Gentle readers, I’m probably going to date myself here, but I am a member of the Oregon Trail generation, and I did indeed spend a not insignificant amount of time dead of dysentery in my day. Thus, when GiN informed me that they’d scored a code for the remake, I was over the moon. However, questions of whether the new game would live up to the nostalgia of the original lurked in the back of my mind. Read on to see where I landed on the Trail.
Unlike many of the titles I review, The Oregon Trail does have a plot in that you’re meant to get a party of settlers across the great expanse of the United States to Oregon via the titular Oregon Trail. You start out on the East Coast, selecting your party of settlers, their kit, and a wagon. After that, it’s off to the races via a remarkably well-done tutorial.
Like the original games, this version is not stingy with the events that you encounter, and they’ve added a number of new features that make it feel fresh. However, at its heart, Oregon Trail is, well, Oregon Trail. All the familiar struggles and hardships are present, including cholera, so the remake certainly scratches the itch while providing enough innovation to prevent the game from simply retreading ground.
If you played the original titles, you likely remember the extremely high impact of the random number generator that would make or break your game. While this game doesn’t entirely eschew the RNG, most of what happens is actually based on your choices, and it is remarkably good about signaling to you just what you did wrong when you failed. Oh, yes, you will fail, but for anyone sitting down to this game, the failure is part of the appeal. I know that my friends and I back in the day had a running tally on just how many different ways to die we could find.
The one place that the RNG really controls is in the random assortment of settlers. You cycle through sets of three to select your four party members, and you do need to pay attention to the personality quirks and foibles present in your settlers. While you aren’t going to be spending months crossing inhospitable terrain with these people, The Oregon Trail does afford decently long gameplay. Each settler also possesses skills ranging from the obvious to the hidden that you’ll have to discover along your journey. These foibles and skills will definitely influence the choices you make as you slowly make your way toward Oregon.
Purists should not fear that the resource management aspect of The Oregon Trail has disappeared. No, it is very much part of this new version. You can starve, so like the real settlers, you will have to keep tabs on your supplies. The title doesn’t just rely on negotiating with fellow travelers or finding a general store in order to keep you all fed, however. Rather, you get a hunting minigame, and while I’m generally not a fan of minigames, it really sort of works here.
The minigames aren’t the only new aspects that have been added. For the first time, you get the opportunity to explore not just the Oregon Trail but also other famous westward trails, and the experience is slightly different depending on which trail you choose. It also offers unlockables and even a really well thought out suite of online features that allow you to interact with other players. While yes, the game entails a great deal of walking left, it provides enough events that I never felt as though it had started to drag.
I also very much like that you have a great deal of control over the gameplay experience. If you want the level of difficulty we remember from the first game, you can have it by selecting a higher difficulty level. If you want to play casually, set the difficulty lower and just sort of meander from checkpoint to checkpoint. Yes, you’ll still have to worry about highwaymen and disease, but you’ll find them easier to address.
This title provides a much more interactive world than we had back in the proverbial day. You get a chance to learn more about the animals you encounter, kill, or just straight up scavenge, which was fun. The animation is not at all realistic, but the cartoony visuals coupled with some very vintage looking fonts play into the nostalgia factor. The music and sound effects aren’t groundbreaking by any means, but they do provide a decent accompaniment for your adventure.
Even more significant is that the developers have made a concerted effort to include Indigenous stories in the game. The first games were very much from the white settler perspective, which is a very, very different narrative than the history of the indigenous peoples. There are even indigenous characters that are playable, which I liked. I do have to admit that I’m not in a perfect position to evaluate whether the portrayals are accurate and fair. However, it’s nice to see an acknowledgement that there are narratives other than the standard settler narrative that features so strongly in the original Oregon Trail.
The Oregon Trail remake really embraces the heart of what we loved about the original versions of the game and updates it for a newer audience. You get the same resource management and strategic planning aspects while also adding minigames, online content, unlockable content, and a more interactive world to the mix. The game never leaves you waiting for something to happen, and the addition of more forts and waypoints provides natural breaks that render it easier to stop playing when real life takes precedence.
The Oregon Trail really only has two flaws. First, if you play on the computer, the UI doesn’t play nicely with the mouse, but the keyboard works just fine. Second, at $30.00, this title is kind of pricey. However, I don’t think either of those issues are deal-breakers, especially if you loved the game as a kid.
Stray Thoughts From Behind the Keyboard
- Yes, the snake does jump out at you and kill off party members.
- The game also makes good use of the wagon as an inventory system. How many of us lost parties to broken wagon wheels? Well, in this updated version, it’s not just your wheel that breaks. You also have to keep repairing your wagon bed if you want to be able to hold all of that meat you extracted from the hunting minigame.
- Rivers are also revamped to offer you better information to make the choice as to whether you ford or not. Mind you, keep your pelts, as they can aid in floating your wagon.