It might be said that there is a real drought concerning the real-time-strategy genre. You know, the kind of game where you're usually duking it out over some battlefield in an overhead view. Where you're the head honcho. You decide what buildings to make, and where. You decide what units to produce, and who they're going to attack. You usually have to collect resources of some sort to keep things running, and make sure you watch your funds. I think most of you have played a game like this at one point; be it Command and Conquer, StarCraft, or whatever else game designers are working on these days.
But there hasn't been much innovation in the genre lately. The majority of titles out there have a standard overhead view of the action, and often, complicated controls. There are almost always windows cluttering the screen: things like mini-maps, unit information, and statistics. Fog of war keeps players restrained to a small region of the area. Oftentimes the camera can get in the way, especially in 3D games. Why hasn't someone done something about these problems? Why can't developers try to do something new, or at least refine old standards?
Well, StrategyFirst's latest title decides to do something about these problems. No longer will you be saying, "Gee, haven't I played this game before?" Off-world Resource Base - or O.R.B. for short - intends to offer players a new take on the RTS (real-time-strategy) genre. While some things will be familiar, O.R.B. seems like such a fresh, different game, that maybe gamers who are sick of Command and Conquer clones (or sequels, for that matter) will want to give it a try. Let's look a little deeper.
O.R.B. takes place in full 3D. I'm talking three dimensions, not a 2D game with 3D graphics like Warcraft III or Earth 2150. You can move your ships to different points easily by selecting the unit(s) you want to move, then holding control and left-clicking on the spot you want to move to. In a moment, that unit will turn in the correct direction and head off to it's destination. By right-clicking and holding in the button, you can swing the camera around the selected units to find a pleasing point of view. And that's really all there is to the controls: your mouse and the control key. Simple and elegant. By pressing the control key alone, a grid will appear on the screen, and gold lines will appear from moving units to their destinations, or fighters to their targets, so everything isn't a big mess. Units somewhat nearby will be represented by a symbol, usually green for your ships and red for enemies. Units farther away are only represented by colored dots. This makes spotting everything on the battlefield an easy task, rather than moving the camera to a different location and losing sight of perhaps an important event that's going on.
There are two races offered in the game, only one of which was playable at this time. There are quite a few options for different units, and an extensive list of research possibilities. Missions seem to have a very nice pace to them. Some games will throw you into a mission where all sorts of things are happening, and you have no idea what’s going on - in no time, you're toast. O.R.B. doesn't seem to like that concept. I found myself starting a mission with three ships searching for something lost in space. Soon after you discover a piece of the mystery, things start to heat up. There seems to be a lot of debris flying your way. Then we find a few enemy ships - or rather, they find us. When we defeat them, we're warned that more are coming - but not to worry, just be careful, since reinforcements are on the way. I held my own for a little while until more ships started arriving, and I began to kick some ass. The game tends to keep you busy, not wandering around for extended periods of time or waiting for resources to rack up.
The interface of the game is very slick. Menus are fairly easy to navigate, and animate nicely. The main screen of play isn't cluttered by useless things, either. There's a small row of icons at the bottom of the screen; things like camera options; buttons that bring up menus for building, research, or options; as well as a pause button and one that speeds up the game. If you're sick of moving very slowly, or want to stop the action for a moment to think things over, those two buttons can really come in handy. There's also a small dropdown menu near the top that appears if you have units selected. It allows you to change things like unit formation (there are options like "warrior", "suicide", and "defense"), or various actions they can perform. Other than that, the screen is yours for the using. Moving your mouse to the lower right-hand corner will cause a mini-map to pop up. I think this is a great idea. After all, how often do you honestly look at that map in most games? It's a little more useful in O.R.B. though, since there's no fog of war, you can usually see what's going on anywhere on the map. When you're done using it, just drift your cursor away from it. Every RTS game should have a nice interface like this one does.
It's obvious a lot of time was spent on the graphics in O.R.B. This is not the typical empty black sky we're used to seeing. Instead, it's an amalgamation of colors like purple, black, blue, and lavender. We see bright stars off in the distance, and planets up close look great - you can see the clouds swirling around them at a slower pace than the rotation of the planet itself. Ships don't look bad at all, either, and while they lack much animation, the trails following each are animated wonderfully. Explosion effects are terrific, too. Watch as your ships take damage, showing off blue sparks, then explode with a blue flash. Firey remains fall through throughout space. Everything is so wonderfully smooth and crisp that you may just want to look around instead of actually playing.
O.R.B. seems to be a very interesting title and offers a lot of new concepts that gamers are sure to appreciate. It's not easy to tell if a game is going to rock if you haven't played much of it, but I predict O.R.B. will be a great title. It may not reinvent the genre, but it sure shakes it up. Look out for this one.
O.R.B. has recently gone gold and should be available in stores relatively soon.
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