The Oregon Trail Review by: j0hanJourneying West
The year is 1848. From the largely unsettled regions of the American West come tales of mountains spilling over with gold. Dreams of a better life fuel the countless covered wagons that stream towards the Oregon Territory. Families stock up on supplies and steel themselves as they prepare to endure the perilous road ahead. Disease, bandits, wild animals, drought, hunger, high mountain passes, barren desert, disastrous weather: these lie in wait in some of the roughest country known to man. Though it will take every ounce of wit and luck for the brave American Pioneer to reach the Far West, the golden horizon that awaits him there is a dream worth suffering for.
The Oregon Trail was first released in 1971 as an educational tool and has since been updated and re-released to various systems. Apple II was the first to market the game in the early 1980s, with McIntosh following in 1991. Recent releases include the Wii in 2011 and a smartphone app. Speaking from personal experience, it was an invaluable resource as a history lesson in itself, while remaining, challenging, engaging and most importantly, fun. The Oregon Trail is a simulator that transplants you into the world of the pioneer, where you must purchase and ration supplies, choose your route and departure date to Oregon, and make some tough decisions along the way. During the difficult journey you must cross rushing rivers, climb the treacherous passes of the Rockies and sustain your party through barren land void of water and grass. You will invariably encounter danger and suffer disaster. You might run out of food and be forced to hunt to keep your family fed. You may even end up leaving someone alongside the road, under a hastily fashioned cross.
Cut-scenes within the game are given alot of detail, as well as the river crossings. The hunting mini-game could have been better, and the main screen (a covered wagon going left) is a bit static.
Game-play itself contains little sound effects. I gave it a higher score because various American folk songs are played (in midi format) throughout cut-scenes, enriching the atmosphere.
I rated this from a school-child's perspective. Back in first grade I loved going to the computer lab and playing. I would try to reach Oregon before any of my classmates by setting my travel rate up to 'grueling' (the fastest), which always led to disaster. It was something I looked forward to then, and after all these years I'm here, playing it again. Furthermore, each play is unique. That said, it is hard to play from start to finish in one sitting.
The story of the pioneers is certainly dramatic, and this game makes good use of that. Though the main plot points must remain the same, each journey is unique and unpredictable, with variables occurring at random. So with each new game a different drama unfolds within the world of the pioneer.
Apart from the many decisions and disasters the player encounters, a hunting mini-game adds depth. Several facets of game-play are player-determined, such as travel rate, supply rationing, certain routes and types of river crossings. In addition, upon start-up, the player chooses from three vocations: Banker, Carpenter, Farmer. These determine level of difficulty and end-game scores. Bankers receive the most money, $1600, allowing more supplies which makes the journey easiest, and do not receive a score bonus. Carpenters start with $800 and receive a doubled score. Farmers get the short end, receiving $400; but at the end their hardships are rewarded with a tripled score.
Reaching Oregon is a difficult task. Many times my wagon leader finally succumbed after having buried the rest of the party. But with the right decisions, and a bit of luck, it is possible. Of course playing as the banker makes things easier, but it remains challenging nonetheless. Playing as the farmer is a difficult task indeed.
You don't need to be American to learn a valuable lesson from this game about hardship and sacrifice. Through this enjoyable and nostalgic classic, you will better understand the lengths some would travel to find a better life for themselves and their descendants.