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Orion Trail owes more than just its name to The Oregon Trail; surviving your journey through a harsh and unforgiving environment is the central theme. But unlike its namesake, Orion Trail takes glee in tormenting you and providing laughs along the way.
A Kickstarter from Schell Games, the game is centered around the decisions you make. You start by selecting your captain, ship, and crew. All bring different strengths to your team: offense, tactics, diplomacy, science, and bravado are affected by the mix of skills and capabilities you select. The challenges you encounter are drawn from those same traits to shape the life-and-death decisions you make.
The outcomes of your decisions can add or remove food, fuel, crew, and hull strength. Run out of any of those resources and you face a (usually) painful space-death. So while it could be tempting to put all your points into offense and tactics to live like Kirk, you may regret it when you badly need the diplomatic skills to pick up some fuel for your ship. In a nice twist, outcomes can also affect the skills of your crew members, altering your chances for success in future encounters.
With clear roguelike influences, each mission you attempt is randomly generated, and you won’t survive every voyage. Win or lose, Orion Trail wants you to enjoy the attempt. In fact, the game had me laughing out loud as I encountered a wide variety of science fiction parodies. Deploying my ship’s droids against the Warp Weasel infestation seemed like a good idea until I discovered that the only ones I had were cafeteria bots. And of course I was given at least one opportunity to solve a crew dispute by using my loins…although oddly, it was while I was led by a clearly Picard-inspired captain.
If it seems like I’m discussing a completed product more than a concept, it’s because Schell Games has created a prototype of the game that is available for download on Windows, Mac, or Linux. While by no means a complete game (they are up front about the bugs, incomplete content, and spelling errors), it should be more than enough to give you a taste of their vision and help you decide if this is a game you want to fund. It’s an especially good way to get a feel for the retro graphical style and music, which, while I feel are fitting for this style of game, may not appeal to everyone’s tastes.
Our crowdfunding “buyer beware” caveat notwithstanding, Schell Games plans to use the backing to add away missions, more feedback on the reasons for mission failure/success, more continuity between missions, and a lot more content. Having already been Greenlit on Steam, they seem to be well on their way with this project.
While I definitely had fun with the prototype, I also have to admit that I’m a little concerned that the game may lose its luster rapidly after multiple playthroughs. At its core, Orion Trail is based on decisions on pre-canned scenarios and is lacking some of the tactical depth that came with FTL: Faster than Light (a game with which it has some resemblance). However, sporting funding options for as little as $10 that reward with a copy of the game, this might be the wagon train to the stars you’ve been looking for.