O.R.B.: Off-World Resource Base
Strategy games used to use maps as flat as this sheet of A4 magazine paper. Then the 3D space combat RTS came along and terms such as 'North’, 'South’ and 'at the bottom of the map’ ceased to exist, replaced with such concepts as 'three-dimensional coordinates’, the 'z-axis’ and 'rotations around the plane’. O.R.B. is one of these sci-fi geometry/strategy fusions, and hopes to blast genre-leading Homeworld right out of the solar system.
The game is set in a universe devastated by war where the aggressive Malus and the cultured Alyssians fight for possession of mineral-rich asteroid belts. Not only are these celestial bodies something to look at in the otherwise fairly monotonous black of space, but crucially they provide something to get your bearings from in the 3D playing world and are also the source of your resources.
"The asteroid field design was inspired by The Empire Strikes Back, the best of the Star Wars movies," says associate producer Paul Gadbois. We are immediately warming to this guy. So how does a typical game kick off? "You build a Science Vessel and have it scan the asteroid belt until it finds resources. You send a team to dig into it and transport units carry the resources to the closest military base."
Nice. But here's the interesting bit: "Orbiting mining bases go around the system and you need to keep track of bases or else you’ll lose them to the enemy when they go near enemy territory. You can upgrade old mining plants into covert military bases and from there launch surprise attacks."
OK, that's the resource collecting, how about the fighting? "There are more than 20 unique units per race (well over 50 in the game) from marines that can board disabled enemy craft, to huge carriers built in giant shipyards. You can command up to 100 ships in the single-player game (it could have been more but we support Pill 500 systems) and anywhere up to around 200 ships in multiplayer.
"The online community will have all the tools necessary to create their own mods and nearly every object can be modified. The powerful campaign editor also lets you script in-game cut-scenes, including custom music and sound effects."
So if you love epic space battles and real-time strategy, and have the ability to visualise the cosmos as a spatially-interrelated whole, then this could be the game for you. But if you find remembering where you are in relation to the remote control in your living room a hard enough feat of cranial cartography, the control deck of a command ship in O.R.B.'s dazzling mix of Pythagoras and proton torpedoes may prove a bridge too far.
Download O.R.B.: Off-World Resource Base
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
In The World of space strategy titles, one game reigns supreme. Homeworld was unlike anything that came before and, as such, made us rethink everything we knew about strategy games. We were in uncharted territory and we loved it. Homeworld: Cataclysm came along and did what every good expansion pack should do, it refined the interface, sorted out a few of the idiosyncrasies and gave us a few new missions to boot.
Problem is. Homeworld was nigh on perfect to begin with, so every competing title that's appeared since has appeared little more than a Homeworld expansion pack. It's only when someone tries something new (such as Haegemonia's colonising) that a title becomes worth a look. While playing O.R.B I found myself constantly writing down the similarities between the two games -from unit types to gameplay mechanics - and wondering when I'd find something that was significantly worth leaving Relic's classic for. Unfortunately I didn't find it.
Sure, there are ideas in O.R.B. but nothing major, just minor alterations to the basic Homeworld template. OK, you've got dynamic environments, although these amount to little more than moving asteroids. OK, there's a more detailed interface, but this just feels cluttered and unwieldy compared to HWs near-invisible and instinctive offering. OK, you can issue orders while paused, but even that was fixed in Cataclysm.
The only thing O.R.B really does that is dynamically different is the addition of a user-defined tactics menu. You get to predetermine how your units respond to threats, beyond the basic Aggressive', Neutral', and Evasive' settings that litter other games. It's a nice touch but hardly justifies a whole new game.
There's the story of course, quite a nice one as it happens. Two races, divided over their interpretations of a religious text, at war with each other. Campaign one sees you playing as the somewhat fundamentalist and genocidal Malus, as you almost wipe out the peaceful and altogether more tolerant Alyssian empire by the end of the game, only for campaign two to switch the focus and have you rebuilding the Alyssians as they search for a new home and a meaning behind (and a way out from) the conflict. Quite mature for this sort of thing as it happens, which is always pleasant to see.
More Of The Same
Taken solely for what it is there's nothing intrinsically wrong with O.R.B and if Homeworld didn't exist it may well have been a ground-breaking strategy title. It's extremely pretty, well presented, and offers all the strategy staples in perfect working order. The problem is that if Homeworld didn't exist it would be extremely unlikely that O.R.B would either. Such is the debt owed by space strategy developers that mere imitation isn't really flattery, just superfluity.
O.R.B is a game that tries hard to please but is ultimately doomed by its own lack of ambition and the overwhelming dominance of Homeworld. Which, if it isn't careful, might also be Homeworld 2's undoing. Relic take note.