the route used is always the same, the story each time is slightly different thanks to the random nature of events. Also, unlike FTL, another game which uses procedural generation, the gameplay is thankfully not as difficult (which is a good thing to me, however everyone has a different opinion on game difficulty).

The only gripe I had with the game was that it was quite difficult to aim and at close range, aiming would screw up completely. Sure it adds some extra difficulty to the game but I think it was unintentionally so, at least for the PC platform. More likely this method of dragging a line from your target to your character was so it would be easier to play on the target platform which are mobile/touchscreen devices.

WHHHHHYY???

Sound (1/5)
The audio in the game consists of primitive PC Speaker beeps which was common in the 80s. So it's a great nostalgia trip for those that remember this era but not so great for the younger crowd who might be put off by it.

Music (5/5)
Just like the audio, the music attempts to tap into the soundscape of the 80s with a lot of the tracks sounding like chiptunes when you first hear them, but listen carefully and you'll realise there's more to it than that. Organ Trail composer, Ben Crossbones, has done a fantastic job meshing 8-bit effects with some hi-fi creepy, ambient soundscapes along with some rocking distortion guitar solos. The soundtrack suits the game perfectly.

Graphics (2/5)
Again the graphics evoke the same style of the 80s - i.e. the low colour count afforded by CGA and EGA graphic adapters, along with very low resolutions (giant pixels!). Mileage may vary depending on whether you feel a wave of nostalgia when you see the graphics or whether it makes you feel sick.

Replay (3/5)
The game is pretty short, only taking 2-3 hours to complete one playthrough, but there is some variety by allowing you to name your party members and the fact that there are quite a few achievements to unlock.

Polish (4/5)
The only serious bug I encountered was that the game would occasionally freeze when it attempted to display text on the screen. This only happened a couple of times fortunately and the game autosaves at particular points in the game.

Score – 6/10

This game isn't going to win any awards in the graphics or sound department but you tend to get that when parodying a computer game from the 80s. If you're not put off by the retro feel to the game and always wanted to try a zombie version of The Oregon Trail, now is your chance!

If you want to get the game, you can get it on Steam or directly from their website.

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[ LINK: Official Organ Trail: Director's Cut website ]

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