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Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Team Jolly Roger
Release Date: Jan. 31, 2019


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PC Review - 'Worbital'

by Cody Medellin on April 5, 2019 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Worbital is a strategic deep-space artillery game that promises to ignite the solar system with a unique blend of long-range combat and cosmic chaos.

Buy Worbital

Real-time strategy games tend to follow a familiar template. You have a base that might or might not be mobile. The buildings attached to the base and some smaller affiliate bases (if available) are responsible for producing troops, so you can eliminate or defend against those who want to attack you. You find a way to gather resources to keep funding your battle, and eventually, you either destroy the enemy's base or get destroyed after a long, drawn-out skirmish. The formula is sound, and just about every possible theme has been used with this type of gameplay in mind. Worbital is a little different from a typical RTS title, but those differences make it very intriguing.

The campaign premise is familiar enough for sci-fi fans. In deep space, a planet is on the brink of dying due to the limited amount of remaining resources. With various choices being taken off the table, one last option is to take to the stars and colonize nearby planets. The plan works, but it doesn't take long before the populations of each planet begin to argue, and war erupts. The premise seems very serious, but strangely, it's played up for laughs in a dark comedy sort of way. The leader of each of the three factions exhibits curious but familiar traits, including random and reckless, glory-seeking and impulsive, and vicious yet calculating. It works in making the game feel more casual — a noble mission to undertake when you discover what Worbital is about.

The game is billed as an RTS because there is no option to pause and plan out your actions while everyone else is frozen. It's better to think of this game as an artillery shooter similar to Worms, but everything is built on planets instead of on traditional land masses or the nebulous void of space. Your planet is essentially your base, and the size of the celestial body determines how much room you have to build structures. Currency is earned by inflicting damage on opponents, getting damaged yourself, and firing at other smaller planets so there's no real way of running out of funds. The structures on your planet also happen to act as impromptu defenses for the planet itself as the main goal of each faction is to destroy enough of the planet to get to the molten core then destroy that to effectively wipe out the enemy.

That seems simple on paper, but lots of little nuances make the basic gameplay feel rather deep. For instance, just about everything except for your resource generator requires some charging. You can fire off two missiles at a time, but you'll still have to wait for at least one of those missiles to recharge before you can fire. Deplete only a little bit of your laser cannon, and you'll still have to wait for it to fully recharge before firing again. The same goes for things like your defensive shotgun, so timing when to fire is a good way to ensure that you aren't left helpless as you wait for a weapon to become available.

Gravity is another thing to worry about, and while you do expect that from a regular artillery shooter, the fact that you're in space means that gravity acts very differently. The gravitational pull of the planets affects your shots, so the slight pull that each celestial body exhibits is enough to turn near-misses into direct hits. The gravity of the sun affects shots to a greater degree, so you're forced to arc shots or make them spin in odd paths if you want to land a trick shot or fool your opponents into thinking you missed before they're surprised with an errant hit.

Orbits also play a big part in the game, as you have to pay attention to where you're circling in addition to the constant rotation of your planet. When combined with gravity, that means the pathway of a shot constantly shifts, and a once-perfect shot can miss due to the distance and the position of the target planet. It also means that some of your defenses can save you in the nick of time when the arc finally lines up with an incoming shot — or disappoint when that same arc leaves the vicinity of an incoming missile at the very last moment.

Factions also have unique special abilities that can be game-changing. For example, one faction has the power to swap orbits with another planet, which makes for daring escapes or allows you to get into a more strategic position against others. Another faction can dislodge from orbit to crash into others; it can be an unpredictable ball of doom until you master your weapons. Yet another faction has the ability to blow up its own planet, an odd move until you realize that chunks of planets do significant damage to nearby entities, essentially giving you a massive bomb — provided you have another planet under your control to fall back on.

All of the features are exciting, as it makes for unpredictable moments in every skirmish. The presence of gravity, orbiting, and planet rotation means that there's a decent learning curve to overcome, and lots of battles will devolve into chaos until that's mastered. There aren't too many different battlefields to choose from, but each one feels good, as you'll have to worry about flying debris in asteroid-filled fields or creating chaos by blowing up the sun and letting the black hole slowly eat away at everyone. Even for strategy veterans, this feels different, and it's certainly an easier game to pick up and understand compared to the developer's previous game, Interplanetary, which had the same premise but was more serious and turn-based.

The campaign has you playing through the storylines for all three factions. Unlike many other games, the campaign for each faction is rather short, maxing out at about four stages each. The brevity is initially surprising, but you'll appreciate it since that means you aren't spending time having the gameplay mechanics be drip-fed to you. Skirmish play pits you against three bots, a modern staple in RTS games. In a surprising move, the title comes with local multiplayer for up to four human players. This doesn't use LAN, however, as Worbital uses same- and split-screen multiplayer, with everyone using gamepads instead of a keyboard/mouse combination. The simple mechanics of the game makes gamepad play feasible, and the dynamic nature of human gameplay versus that of CPU adversaries means that the experience is enjoyable as long as everyone is down to play in a genre that's not known for local play.

Playing in the campaign against other players, either locally and against bots, gains currency that's used to unlock cosmetic pieces and unlock new abilities and weapons. That's a great thing, as you discover that the online community is absent. Try as we might, we were unable to find anyone online playing, forcing us to resort to bot-filled matches. On the one hand, this means that the game has a good amount for players to do either locally or on their own. On the other hand, it's a shame that there's no one out there willing to play against strangers.

The overall presentation is simple but fine. The sound lacks any vocal performances, which would've been a good way to know when one of your buildings has been destroyed. The effects are good enough, while the music does a fine job of creating the mood of participating in an epic space battle without becoming too overbearing. Graphically, Worbital sports plenty of bright colors for the planets, and while the color palette isn't deep, it works well enough to give off a look that isn't cheap. The lack of a super-detailed background means that the game handles tons of particles well, and explosions look satisfying considering how long it takes for a medium-sized planet to get chipped away and blown up.

Worbital's features mean that it'll take some time before players get acclimated to it. Once you get used to the gameplay, you'll find it to be a perfect blend of RTS and artillery shooter, with some gravity effects thrown in. It's a shame that the online community is practically nonexistent, but the presence of local multiplayer and the ability to earn currency while playing against friends or bots ensures that it isn't a completely dead game once the campaign has been completed. If you're looking for something different and fun, give Worbital a shot.

Score: 8.0/10

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