Thursday 11 July 2013

Organ Trail: Director's Cut (PC/Mac/Linux/iOS/Ouya)

The zombie apocalypse is (once again) upon us and you must travel across the United States with your band of survivors. America is in poor shape and necessities are in short supply so grab your boomstick and get scavenging! In The Organ Trail hordes of zombies are everywhere... complimented by an (un)healthy dose of dysentery.

The Organ Trail has several key elements of game play which involve a combination of managing your group, repairing your car and other key tasks to keep the danger at bay. The most nerve wracking sections include evading biker gangs and hunting for supplies whilst fending off the many things trying to eat you - and without spoiling anything too much, it ain't just zeds you have to watch out for.

Keeping your team in one piece is essential to any long term success, and finding a happy balance of dividing food & medikits is near impossible [even on easy]. If you bump up the difficulty you will have even less provisions to get you to your destination... only the hardcore need apply!

One thing this game really excels at is creating an atmosphere of dread that accompanies EVERY job you accept (mostly side quests for extra booty) and the often necessary emergency scavenge. Gun-play is played over a single screen and depending on the mission type you'll be roaming the wastes looking for car parts and other necessities or defending a zone from behind a barricade. Unlike many modern shooters, you have sparse ammo reserves and aiming is an absolute pain... In fact, I initially thought my controls were playing up but I came to realise the disconnect is a deliberate. As you muddle your way around the shooting mechanics the zombie horde is ever approaching, and more often than not you'll not get out of a battle screen without suffering damage. This gives the game a wonderful risk vs reward element - but also brings a level of maturity under the radar to what on the surface appears to be a funny game, do you trust the lives of your group to your pathetic shooting skills or play it safe and limp on?

In regards to the design and art direction, it's fit for purpose. Much like it's Apple II heritage (The Oregon Trail, in case you hadn't guessed) you will be using a lot of your own imagination as the visuals are deliberately very brash and simplified. The team at The Men Who Wear Many Hats seem to have made a conscious decision to allow the text do the leg work in regards to story - and it pays off.

The music is credited to the talented Ben Crossbones, and it is arguable that his contribution to the game to be one of the most significant. The soundtrack is a mix of chip tune and more modern ambience, including a standout and suitably lo-fi rendition of In the House - In a Heartbeat from Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. The atmosphere it creates is captivating, and as I read the on screen text I found my mind locked into the experience absolutely - in its context it's near perfect.

Ryan Wiemeyer & Michael Block have put out a wonderfully dark game, rich in humor and challenge. There is no excuse for not playing it; not only is there is a Facebook version (goodbye lunch break), but it is also available for mobile phones, Steam and Ouya.

So blinding praise aside, is there anything wrong with it? At a personal level I understand the art direction, however in places it is adequate rather than exceptional. The aforementioned clunky shooting mechanics are also not my cup of tea; I understand why they exist as they do but found them a little too tricky. This isn't to say they are bad... just that my aiming sucks!

If traversing the states in a run down station wagon with limited supplies and a unhealthy amount of diseases (goddamn measles!) sound like fun, buy this game. If you're after a fast paced arcade experience, you'll need to look elsewhere for your zombie slaying action.

Purchase the game here (direct from the developer's website).
4 out of 5

Second Opinion

The Organ Trail is one of the many games I've accumulated from various bundles over the past few years - and despite being somewhat of a zombie-movie aficionado I managed to let it slip past unnoticed until recently rediscovering it on the Ouya.

With the Ouya library currently being sparse on 'must play' titles, I purchased the game on a whim and have since been pretty hooked. Naming your party of survivors after close friends or family certainly helps in this respect, and my wife and I have had some pretty tense moments deciding which of our injured kids to use the last medkit on, or whether or not we should risk all by investigating something interesting 'a ways off' the main road. In this respect I suppose that much like The Oregon Trail, this parody also classes as an edutainment title, preparing us for the day when there's no more room in hell.

If you can get over the crude visuals and are prepared to wrestle with the stand-still-and-rotate aiming mechanics (an unpleasant experience reminiscent of slaying the undead in the early Resident Evil or Silent Hill games), there is a lot of fun to be had crossing the wasteland.

J. Monkman

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