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Strategy First

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Pentium III 600, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB video card, 500 MB hard drive, Windows 98/2000/Me/XP

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O.R.B. (Preview)

Game Review - by James Allen
It becomes increasingly aware that games reside in development for a rather long time in today's et. Spending five years before release is not uncommon, and the best games that come out seem to follow this credo. This brings us to O.R.B., a 3-D space strategy game in the same vein as Homeworld. We are creeping ever so closer to the release of this title, so let's check out to see what an O.R.B. beta has to offer.

O.R.B. features all of the standard offerings for a space strategy title. Here, we are given two competing races, battling for control of the solar system and it's bountiful bounty. Each race has its own single player campaign, and the game will also have a campaign editor to make your own missions. Since this preview version is very bare bones, I cannot tell whether there will be a skirmish mode available for battle against computerized foes; let's hope so. Eight different players can engage in cooperative and head-to-head multiplayer adventures through the Internet and the like. Each side has their own different ships, including fighters, support ships, capital ships, mining vessels, and star bases. Again, most of these were missing from the beta, so it's hard to tell how many ships there are or how different they appear. We'll get a clearer picture on how the pieces will fit as we come closer to release.

Sound FX:
The sound contained in the O.R.B. beta I took a look at is very basic. There's no speech, some rudimentary explosions and laser sounds, but a rather fitting "spacey" (not Kevin) soundtrack. I certainly hope that more dynamic sound is included in the game, and a greater variety is seen in the end product. Dig that music, though.

One of the main problems with having a game represented in full 3-D with freedom of movement along all three axes is enabling the user to effectively manipulate the game, without making actions overly complicated. I think that O.R.B. has done quite a fair job in making the interface as painless as possible. The camera can be rotated around any object, zoomed in and out, and also moved freely along the X-Y plane or the Z plane. O.R.B. adds an overhead, 2-D map that looks straight down on the land, which is convenient in making movement orders, as you don't need to worry about the third dimension. Movement is made in the navigational grid, and is as easy as holding down CTRL and clicking on an object to move a squad to. You're also given a powerful squad manager bar, which lists every ship under your control, sortable by type or group assignment. Your ships can be held in formations, which adapt to the type of ships involved and the current situation and orders. Speaking of orders, you can instruct your troops to do a large number of actions: power down, self-destruct, retire, dock, shadow, kamikaze, ram, and attack to disable, to name a few. You can also scan unknown objects, like debris. Although not featured in the beta (like a lot of things), you can build mining facilities, which I can only assume supplies you with credits or money to build ships. Again, the beta was very basic and stripped down, so the details on anything besides navigation, camera movement, and combat are unclear at best, and are taken from press releases, which have a tendency to be over-enthusiastic. O.R.B. looks like a good modern update to the 3-D space strategy game, with easy to use controls that are also powerful.

Obviously, O.R.B. is meant to show off your system, as the graphics in the game are simply outstanding. They take inspiration from Independence War 2, with multicolored galaxies that are filled with stars, planets, and asteroids. The ships themselves look very good close up, too; little details like individual windows and lights are greatly appreciated. You can check out the screen shots to see how great this game looks. Note the dynamic exhaust trails on the ships, too. Everything is moving, as well, with rotating planets, asteroids, and the like (this is something that IW2 missed out on). For a game that's been in development for this long, it's slightly surprising that the graphics have kept ahead of the curve this well. Truly outstanding work.

Because of the limited nature of the beta preview version, details are few and far between for O.R.B., which is surprising because its release is not too terribly far off. However, it does look very good, and is a game that I am personally looking forward to. The graphics are outstanding, and the controls are very easy to use. Look for more news on O.R.B. as August 29th comes ever so closer.

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