Reviews// Orbitalis

Posted 6 May 2014 12:30 by
'This is really fun. Someone should make a game like this, but without the cartoon birds.' So went the thought bumping round my head as I got into some of the more advanced stages of Angry Birds: Space a couple of years ago. And, hey, someone did. A chap called Alan Zucconi. Mastertronic decided to publish it. And here we are, with Orbitalis.

First things first - this game is available on Steam Early Access. That means it's unfinished - what's available is an alpha build that does not have all the features, balancing and content of the finished product. Nonetheless, it's still something you can pay money for (4.99) and invest your time in, so it gets a review rather than a preview. But, what's written here is relevant to the game as it currently stands and may not reflect the finished product.

If you played Angry Birds: Space you'll already have an idea what Orbitalis is about, but I'm going to describe it to you anyway. You fire a tiny probe into space, controlling the direction and velocity it sets off with. Your aim is to keep it in the sky for as long as possible, despite the fact that various celestial objects are out there, getting in your way and, more importantly, exerting gravity on your tiny little probe. You have no control of the probe once you send it on its way, so the trick is to nail the launch. The game is played from a top down, 2D point of view. That means you only have to worry about the effect of gravity through two dimensions, rather than the three the chaps at NASA have to deal with.

Still, Orbitalis is a tough game. I hope the folk at NASA don't resort to the same trial and error approach I've been using as I've played.

Nailing a stage is certainly enjoyable. There's a mixture of relief and triumph to be found in watching your probe bob and weave until the timer's expired. That brings with it a bit of a 'one more go' mentality, too.

The problem is that you rarely feel like you've properly earned your victory. A dotted line shows you where your plotted course is going to lead your probe for the next second or so, but still Orbitalis has too many moving parts in play for you to ever feel like you've mastered it.

Playing, say, a sniper game requires you to account for movement of your target, bullet drop and wind speed as you take a shot. One of those things (bullet drop) is constant, the wind is probably relatively steady and your target might be stationary. That's do-able. In Orbitalis, you're attempting to figure out how your projectile will be affected by multiple moving objects, each exerting their own force (of greater and lesser strengths, sometimes in different directions) on the probe, some of which may not even be on screen when you launch.

In short, there's too much going on for you to adequately predict your trajectory, meaning you'll be left to make repeated attempts at a stage and tweak your approach based on the results. That doesn't make beating a stage in Orbitalis the stuff of deep-rooted satisfaction. You don't win by being skillful, you win by being patient.

Fortunately, stages tend to be short and you can restart at a moment's notice, so the game isn't overly frustrating. It's just not as rewarding as it could be, either. While Orbitalis is fun, it just doesn't quite feel like the right kind of challenging.

Pros:
+ Cool concept
+ Clean, appealing design
+ Beating levels is fun

Cons:
- Just doesn't quite reward in the right way
- Trial and error makes victories feel unearned

SPOnG Score: 3/5

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