Organ Trail, recent production by The Men Who Wear Many Hats, is a game that seemingly relies completely on its audience’s familiarity to that one famous educational video game it is parodying. That one famous educational video game that I — not being American, and therefore, not being taught the intimate details of America’s semi-recent past as much in school — never played. I can’t decide whether that makes me the worst possible candidate to review this game, or the best. Probably a little bit of both: ‘it’s supposed to be parody’ can only defend questionable design decisions so far.
Of course, maybe Organ Trail is great in all aspects and I just spent my opening paragraph covering my bases for nothing. Only one way to find out, I guess.
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, pretty much completely I guess. Mechanical, same.)
Oh yeah! Organ Trail is a game about zombies. I could have worked that into the opening paragraph somewhere, I think.
As a parody of a 1970′s piece of edutainment software, Organ Trail’s options are… let’s call them necessarily sparse. Here, these are the options:
There’s a whole bunch of extras, on the other hand: skulls and tombstones and leaderboards and something called ‘Halloween Mode’. I click around in them a bit, but can’t find how any of them relate to me surviving an American zombie apocalypse. I don’t even know what’s up with this ‘Clements Quest’ thing.
I opt to start a new Campaign Mode game. Do I opt to do this on Easy, Normal, Difficult or Suicide? The latter just sounds like oodles of fun, I think I’ll go just a little easier for my first apocalypse.
Time to take this show on the road!
Time to take this show behind some sand bags in a black void of nothing.
One little guy, holding one little gun, standing in the bottom center of the screen. One other little guy, remarkably more green, closing in fast. “Click on the enemy and draw a line towards yourself to shoot”, Organ Trail advises.
Oh yeah? Well I got news for you, game: I don’t want to shoot this little green dude, and you can’t make me. I’m just going to sit here and decide my own life. You’re not even my real dad!
On a more serious note, though, I’m immediately curious what will happen if I don’t shoot. If I show unwillingness to take even a single zombie life, will Organ Trail take pity on me and pull its punches at the last second?
Lesson duly learned: you got to shoot them in the head.
I draw a line from the zombie to me. This creates a small dotted line from my persona outward. I release the left mouse button, and a little bullet ball flies across the dotted line and at the zombie man. And misses. This aiming system is going to take some getting used to.
I quickly figure out that it’s less about ‘drawing a complete line’ and more about ‘hold the mouse button and move the mouse in your own general direction, then wiggle the resulting aim line around until it’s at a good angle’. Using these new-found skills, I shoot a zombie! Contrary to popular wisdom, my single bullet pulverizes its body into a mushy paste, but leaves the head completely intact. Good luck biting anyone without limbs to get to them, Zeke!
More zombies show up. I shoot one! And another one. And another one, and another one, and another one, and another one, and *click*, and *click*, and *click*…
I appear to be out of bullets, and not out of zombies. This is suboptimal. Did I miss one too many shot? Is it another trip to Restart Junction for me?
No, it turns out it’s scripted this time: at the last moment, an armed man swoops in to rescue me!
The man, your typical post-apocalypse wasteland priest named Clements, suggests we partner up. He also suggests I find some friends, ‘anyone we could count on in a pinch’. I think I know a few people, yeah.
Clements has just enough food and fuel in his station wagon to take us to DC. Let’s get this show on the road for real!
In the span of not twenty seconds, Clements breaks his arm, contracts dysentery and manages to get himself bitten.
In scenic Washington DC…
…a friendly radio informs me that the government — not in Washington anymore, apparently — is preparing to nuke the place to smithereens. I trade my faulty, pointless Clements for four way cool dudes, and use my twelve remaining hours to scavenge for useful supplies.
NO. SLEEP. TILL.
My goal: the west coast. Portland, Oregon, if my map skills serve me. Clever. This would be a fairly straightforward trip, were it not for the aforementioned nukes.
I mess around with some options before I set off, but this is all stuff I can’t quite parse yet. What’s the benefit of travelling slow vs. travelling fast? Why would I increase or decrease my rations over the standard? And what in the devil are car upgrades? All these answers, and more, I might just run into during my road trip from (and maybe to) hell.
I travel for three seconds. A blizzard erupts.
I travel for three seconds. Some food goes bad.
I travel for three seconds. Nothing happens! Has my luck changed for the better?
I travel for three seconds. A military blockade keeps me up for an hour. Sigh.
‘Travel’, I feel I should mention, is totally automatic. The car just drives… I want to say ‘the car just drives forward’, but what actually happens is that the car appears to be spinning stationary while the background image shifts in a way consistent with a car travelling forward. Small difference, but subtle.
Every few meters travelled — ‘every three seconds’ — there appears to be a chance for something to happen. Sometimes the car just stops for a little bit. Other times… well, scroll up and read for yourself. Generally lousy stuff, so far. Is this the whole game?
Turns out it’s not: after about a minute of travel I hit the (largely zombie-infested) Pittsburgh. Here, I can buy and sell items, learn secret combat techniques, and do missions for the townsfolk. For instance, they need some bandits shot up.
Slowly, steadily, a complete picture dawns. My goal is to travel from east to west, moving from settlement to settlement. I have to keep my food, fuel and ammo supplies up and my car in working order. And my teammates, let’s not forget.
Shouldn’t be hard.
I’m going to finish this awful road trip in a hurry. Be back when I’m either in Portland or dead!
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