I remember picking up the original version of this game. I thought it looked like a laugh and had some interesting (and unforgiving) mechanics. I’d installed it nearing midnight and had work at 8 in the morning. “Screw it,” I thought “five minutes.” The next time I looked at a clock it was 3, nearing 4am. my heart pounding against its cage as I dragged my final survivor into the safe zone alongside his wounded leader who’d become incapacitated at the final hurdle. Everyone else was dead. I felt an elation like nothing I’d felt before in a game, after painstakingly crawling through the American wastes for thousands of miles I’d managed to save the lucky few. And that was all that mattered. I was amazed a game so minimalist had grasped me the way it did.
At the start of the game you’re given a simple premise. In a short amount of time the majority of the U.S. will be nuked in a last-ditch effort to stop the seemingly infinite zombies. The only safe haven is to the northwest. You spend some time gathering what you can and then you set off on a life or death road trip across America with a few friends and an old banger (Translation: Crappy car) for transportation. Yet it’s all you’ve got, so it’s just as important to your survival, if not more so, than your companions. It’s your sanctuary against all that wishes to harm you and it’ll soon win your heart despite constant breakdowns and hiccups.
Every fight is an exhaustive battle. Desperately trying to stay on top of supplies to keep you and your friends fed and well is a war of attrition. Tending to injuries and illness obtained on the road, stopping only when it’s too dangerous to push on. It’s unrelenting and I loved it. It fit the grim atmosphere of the game perfectly. There was always an air of uncertainty. Anxious and alert at all times. The dread of watching your supplies dwindling knowing you’ll have to pull over to go scavenging despite terrible conditions. Hoping to find something to keep you going, if you ever make it out at all.
You have no idea how long I’ve spent staring into this pixelated fire. Trying to think of something, anything, to keep going. Seeing my supplies with big red zeroes next to them made me want to quit. But I sat by the road for hours while we starved and grew weaker, hoping and praying someone would find us and be willing to trade. Trading the only medikit I had for a few litres of fuel was an easy sacrifice to make in that situation, giving us just enough to roll into the next town. Desperation and fear often overrule sensibilities with the looming threat of permanent death always just behind you.
The unpredictability of everything was also terrifying but fit the world like a glove so I didn’t mind. It could be both hilarious and horrific. Someone could leave the car briefly to do their business and simply never return. Bringing you back down to earth after making it as far as you had. Bumps in the road can injure you, breaking your arm for the fourth time in a row, stray bullets, hordes and I haven’t even mentioned the many disturbing things you can find on and off the beaten path. Sometimes you can come across tombstones of fallen travellers. epitaphs can carry jokes, condolences or warnings as well as other surprises. “Behind. You.” Is a good example of one I found where I just wanted to turn off my monitor and forget it.
Moving forwards as much (and as fast) as possible is obviously the key to survival. But it isn’t easy, as nothing is certain. The tension as you placed a wager and hit the button was palpable as you listened. The beeps and boops raising in pitch before stopping momentarily before playing a positive or negative beep depending on the outcome. Scrap was a hard resource to come by which only made it sweeter or more bitter upon the moment of truth. It was exciting. You’re just some guy, jerry-rigging a car in an attempt to keep it going that little bit longer, holding your breath as you do knowing your odds of survival heavily rely on it.
Then an update came out. Suddenly these huge, impactful moments (even if they were luck based) were reduced to little more than reaction commands. Quick time events. New weapons were added, no longer limited to the trusty rifle, scrap was far more common and repairs were fast and frequent. Every sign suggests I should have been happy with these changes. When I looked, the majority of the community were thrilled. Yet I just felt miserable. As I felt the magic and atmosphere of the world has been dashed in one fell swoop through the removal of a mechanic. The game is still as solid and enjoyable as ever, but it’s not the one I fell in love with.
You can choose whether to use two, four or eight scrap. Each of them adding extra chances to repair your vehicle. But with copious amounts of said scrap, I find it hard to even be the slightest bit interested whether I succeed or fail. As long as the bolts are somewhat near the circles, you’ll always repair a small amount. I no longer feel like some guy but rather a professional F1 pit crew member. And without the odds, the car suddenly feels like an F1 car. Always in peak condition, speeding along without trouble, only ever having maintenance performed every now and then. Which can only be described as a minor inconvenience as opposed to the previous version.
The game is (Obviously.) still fun and I’d still recommend it to everyone. But it isn’t what I remember loving most about it. I fell in love with the oppressive, lingering atmosphere and the strange people I talked and bumped into, all while the AMAZING OST (Seriously, Ben Crossbones is a goddamn genius.) plays in a desperate bid for mere survival. It’s technically a better system, but I feel it loses the theme it set out to create. It lost some of its purity and simplicity that made it such a joy. Which suddenly reminds me of Mirror’s Edge. But don’t worry… I’ll get to that. Trust me. I picked up the Complete Edition recently. It has more paths and random events and yet I bumped into the same feelings.
Some alterations simply add more to the game world and makes your run more unique. For instance, I entered an abandoned hospital following a wailing noise. After trailing it, it led to a healthy baby. A zombified couple block you and are trying to break through the glass that shields it. I dealt with the zombies and after a careful decision, took the baby. I was glad. I’d made a difference. A single line popped up then. “Another mouth to feed.” Then suddenly I was back on the road! No extra person to look after, no additional food required. For all intents and purposes, the baby may as well no longer exist. It just felt shoddy.
A new zombie was introduced too and that did nothing to change my opinion. (Bottom left) They are essentially Boos from Mario. They move faster than regular zombies but will only attack when you avert your gaze. I guess these new zombies are incredibly body conscious (as zombies tend to be…) as they’ll just pretend they don’t exist if you do look at them. Even if you shoot them. Bandits will now try to steal things that appear while scavenging. They can be mauled by zombies if they bump into one, or shot dead before or as they steal. This I don’t mind as it adds a new element to a tried and tested mechanic. But honestly, my few complaints about this awesome game could easily be solved if there was simply a legacy mode in the options!
But until then, that’s all I have to say on Organ Trail and Me.