Retro games are all the rage these days, and nobody knows this better than the makers of Organ Trail Complete Edition. The team at The Men Who Wear Many Hats (which is possibly the most absurd studio name I’ve ever seen) have managed to reach back to the dawn of computer gaming to bring a classic experience from my childhood to the modern era. With meticulous care, they have updated the simple pioneer simulator into a wonderful zombie survival game that makes the westward journey both enjoyable and harrowing.
Organ Trail Complete Edition, or for brevity’s sake, Organ Trail, begins shortly after a zombie outbreak epidemic hits the United States. You soon bump into a grizzled old survivor named Clements who has decided to help you get to the shelter in Washington D.C. where the other members of your party are waiting. After the government decides to try and solve the zombie infestation with a few nuclear bombs, it is revealed that the only truly safe haven left is a compound on the west coast.
So gather up your supplies, hop in the old family station wagon, and begin the long journey through a radioactive, zombie-filled wasteland that was once America.
Organ Trail offers a few basic game modes to choose from. The Campaign features a one-way trip to the Safe Haven with your party of five. You start off with a limited number of points that you need to spend between cash,fuel, ammo, food, and spare parts for the car. Then you head out on your quest and try to survive until you reach your destination. Along the way you’ll stop in various towns and pick up the odd job for extra resources. You can also grab your gun and go scavenge for supplies that will aid you.
There is also an Endless mode, which is very similar to the Campaign except that there is no destination. Here you are out to survive for as long as possible. Points are scored based on how far you travel and how quickly you do it. Once the leader of the party kicks the can, the game is over.
In both modes, you’ll face disease, zombies, and even the stupidity of your own party members (why did John trade our last car battery for something useless?? I’m going to kill him!) that will all try to slow you down. If members of your party are bitten by a zombie, there is the potential they too will become one of the undead which means… you’ll have to put them down. Yes, Organ Trail allows you to kill off members of your own party at a whim… which may or may not have been John’s fate after he traded away our last battery. But you need your team to help you get through this game, and even though they eat your food without contributing much in return, it’s probably best that you keep them around. And since you can customize the names of your party members, it can sometimes be difficult killing off a brother or close friend (and sometimes that makes it easier).
Throughout the game, much of the time is spent in menus where you keep track of your resources and set your pace along with your food rations. Going faster will get you to the end quicker, but you put more wear-and-tear on the car. Where the game really shines for me is when you’re able to get out of the menus, out of the car, and into the world to scavenge for supplies. You get to pick your gun (between a rifle, shotgun, and pistol) and head out into the world to take out zombies while collecting food and money.
The controls for shooting are a bit awkward, unless you’re over 30 and spent your childhood playing Oregon Trail on the Apple II. You pull the right stick back in the opposite direction you want to fire and then use the right shoulder button to shoot. I can see some people not liking it, but I immediately took to it and was soon able to do head-shots on zombies from across the screen. But using precious ammo isn’t always the best solution when you can easily outrun most zombies. Most, but not all.
The game can also be controlled entirely through touch, which is something I normally don’t like but works really well here. This is due to the fact that the game’s design has its roots on the PC and was built with a mouse in mind. Thankfully, the touch points are all easily accessible and respond very well.
Graphically, the game looks as though it’s 30 years old, which is nostalgic for someone such as myself, but not everyone’s cup of tea. However, that doesn’t hold the game back and quite often is part of its charm. Its decidedly old-school look blends in nicely with the zombie themed motifs that are so popular in our culture today. This blend creates a perfect atmosphere for a fun and suspenseful game.
The same can also be said of the sound design, which does everything in its power to retain that classic feel while also seeming distinctly modern at the same time. The music takes on a chiptune vibe while most of the sound effects are an exact replica of the blips and bleeps found on games that came on a 5.25″ floppy disc.
The entire time I was playing Organ Trail, I constantly found myself whispering, “Oh, that’s awesome!” again and again. Whether it was the Halloween mode I could turn on that would have me scavenging for candy instead of food, or having to avoid a rampaging herd of zombified deer. Every time I’d turn it on, there was something new and interesting awaiting me, such as the physics-based driving game called Clements Quest, which has you racing the station wagon over mountains and squashing zombies along the way. And just when I thought I had seen it all and things were going to get repetitive, something new would pop up and make me smile while whispering, “Oh, that’s awesome!”
The main criticism I have about the game is that random events can often provide huge negative impacts without you being able to do anything about it. Sometimes your party members get sick, but while you can cure them of that, you can’t cure when they decide to wander off and never return. I had one game where a party member decided to trade away all of my cash for nothing useful in return. Suddenly, my plans would be severely altered and it would seem a bit unfair.
But I guess those are the challenges you accept when you allow others to join you on your quest to safety. I suppose I could just go it alone and not have to worry.
Organ Trail Complete Edition is an amazing homage to a classic computer game, but it does more than just rely on nostalgia to make it great. The journey west is a brutal one, but the choices you make along the way are instrumental as to whether you survive or join the ranks of the undead. This game does a fantastic job of making that journey an exciting one.
When I first started playing, I didn’t think that I would like this game as much as I do, but after having spent many, many hours with it, I now can’t imagine ever putting it down.