These days, the biggest threat during a cross-country trip is getting a flat and having to call a service station on your cell phone. In the mid-nineteenth century -- as hundreds of thousands of trekked West in covered wagons and by foot -- the consequences of plans gone awry could be deadly. The Learning Company's set of three educational CD-ROMS, The Oregon Trail 4th Edition, gives players ages 10 and up the opportunity to take to the trail themselves.
The town of Independence, Missouri, was the jumping-off point for most pioneers starting The Oregon Trail. This is also where the educational game begins. Through an impressive set of video interviews, the player creates a team with two other people. Alternatively, to save time, players can pick a wagon with a full team and take a chance that the computer will pick worthwhile travel companions.
Clear graphics in the program make it easy for the user to monitor the wagon's progress. The program uses audio to guide players along the trail. During hunting trips there is a soundtrack of woodsy noises. Much of the trail is silent, a reminder to pay close attention to life-sustaining signs at the bottom of the screen such as water ration levels and the travelers' health. Neglecting these signs can lead to an untimely death for everyone in the wagon.
The player collects information through engaging interviews of the other characters. By clicking on the photographs in the bottom center of the screen, the other people in the wagon come to life and tell you how they are faring. If someone complains of hunger, it's time to stop the wagon and gather food. If a player suffers a gunshot wound while hunting, the team must decide whether to ignore the wound, rest for a couple of days to recover, or make a quick dressing and hope for the best.
The Oregon Trail CD-ROM requires a substantial time commitment -- at least half an hour to get started and longer to complete the trail successfully. Players can save a journey at any time -- to take a break or to set a return point after a deadly mistake.
The Oregon Trail 4th Edition is a great way for its players to exercise decision-making and learn American history at the same time.