Review: Organ Trail: Director’s Cut – Zombies and dysentery, a winning combination

In the 1800s, the western United States was settled thanks largely to the Oregon Trail, a journey countless have relived in the classic Oregon Trail video game. In Organ Trail: Director’s Cut, iOS users can take the next step as they embark on a similarly deadly journey westward towards a Safe Haven from a zombie apocalypse and the onslaught of nuclear blasts trying to contain it.

The iOS app is a Kickstarter-funded port of the popular flash game by The Men Who Wear Many Hats. In most ways, it’s the same game in mobile format, but most notably adds interactions with other survivors (or their tombstones).

You start the game with a laughably poor last stand attempt as a horde of flesh-eaters close in on you while your ammo supply dwindles to nothing. As you fire your last bullet, you’re saved by the mysterious Clements before embarking on what will ultimately prove to be the second worst road trip ever. Now, you’ll take the worst road trip ever.

Clements manages to get you to Washington, D.C., safely so you can pick up your friends and get a few hours to scavenge for supplies, but the government has decided that the city is too infected to be saved, so they’ll be nuking it any time now. Thankfully, Clements knows of a Safe Haven on the West Coast that you can head to. So after shooting Clements (did I mention that he was bitten?), you and your friends head out, leaving behind the soon-to-be D.C. Wasteland (hello, Fallout 3!).

Like the Oregon Trail journey, traveling to Safe Haven will almost certainly have casualties. Five people in one car and a constant need to balance different supplies and the time spent collecting them is enough to cause stress on anyone. And that stress seems to take its toll fairly quickly, as all sorts of mishaps occur for no apparent reason. It’s the only way to explain ammo flying out the window at slight bumps or the lack of security posted around the car. Also, why do your friends never drive? All joking aside, some of the events that happen to you on the road might seem unbelievable, but they are decent ways to add variation to the journey and they usually provide a good laugh.

Perhaps the most challenging resources to balance are food and scrap. Scrap is used to repair your constantly deteriorating station wagon. If the station wagon breaks down, you’ll be stranded, wasting food and, potentially, health while you try to trade or scavenge for scrap. Other supplies are important, but they’re easier to get by without in a pinch. You’ll want to keep an eye on your fuel levels and make sure you have a decent amount of ammo, but both are surprisingly easy to conserve. The key for food and car maintenance is in pacing, which you can set individually for both. If you’ve got a lot of food, you can keep your group healthy with larger rations. Likewise, if your car is on the verge of breaking down, going at a slower pace can keep it going for a bit longer. For the most part, you’ll probably stick to the middle of both pacing options, but it’s worth considering different combinations based on your situation.

If you do find yourself running low on supplies, the quickest way to collect them is through scavenging. Taking the place of Oregon Trail’s hunting, scavenging has you running around a map collecting supplies that pop up randomly while avoiding or shooting zombies. You’ll primarily pick up food, but it’s also a decent way to collect some scrap. This is where you’ll primarily use your ammo, and it could be one of the most frustrating for some. When shooting, you pull back your with your finger, drag it in a circle to aim, and release to fire. On easier modes, you’re assisted by a short dashed line, but this is only so helpful. On the hardcore difficulty, this line is omitted entirely. The mechanic works well enough, but it can be frustrating to have near misses with what appear to be well placed shots. Additionally, even hitting a zombie does not always kill them, but rather sometimes causes them to stop for a few seconds. This is likely meant to mean they’ve been hit, but not in the head. Shooting also, unfortunately, requires you to stop, meaning you can’t shoot on the move. For most players, the scavenging strategy will likely be trying to avoid zombies entirely while collecting supplies, and shooting only when in immediate danger.

The game was meant to be a direct parody/tribute to the original Oregon Trail and contains plenty of references to it. It’s done in the same style, with the developers boasting proudly about its “amazing 16 color art and retro beeps and boops” on the game’s iTunes page. The description is perfectly accurate as the game does an amazing job of recreating the retro style and feel without making the game undesirable to play. And of course, no Oregon Trail game would be complete without the wonderfully frustrating dysentery. If you’re looking for nostalgia, this game will deliver.

Organ Trail offers plenty of fun references for zombie fans too, offering, among other things, character art based on famous zombie movies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. The Game Center achievements are also full of references sure to please just about any zombie fan.

There are a few moments of the game that attempt to create some sort of morality element, specifically with the additional events that allow you to interact with other survivors. These interactions give you options for your decisions, which can lead to rewards or consequences, depending on what happens. You also have the ability to ‘put down’ the members of your group, withholding the option to cancel the decision for a few seconds. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of attachment created for the characters, which can make shooting them relatively easy if supplies begin to disappear. It’s an admirable attempt to provide something that would have added an incredible amount of depth to the game, but the developers wisely included only what they could without trying to force an incompatible, complex morality system.

As in the original Oregon Trail, arriving to safety in the west is an immensely satisfying feeling, one which will almost certainly make you want to do it again. And maybe again. And so on. Of course, not making it can be disappointing, but the game does a good job of preventing frustration. Most players will die. A lot. They just usually won’t feel angry about it.

Final Rating: 9/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: iPhone
Time to completion: Could take several hours to reach the Safe Haven, dependent on difficulty rating and luck
Gamer Score Earned: 28 achievements for 840 points
Price Bought at: $2.99
Current Price: $2.99
Recommend Purchase Price: $2.99
Why you should buy it: It’s got zombies in it. What more could you possibly want?
Why you shouldn’t buy it: You don’t like zombies. (What’s wrong with you?)

 

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About Josh DeGrasse-Baumann

If you really get to know me, you can sum me up with about three things: media, video games, and science fiction. I’m a writer by passion and a media lover by experience. I’m a gamer by choice, of course. I’ve done the ‘leadership’ thing in all three media organizations my college had to offer and still have a passion for all thing communication. My true interest is zombies, of course. But whose isn’t?