Somewhere between the Oregon Trail and D&D lies Orion Trail. Developed by Schell Games, Orion Trail is a game about intrepid explorers and tough choices. OK, not all the choices are tough some are just hilarious. The choices you make will all have consequences. Consequences that could see you become famously incredible or incredibly dead.
Orion Trail takes us back to the days of frontier adventure game Oregon Trail. Players have to explore different systems, choosing crew members and supplies for each mission. Space is treacherous though so you will have to keep a close eye on resources if you plan on making it to your destination. That is where the similarities end, however. Your crew gives your ship different advantages that may or may not be valuable in your adventure where you will be faced with a number of obstacles including revolting replicators, space traffic jams, and nutri-paste disasters.
Taking a more glib approach on new frontiers, Schell Games advise “here only the luckiest, bravest, and most stubborn captains will make it all the way to the end”.
Story and Atmosphere
Orion Trail uses a retro pixelated art style and equally retro 16-bit soundtrack. The game is very reminiscent stylistically of classic point and click titles like Space Quest. While there is no actual story, Schell Games have gone to a lot of trouble building colourful backstories for each possible crew member, as well as create a universe full of amusing characters and challenges.
The game’s explorers mimic Star Trek’s Starfleet as if there had been third mirror universe where everything was just a little sideways. There are a broad array of science fiction and video game tropes explored. This gives Orion Trail its tongue and cheek humor and encourages the player to keep exploring in order to discover all the small nuances hidden away.
Hardware & Control
Essentially, Orion Trail is a point and click adventure easily navigated with a mouse and a low-end system. Clenching your fist and commanding the spinner to move one more space may feel helpful, but actually, has no effect on the game.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Orion Trail begins with picking your bridge crew. Four crew members who will build the foundation for your ship, offering buffs in one of the five key areas: Attack, Tactics, Diplomacy, Science, and Bravado. As you progress in your mission. you will encounter events where you can respond in several ways each relating to one of the key areas. Best practices would be to choose a response where you have high stats because that will increase your chance of a positive outcome but sometimes being stubborn is fun too.
Once you have a bridge crew, you can stock your ship with supplies. With a set number of starting credits, you can add crewmen, food, fuel, or increase hull integrity for your adventure. Traversing the map requires at least three food and ten fuel for every move. You will want to pick your route carefully with your resources in mind because running out of any will spell disaster.
Encounters can add or remove resources. Each of the various systems to explore have increasingly complex maps of stars, planets, and space stations to visit. All of which will provide different advantages or dangers. You will also come across opportunities to send away teams on special missions. Eight crewmen, lead by one of your bridge crew, can have mini adventures where the odds get progressively worse. Chances are most of your away team WILL die. Even so, they are a lot of fun and you can get great bonuses for your ship’s stats and resources by completing them. What’re a few red shirts for some more fuel?
The primary gameplay is choosing responses to encounters and rolling the digital dice. In this case, it’s represented by a small grid called the “Probability Drive”. Your stats in the response type will increase your chance for success, but you are essentially waiting to see if the dungeon masters accept your check roll. Watching the probability drive light up progressively adds tension to the game, especially as you get closer to your goal.
Luck plays a significant role in the game. Increased stats in any area or more surviving away team members will help you. But you may find that even with stacked stats, an encounter still has a chance of ending badly for you. That also means in situations where you have little going for you, you still have a chance. On one mission I succeeded with fails being three-quarters of my encounters. On another, I failed two moves from the finish line because I failed to keep an eye on my Hull integrity.
Orion Trail offers a lot of replayability. Some of the later missions are tricky, and if the dice rolls are not in your favor a few times, you may find yourself failing the mission more than once. Keep an eye out on your missions for the gravestones of your previous bridge crews that will periodically float by. There are a set number of possible encounters that can take place, but there is plenty of variation. These encounters are entirely random and every mission will play differently, which is pretty cool.
This retro title is full of detail, and Schell Games have created a bizarre and clever universe for players to explore. Some players may find being at the mercy of the digital dice roll frustrating. For others, every small victory against the probability drive is thrilling and as the odds stack against you, it becomes even more fun. The random nature of the game ensures players can enjoy themselves, even on their 50th mission. Overall, Orion Trail is a lot of fun and a must play for those yearning for retro adventure gaming.
Images © Schell Games