Following a successful round of funding on Kickstarter, Organ Trail launched on Google Play earlier this month. The game takes the classic Oregon Trail game from 1974, but instead of leading a drawn wagon full of pioneers across America, you’re driving a station wagon full of zombie apocalypse survivors across a wasteland. Aside from the usual commodity handling and dealing with dysentery, Organ Trail hosts a few real-time game elements, including shooting down undead while trying to scavenge for supplies at a decrepit mall, or sideswiping roving biker bandits while on the road. To top it all off, Organ Trail stays true to the old-school esthetic with blocky graphics and 8-bit soundtrack.
Graphics and audio
The graphics earn top marks for staying true to its Apple II roots. Players are welcomed to every new landmark with a big pixel art landing screen, many of which depict major U.S. cities in various states of apocalyptic ruin. The animation is appropriately choppy right down to the slight stutter when an hour of in-game time goes by. You can almost hear an ancient computer’s disc spinning trying to keep up.
The soundtrack for the first version is a great collection of the choiciest chiptunes pulled from the Free Music Archive. Every grim, depressing track is available to download for free, but the Director's Cut used the extra dough from Kickstarter for an original soundtrack, available for listening here. The Director's Cut soundtrack is a little less 8-bit, but makes up for it with a dash of real, high-quality instrumentation. Though there are plenty of bleeps and bloops, to enjoy, there are more subtle touches on the sound effects front, like the clacking of a spacebar as you tap through on notifications.
Gameplay and controls
For most of the game, the controls are very straightforward, considering you’re generally just navigating through a series of menus. There are a few mini games where things get exciting, such as the shooting mechanic which is basically the same as the Angry Birds slingshot - pull back, angle, and release to fire. This comes into play when guarding the station wagon from roving zombies, scavenging supplies, and having to put down party members when the infection gets too far. There’s also a bit of car racing action when you have to take out gangs trying to saddle up next the station wagon and shoot out the tires.
The gameplay itself is rich and detailed, if a bit slow for some people. The ultimate goal is to make it to the west coast with as many survivors of a 5-man party as possible. Players have a wide variety of supplies that they have to stock up on in order to be ready to meet random challenges. There’s a randomized barter and market system in place, but failing that, you can try your luck at scavenging. Inclement weather can slow down progress, various diseases can reduce the health of your party members, the car can break down, and roadside distractions can be either a boon or the death knell for your entire crew.
The only downside I can imagine is that Organ Trail isn’t really a bite-sized game. Getting from one end of the continent to the other takes awhile, and playing for just a minute or two isn’t particularly rewarding in reaching that goal. If you’re going to play Organ Trail, you really need to be in it for the long haul to feel like you're getting anywhere, though you can always save and pick up from where you left off. For many players, the longer pacing is actually a good thing, but generally speaking, if you're playing a game on your phone you want something that can be fun and encapsulated in smaller segments.
- Excellent retro feel
- Detailed, suspenseful gameplay
- Long-term gameplay may not be to everybody’s tastes
Organ Trail is an imaginative homage to a timeless classic, and even putting aside nostalgia, zombie fans will love the gritty survival aspect of Organ Trail. Even without cutting edge graphics, the developers have managed to create a ton of horror and suspense with bare-bones graphics. If you don't mind a slightly slower pace and can find fun in preparation and organization, Organ Trail is most definitely worth the $2.99.