E3 2001 Hands-OnO.R.B.

Strategy First shows off a near-complete version of O.R.B. from the E3 show floor, and we've got a hands-on report.

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Strategy First's O.R.B. is a Homeworld-style real-time strategy game in which you control a fleet of ships in a full 3D outer-space environment. As in Homeworld, the camera is completely 3D, which means you can view everything from all angles, although there have been a few improvements to make things a little easier to manage. One problem with games of this kind is that the completely 3D camera gets a bit disorienting, so the developers have added a top-down view that lets you control your fleet from a 2D position. It's not as pretty as the rest of the game, but it takes the confusion out of large-scale battles. From this view, you can easily add waypoints for your ships, change their formations (or "doctrines," as they're called in the game), and, even though you have a 2D view, you can control their 3D positioning through a simple interface.

The single-player campaign follows two races locked in interstellar combat. At the outset, only one of the races is playable, and once that's completed, you can move on to the other race. Unlike in many other strategy games, the two races don't share the same timeline. There is a brief overlap between the storylines, but the second campaign continues the story rather than repeating it.

O.R.B. lets you fully interact with the environment. Asteroid fields are of extreme importance, since you can build bases on the floating rocks, and flying through asteroids minimizes your ship's sensors, letting you hide from your opponent. Each of the two races has between 20 and 25 different units, with completely different research trees. By creating marines, you can capture enemy vessels, which will let you briefly sneak past enemy bases without being detected, or you can research enemy ships to add their technology to your own. There are also completely different alien ships that can be captured, which will add entirely new options for your ships. These additional options include the ability to cloak and use hyperjumps, which let your ships leap from one place on the map to another instantaneously.

Graphically, the game resembles Homeworld in that the ships are all remarkably detailed, and you can zoom the camera all the way up to see their individual insignias (which can be customized for multiplayer games). The version of O.R.B. that we were shown on the floor was stable and feature-complete, and beta testing is progressing well. Look for it to hit store shelves this fall.

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