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Organ Trail: Complete Edition (PlayStation 4) artwork

Organ Trail: Complete Edition (PlayStation 4) review


"The joke isn't funny enough to survive the length of Organ Trail's tedious campaign."


I really wanted to love Organ Trail: Complete Edition. Once you discover the premise, I'm betting you will, too.

Here it is: you're crossing North America in your station wagon, avoiding the zombie hordes so you can reach Safe Haven on the West Coast with your group of friends. It's all modeled after The Oregon Trail. Yes, that game. The one you (if you were like me) played for dozens or maybe even hundreds of hours when you were a bored elementary school student. And that's all hilarious and maybe even awesome... for about a half-hour.

Before I complain too much, though, forgive me this one quick shoutout to whoever works at The Men Who Wear Many Hats LLC and came up with the idea to replace a covered wagon with a station wagon. It's so obvious, but it's still genius. I applaud you, awesome person, and I only wish that sort of imagination had more consistently been applied to the rest of the design.

So anyway, you start your journey and a hobo type named Clementine teaches you the ropes. It's a bit tedious getting started, as you name everyone in your party, but that was always the case even in the original game on which this one is based. When I took my first trip along the trail, I was in a hurry, so I chose rather generic names instead subjecting a few friends to virtual dismemberment. My companions on the journey were Bubbles, Cutie, Rose, and Brittni, with an "I."

Helpful and noble Clementine was bit by a zombie, even before the journey could begin. At his request, I put my one-time ally out of his misery and the remaining survivors piled into the car. We hit the road, where the design is soothingly familiar. The station wagon progresses from left to right, and you can see the current condition of the vehicle and the members of your party as you all draw closer to your next destination city. Every small block of movement, something might happen. Commonly, in homage to The Oregon Trail, someone might contract dysentery. Or you could come across a tombstone, with an inscription supposedly left in honor of someone who perished before you. That's another nod to the MECC classic, which I used to like because I would see the name of some other classmate who played before me and sucked. Here, I think the inscriptions come from a collection included with the game.

Any time you like, you can stop the station wagon to potentially trade with other travelers, or to scavenge for scrap, which is the equivalent of hunting. You appear on a screen and wander around, shooting zombies that swarm you from all sides. With any luck, you'll collect scrap or money or food, which ensures that you can continue your journey. If things go poorly, you might get overwhelmed by the undead, which causes you to take damage that you must repair with med kits.

Unfortunately, scavenging is a nuisance due to awkward controls. The left analog stick moves your character, who slowly traipses around the map. He seems to be wading through invisible mud, so he's only just barely faster than any zombies he might encounter (and is in fact slower than some of the less common ones that possess greater agility). When you aim your weapon, the hero stops moving, and you have to press the analog stick in the opposite direction that you wish to face. For instance, if you tilt the analog stick to the right, you'll aim left. I'm sure there's a reason for this odd design decision. Perhaps someone will argue that it helps heighten tension, like the tank controls in an old Resident Evil game. Me, I'd rather any tension come from proper atmosphere, which Organ Trail mostly lacks.

Scavenging is a big part of the game, because you'll need to do so frequently in order to keep everyone fed and happy, and to build up resources that will let you trade for money and for parts to your car. As for the trading process itself, you'll burn through food and energy while you wait around for other apocalypse survivors to come around who might be willing to deal, and that means still more scavenging is necessary.

The game starts to get old fairly quickly, as perhaps you can imagine, just because of how often you must scavenge to remain in good shape. Besides food, scrap is a precious commodity. You sometimes must play a mini-game where you tap a button as screws fly across the screen, hopefully matching them to holes. It's fun the first few times, but eventually it grows tiresome.

There are other diversions, as well, including an awkward fishing game, besides "jobs" you can complete that force you to wrestle with sloppy controls and perhaps still get gunned down by bandits. Out on the road, you'll also occasionally find yourself pulled into an event, such as when bikers ride up behind you and want to overtake your vehicle and waylay your party. It's a good effort on the part of the developers to add some depth, but it doesn't actually feel any more meaningful than a text message that perhaps summarizes a bandit siphoning fuel out of your tank.

Really, the biggest problem with Organ Trail is that it just doesn't know when to end. It lasts about twice as long as it has any real reason to, and the difficulty doesn't increase substantially as you advance. You just keep doing the same things--because they work--and sometimes you're luckier than you are in other cases. Then you reach your destination, maybe even with your entire party all in one piece (though I myself lost poor Rose to a bandit raid), and there are a few surprises waiting that could easily wipe out your team at the last possible moment. I do not approve, especially since that apparently prevents a person from unlocking additional vehicles for subsequent runs... though I'm not sure most people will want to bother going through everything a second or third time, anyway.

Another diversion you might want to tackle once you finish the main campaign is a side game featuring Clementine. He drives a station wagon along a series of mountains, and you have to reach checkpoints to add supplies. It feels like Excitebike, only with considerably less effective controls, and again it lasts far too long.

Like I said at the start of this review, I really wanted to like Organ Trail: Complete Edition. It's a neat idea, and sometimes the execution is terrific. It does a good job of functioning as a send up to the old game, but with a number of additions. If only it were actually fun to play, I'd probably want to spend all sorts of time with it. Four or five hours on one lengthy campaign was more than enough to let me see everything I cared to see, though, including the closing credits and poor Clementine's tale of misadventure. Perhaps I should have expected as much. After all, the game is a literal joke...

2/5

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (February 03, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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