O.R.B. Review

O.R.B. lacks inspiration, but it's a decent real-time strategy game for those who are tired of being confined to terra firma.

Though the developer of O.R.B. is quick to point out that the game was in development before Relic's 1998 space strategy game Homeworld, it's difficult to not notice the similarities. It plays and looks much like Homeworld, and the differences are only incremental. O.R.B. features a different, and inferior, method of resource gathering and a few good changes to Homeworld's basic mechanics. But the core game is almost identical, right down to the cobalt-blue interface. O.R.B. is a straightforward real-time strategy game set in space: You harvest resources, build fighters and capital ships, and research new technologies, with which you'll take on enemy forces. Unfortunately, in the single-player game, you do all of these things in a somewhat lackluster campaign, though the multiplayer is somewhat better.

Commandeering an enemy vessel.
Commandeering an enemy vessel.

One of the most significant problems with O.R.B.'s campaign is that the story is boring. It involves warring factions and an ancient alien race with advanced technology--in other words, it's the same old sci-fi storyline that seems to pop up in every game set in space. O.R.B. uses in-game cutscenes and has some nice production values, but the story itself holds few surprises. At one point during the first campaign, a scene that's meant to be suspenseful ends with the revelation that the enemy has cloaking technology, which, given the circumstances, isn't really all that surprising. The campaign missions are challenging but not much more exciting than the story. Most start off with a unique goal and then descend into "remove the enemy from the sector."

Removing your enemies is often surprisingly difficult. O.R.B. uses two means of limiting your unit production, one good and one bad. You have a limited amount of manpower, and this is split between pilots, researchers, and spies as you see fit. If you want to research new technologies quickly, you'll need to sacrifice firepower. However, this isn't really much of a problem, because you can increase your manpower through research and by building new bases.

Unfortunately, O.R.B. limits you in another way as well. There are only a few resource deposits on any of the game's maps. To find them, you must build recon ships and scan asteroids for deposits. Once you find an asteroid with resources, you must send a resource base to build a mine. The mine then sends resources back to your primary base via freighters. It wouldn't be a bad system, except that you tend to be very short on resources in most missions, which makes it impossible to research everything and still have a decent-sized force. Even worse, the limited amount of resources available in each map causes many missions to come to a similar end; you'll end up hunting down stragglers with whatever forces you have left and with all of your funds long gone. As a result, most missions begin as a race to the resource deposits and end with a somewhat boring chase around the map.

Both of the game's two playable factions have a good variety of ships to research and build. You have numerous types of fighters, each of which can be improved through further research. You can add better armor or add missiles or torpedoes to their arsenals. Unfortunately, you can't upgrade already-built ships to better versions, but you can scrap the old ones and build new ones. You can also commission powerful--but expensive--capital ships that can slice through enemy ships with their beam weapons.

O.R.B. also has some excellent ship controls. You can easily modify a ship's or group's automatic behavior, choose formations, set their attack and defense priorities, and order them to fight until they take a certain amount of damage, at which point you can then have them flee to a repair bay. The variety of available behaviors makes combat somewhat more interesting and helps preserve units in a game where every last bit of funds you spend on your ships is important. It's also good because the default AI isn't very smart. Your units will lock onto a target and then ignore ships blasting away at them from behind so that you have to micromanage them to make sure they're aiming for the right targets. In large-scale battles, this can become impossible.

Playing the game in the 3D view gives you well-rendered if typical vistas of ships, asteroids, and colorful planets. Unfortunately, O.R.B. is more efficiently played from the 2D map, which consists of little more than colored dots. It's a shame that the game isn't easier to play in the 3D view, because it's obviously more exciting to watch your ships in combat than little colliding blips. But the 2D mode is a more straightforward means of surveying the whole map and keeping tabs on all of your various units.

Like the graphics, O.R.B.'s sound is well executed but a bit generic. Your units respond to commands in their native language, but unless you actually speak the game's alien Maltusian language, it all tends to sound the same. The music is pleasant and ambient and becomes dramatic when you encounter the enemy.

You'll give most of your commands from the 2D map.
You'll give most of your commands from the 2D map.

The story problems of the campaign obviously don't affect the skirmish or multiplayer games, and the game features an internal matching service that makes finding opponents an easy task. The multiplayer and skirmish games suffer from some of the single-player's resource problems, but they also let you modify the game to your liking by letting you alter research times and costs, as well as start with more resources if you so desire. Because of these options, the multiplayer and skirmish games are better demonstrations of the game's strengths and are much more fun than the single-player campaign.

Other than a few specific problems, O.R.B. is a well-made game. It lacks inspiration, but it's a good enough real-time strategy game for those who are tired of being confined to terra firma.

The Good
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The Bad
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  • First Released Nov 4, 2002
    released
    • PC
    O.R.B. lacks inspiration, but it's a decent real-time strategy game for those who are tired of being confined to terra firma.
    7.5
    Average Rating168 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    Strategy First
    Published by:
    Strategy First
    Genre(s):
    Strategy, Real-Time
    Theme(s):
    Sci-Fi
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    Animated Violence