Orbitalis Early Access Review

Star grazing.

GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

Orbitalis is not a puzzle game, though assuming it is one is an easy mistake to make. When you first launch your miniscule red probe into the vacuum of space, you will think its destiny is in your hands. You would be wrong. The game follows the rules of the universe, which exists in a realm outside of our own influence. Here, the immense power of gravity pulls and propels your fragile probe to safety or doom. This is no puzzler; tOrbitalis is a game of trial, error, and a dash of luck, where you shoot for the moon, and pray you'll miss.

Achieving the perfect orbit can be a Zen moment.

There is no story in Orbitalis; your main goal is making sure your probe stays alive as long as possible. Viewing the field from a top-down angle, you use your mouse to adjust the probe's velocity and direction, the latter of which is represented by a dotted line that transforms in real time as the path is affected by the gravitational strength of nearby geometric planets, suns, and other cosmic objects. Planets and asteroids are constantly moving around the map, and the longer you wait to launch your probe, the higher the chance to miss your window. Success is measured in precious seconds; the moment your satellite is released, a countdown in the form of a circular bar moves clockwise around the screen. If the probe manages to navigate the dangerous field in the given time without crashing, the stage is cleared and you move on to the next challenge.

While you get a feeling of satisfaction with every completed mission, the accomplishment feels somewhat hollow. You have no control over the probe once it's in flight, and unknown variables, such as wandering asteroids that come into the screen, make predicting its route nearly impossible. Rarely, you will complete a mission on your first try, which lures you into a false sense of control. In reality, you will fail, fail, fail, and, oh yes, fail again. Experimentation is encouraged, and with every attempt, you gain a better understanding of how to best tackle the stage. Orbitalis' trial-and-error nature gets frustrating, and even after you finish a stage, it feels as if it was due more to luck and persistence than to your own performance. Thankfully, levels don't take long to complete, coming in at around 10 to 20 seconds each. The game also allows you to quickly restart if you need to, and on the rare occasion that your probe is stuck in an infinite orbit, you can go to the next mission without waiting.

The more objects on the field, the crazier the orbits become.

Orbitalis evokes an eclectic mix of emotions. At times--when you aren't shrugging off disappointment brought on by a dozen failed launches--you can't deny the relief and gladness you experience when your probe narrowly misses a roving asteroid. Watching your probe lazily return from the edge of the screen to make one last swoop around a burning red sun feels like welcoming back a space-faring hero given up for lost. And, I have to admit, there were times I felt a growing fondness for Orbitalis' charms. You get attached to the probe that fights to stay alive. As your probe slowly dances among blue planets and pulsars, leaving an impressive red epitrochoid behind, the game can be eerily calming, yet strangely beautiful.

In its current build, Orbitalis includes 50 levels split into main missions and extra-challenging star levels, but there is more to come. The developer, Alan Zucconi, has promised that Orbitalis will have more levels when it's finished. Some of the difficult missions will get toned down, while the hardest will become star levels. The only thing that isn't known is the game's final release date, but Zucconi said he hopes to narrow it down sometime this year.

During the two hours I spent with Orbitalis, my favorite missions were the ones in which the goal was to purposely shoot your probe into targets. It was fun, and watching the probe weave through gravity fields was like playing on a skee-ball machine with a warped ramp. I was good at those levels, and as a consequence, I completed them far too quickly for my liking. They did demonstrate, however, that Orbitalis does indeed have the potential for compelling gameplay. However, it still requires more work before getting there: large black borders betray the game's Flash roots, and it suffers from slowdown in the menu. But there is a spark of fun here. If the developer can chase it down and harness it, Orbitalis could turn out to be an enjoyable game to come back to time after time.

What's There?

More than 50 stages, from regular missions to extra-hard star levels. There is also an online leaderboard, where you can see how you stack up against the best.

What's to Come?

More levels, a friends leaderboard, and histograms that relay performances statistics.

What Does it Cost?

$6.99, available via Steam.

