Great brains think alike…
Have I mentioned how many weird ideas come out of Dawn’s mind on a near daily basis? I believe I have. As evidence, this comic would not exist if it were otherwise.
If not captured and turned into webcomics or art, these ideas tend to keep circulating and coming up every so often. One of the ones that always had her excited when it came back around was the following:
“You know that old game Oregon Trail? They should totally remake that into a zombie apocalypse thing and call it Organ Trail!” (may be paraphrased)
Oregon Trail has to be one of the oldest personal computer games ever made. It debuted before I was born, and that’s saying something these days. What’s also saying something is that it’s gone all the way from 1971 to 2010 without much change, being both simple and addictive. It was a shoo-in for the new era of cellphones and mobile devices, attracting an entire new generation as well as nostalgic older folks who might remember playing it on their Apple II or DOS PC. In the original, you managed a 19th century wagon train finding its way to the (then) Oregon Territory, trying to keep your people alive through all manner of hardships and misfortune such as famine, disease, and attacks by wild animals. Dysentery was a particularly notorious killer, enough to warrant its own t-shirt.
Anyhow, the thing is, some other people had the same idea Dawn did, right down to the puntastic name alteration. Organ Trail is upon us, courtesy of indie game developers The Men Who Wear Many Hats. We’re totally suing.
Just kidding. There is, after all, such a thing as parallel evolution, especially in the case of an idea just begging to be brought to (un)life. These guys did a great job adapting that core, addictive gameplay of the original into a zombie setting. Instead of a wagon train, you and your crew of survivors pile into a station wagon and hit the road from a soon-to-be-nuked Washington D.C. You have eight hours time to split up between scavenging for various supplies like food, bullets, and car parts before starting your convoluted journey through the apocalypse in an attempt to reach the Safe Haven (coincidentally enough, in Oregon).
Oh, you can choose to start as one of three different professions. The cop is much more equipped for survival than the lawyer, but the lawyer will give you the most bonus points if you make it. Being a glutton for punishment, I went the lawyer route. Pro tip, though: don’t overdo it on the food scavenging. It’s the only thing you can hunt up along the way, everything else has to be traded for as opportunity arises. I spent several stranded, nervous hours outside D.C. after I busted a tire almost as soon as we started. Luckily the nuke didn’t appear to reach that far.
The graphics are straight up 1970s Apple II quality, which has a certain nostalgic feel but also ensures your browser or device should have no trouble playing it. As you progress you’ll end up passing through various cities and landmarks where you can get hints from other survivors, trade for more supplies and rest in relative safety. This is where the game developers show that they’re great devotees not only of Oregon Trail but of the zombie genre, since the landmarks you’ll hit represent just about every classic zombie movie setting you can think of, including a very deliberate placement of A Mall and A Farmhouse in Pennsylvania.
In the original you hunted animals for food. In Organ Trail, you guide your little guy through a landscape as grocery bags and shopping carts appear to be grabbed, while trying to shoot or dodge an ever increasing horde of undead. The diseases your crew suffers also will have some familiar names to zombie fanatics, such as “Green Flu” or “The G-Virus”. On occasion, your progress will be blocked by a horde that you’ll need to try to sneak through or fight through, and the animations of doing so are strangely nailbiting despite their simplicity.
By far the most insidious feature, though, is that as far as I can tell there is no save function, which meant I was glued to the addictive thing for several hours because dammit, I was getting to Oregon. I made it there with 3 of my 5 original people, with my two losses being frustratingly random and unavoidable (You may grow to hate the message “X wandered off and you couldn’t find them”), but the original game also apparently had such smackdowns of fate. Then again, it’s still in Beta, so maybe enough complaints and they might tweak that particular bit of nostalgia.
In any case, it was fun. And free. So if you’ve got some time on your hands for some old-school fun in a new-school theme, I say check it out. Such a simple game, but it still evokes moments of desperation, relief, and even triumph, and changing it over to the modern zombie apocalypse fit like a rotting glove. Dawn was right, and so are The Men Who Wear Many Hats. Great brains think alike. At least, until they’re eaten.