reviews\ Nov 14, 2002 at 7:00 pm

O.R.B. - PC - Review

One thing I must say right from the start. I like explosions. The bigger the better and they have to be nice and loud. When I send a squadron of fighters to destroy an enemy I expect to see a beautiful bright flash of eye candy. While battling through O.R.B.’s tutorial mission’s explosions take the form of a sort of television static instead. The obliterated ship just breaks up into hundreds of tiny gray static balls and vanishes. For newcomers to the genre this may sound unsatisfying, but it is necessary to battle through the beginning tutorials in order to master the single player campaign. Don't worry though. Once you graduate past the tutorials you will be rewarded with beautiful graphics complete with bright explosion effects and cool ship design.

Okay now that I've got that out of my system let me say that O.R.B. is just like Homeworld in many respects. It is an RTS set in 3D space. You must harvest resources and build military units in order to conquer your enemies.

Military units can become increasingly deadly by researching technology and building prototypes. From there Capital ships will become available yet very expensive. Unfortunately resources aren't very plentiful from map to map.

A recon vessel will scan the area and find any asteroids that have useful material. Then you must build a mining colony and have freighters haul the good stuff to your HQ. All standard stuff. However since there are precious few resources the campaign portion of O.R.B. becomes a methodical click fest.

Each mission you'll race to get to resources before the enemy. Then you'll have to run and gun with your fighters until all enemy ships are destroyed. Of course the computer always manages to get the upper hand. At least in the beginning. Then I slowly wield my mighty attack squadron with such cunning that I eventually decimate every unit who opposes my forces.

Problem is, controlling all of your units can get a bit itchy. If you mastered Homeworld than you will not be intimidated by O.R.B.'s gigantic learning curve. In fact if you played through Homeworld, O.R.B. will probably be a walk in the park.

For the rest of us there is a lengthy tutorial that becomes a must play. It will introduce you to all of the basics from ship building and resource management to manipulating the amount of manpower your fleet has and military conquest. Manpower is necessary to perform your research or to have pilots for you ships.

Once you get the basics down it is easy to issue commands to your fighters and other vessels through convenient drop down menus. The research tree while at first seems complicated is actually very intuitive and manages to explain each new tech. There is one menu in particular that allows you to control and keep track of all your units. This menu can be brought up by pressing the F2 key. It will become your very best friend. Through this screen you can even link up any number of ships to a hot key to create armadas. Very nice. Very nice indeed.

Unfortunately the vast majority of the single player campaign feels anti-climatic. It is still good don't get me wrong, but at times gameplay begins to drag. Thankfully there is an excellent multiplayer component, which Homeworlders might want to jump right into. There is also an option to download an unsupported editor, which I did not do, but it is a welcome option.

Gameplay: 8
Very high learning curve, but there are detailed tutorials available to play through. The control system and drop down menus remind me very much of Homeworld. When battle begins however manipulation gets very confusing and you will have to flip between a beautiful 3D world and a lackluster 2D map.

Graphics: 8
Impressive ship designs and beautiful asteroid filled space scenes within the 3D world. The 2D map isn't much more than a black grid with different colored dots to represent your ships.

Sound: 8
The music is actually very well done, and it is action oriented so if you go from mild resource collection to a hair raising battle the music will alter accordingly. The voiceovers were kind of cool I thought because your units respond in their native tongue. Some gamers might not like this but I thought it added to the ambience and the idea of being in a different universe.

Difficulty: Hard
As I said there is a gigantic learning curve for new comers to this type of game. If your have experience with Homeworld though don't even give this a second thought. The games are very similar.

Concept: 5
Two warring planets do battle to control the system. It has been done before but when you defeat the first campaign the second civilization is unlocked and you can play through with them.

Multiplayer:  8
Good times here with team play custom team logos, skirmish mode and you can set resource points and randomize the amount of asteroids available to harvest.

Overall: 7.5
O.R.B. is a good game with high production values. The program is very stable which is a welcome point that seems to be overlooked by a lot of games these days. Overall it offers a bit of a diversion from most RTS titles that take place with ground battles. Unfortunately it is missing that little something under the hood that could've made it a blast.


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