When Will it Be Finished?

Unknown at this point.

What's the Verdict?

Orbitalis is a game of trial and error where victory doesn't always reward a sense of achievement. There are some entertaining moments to be found, but are usually fleeting.

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14 comments
Born_Lucky
Born_Lucky

Once again, the "early access" fad, produces more crap, in a long line of crap.

I dug out my old EGMs the other day. Back before "early access" and "indie" games, there were at least a dozen pretty good titles  released, wait for it  . . . . EVERY MONTH.


 Most of them were exclusive to their platforms also.



BlackBaldwin
BlackBaldwin

Looks interesting probably sell well on mobile phones.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@hystavito  

You asked that question at Kevin vanOrd as if you are thinking that vanOrd is all benign.

He's not, dude. Also, this is not the first that he made such a jab at another person for an opinion that he finds too incredulous - you can expect more from him whenever another person thinks of flinging out his/her metaphorical two cents which just rubs Kevin the wrong way.

With that said, there is nothing inherently "wrong" in doing what you think he is doing; there is no unanimous convention, informal or otherwise, which condemns the act of baiting a hell lot of people to slam or pick apart a minority opinion.

This kind of "toxicity", e.g. personal attacks, veiled or otherwise, is all part and parcel of debates.

hystavito
hystavito

@Kevin-V @freedomzealot  Although I don't agree with @freedomzealot  , I feel compelled to call out @Kevin-V for what is possibly a response made at least partially because he knew others would support him and basically "gang up" on the other person.


Kevin, you could have easily stated why you think it is a real video game, yes?  Don't you think that would be a better way to address such a comment?  You obviously knew what was meant.  I'll give you points for being clever, getting others to do the insulting part for you :).  Ok, maybe you just didn't have time to write out your thoughts but wanted to make a point quickly.  That's understandable, but you have to remember that you're a person of status and that changes things.  With great power comes great responsibility :). 


This isn't something that just hit me today, several times I have fetl like you reply to a comment just because you see an opportunity to make someone look stupid.  If you honestly don't have that intention, fine, I guess it's just how I see it then.  But I would ask that you search your feelings :P, don't even tell anyone, but at least ask yourself.


In general, yes people make comments that are maybe kinda stupid at times.  I don't believe the way to respond to such comments is to try to embarrass or make fun of the person, however subtle or indirectly you do it.  There's been a lot of talk recently about all this "toxic" stuff online.  Let's not forget that a lot of the "good guys" use the same toxic style to fight back.  Is that really the right way to do it?


I really didn't wanna post this, but it's been bugging me here and there for quite some time.  Admittedly I have been told by others that I defend people too much :).  Guess I just like those underdogs :).

d-man
d-man

@hystavito @Kevin-V @freedomzealot  There was nothing "toxic" about Kevin's response. And shame on your for asking professionals to pussyfoot around rather than stand up to their critics.

BuBsay
BuBsay

@freedomzealot "Unlike other casual gamers posing as some sort of halfass hipsters"

Really? You're not a hipster? Cause you most certainly have the "smug holier than thou arrogance" routine down to a level I don't even see most hipsters go.

You haven't played many indie games have you? Binding of Isaac? FTL? Hotline Miami? All of these were far more fun than most any AAA title I've played in the past few years.

yeah_28
yeah_28

@freedomzealot @toast_burnerThis is a game actually, by all means.
 Earth 2066 is a good example of a non-game that could be close to being one.

MuggyTadpole
MuggyTadpole

@freedomzealot @Kevin-V  yea Kevin. What the f**k. No racial stereotypes to shoot in the face. No fast cars. No zombies. No over-sexualised women. No clichéd title. This is garbage isn't a game, its just some more of that indie shit that makes my brain hurt.

toast_burner
toast_burner

@freedomzealot @Kevin-V  

And what determines a real video game? Let me guess, any game where you don't get to shoot a bunch of foreigners and/or zombies isn't a real video game.