O.R.B. Review (PC)
Decent space strategy games are few & far between - nearly all of the Star Wars clones etc are a real disappointment so its nice to find a game that looks like it could be a contender for the No. 1 slot. O.R.B. (Offworld Resource Base) from Strategy 1st / Gigex is a twinkling star in a void full of black holes.
Come on guys let's do some damage
You wont get me in the ass
You initially play the part of the Malus race, fighting the Alyssians for control of the Aldus system, although it soon becomes apparent that there is a 3rd party involved. Once the Malus campaign is completed, you get the chance to play as the Alyssians and experiment with their differing technology & culture. The campaigns themselves, though linear, are flexible enough to allow you to experiment with varying tactics and give some leeway for repeating missions.
The graphics for this game are without doubt some of the best I have seen for the genre - galactic backdrops show nebulae, gas clouds etc & not just a boring black/blue area littered with stars. The ship graphics tend to make me think of Babylon 5, especially the destroyer classes and the explosions are superb, sending debris off in all directions (don’t be put off by the pathetic explosions in the training scenario - once you get into the game fully, the eye candy perks up a lot). The music is adequate, nothing special but just right to give the appropriate background atmosphere.
In order to progress your race, you have to mine resources, conduct extensive research and build up fleets strong enough to withstand the constant attrition of battle. The welcome development however, is the addition of a ‘personnel control’ - its not just research bigger & better & build like mad - thought has to be given to balancing your workforce between research, espionage & piloting. In the early stages of each level you can assign the majority of your workforce to research in the hope of gaining a technological advantage, the advantage is of no use however if you have no pilots to fly your shiny new spacecraft so a bit of manpower reshuffling is in order. The manpower limit depends on how many bases/mines have been built & just what has been researched - basically, the more bases/mines you have, the larger your workforce. Keeping a few people in the cover ops section (once it is available) can help out significantly by sabotaging the opposition or even stealing some of their technology.
Resources are very limited in nearly every scenario and it becomes a race to discover them & claim them for yourselves - failing to do so means you will not have enough cash to research & build a fleet big enough to win. Unfortunately, nearly every level devolves into a frantic race to find & develop your mines with the main objective being temporarily being forgotten until your economy is stabilized. The research tree itself is nicely laid out, you can see at a glance just what is required for any given project enabling you to decide on where to concentrate the research to attain your individual goals.
There are 3 game views; the normal screen, the movement overlay screen & the 2D ‘tactical’ screen. You can group units in the normal “drag a box, CTRL x” way and to move you just need to click on your destination or target and your units speed off to obey your orders. You can assign formation to you groups but, after a while, they seem to just split up & ‘do their own thing’ for some obscure reason so you frequently have to re-order them back into formation. It certainly seems that groups of 3-7 units work best - any larger than that & they tend to split into small groups anyway & spread out over a large area of space which causes problems when you want to visually ‘follow’ any particular group & cannot zoom in because of the distances between units. It is possible (and indeed easier) to conduct the whole scenario from the 2D tactical view - doing so however defeats the object of the exceptional visuals and you will probably find a balance of approx 70% 2D & 30% 3D. A nice innovation is the ability to ‘shadow’ an enemy unit, keeping just outside of sensor range and letting the target guide you back to its base - very handy in skirmish mode.
The skirmish & online modes are superb - you can set the levels of just about everything in order to achieve any game style target you like - I just love playing with only 5-10 fighters per side & slugging it out with the heavies. The AI levels can give you a very good game on anything above normal, with ‘easy’ or even ‘V easy’ being ideal to develop your tactics.
Overall, I found O.R.B. to be a pleasing experience and one that certainly needs adding to any space strategy nuts collection and I certainly would not balk at buying any possible follow ups.
Top game monent: I enjoyed the most setting up escorts for my resource collectors. It was a pleasure seing them move across the open space escorted by pack of fighters, while trying to collect vital resources for maintaining my fleet.
I am putting this bit at the bottom because I do not want it to detract from the review as such. I would guess that anyone who buys this & plays it will think of one word immediately - Homeworld, the similarities are amazing. Anyone who knows me also knows that H is my No1 fave game in the universe - it has never been removed from my HD since the day I bought it & I still play it every week. O.R.B. does not match up to the fluent gaming experience that Homeworld creates BUT it is easily the 2nd best game out there. It also addresses the one or two minor flaws that H suffers from. A combination of the 2 games would be awesome and, in the long absence of H2, I would fully expect an O.R.B.2 to eclipse Homeworld & snatch the crown from Sierras baby.
“DO NOT BE PUT OFF BUYING IT AS IT APPEARS TO BE A HOMEWORLD CLONE”