Friday, March 23, 2012

Orbitron: Revolution Review

Orbitron: Revolution, developed and published by Firebase Industries.
The Good: Constant action, informative HUD, only $5
The Not So Good: Distinct lack of weapon and ship variety, very little strategy involving when and whom to shoot, one level layout with disorienting background graphics, few enemy types, can't customize controls, no multiplayer components
What say you? This score-based side-scrolling arcade shooter has a severe lack of deep tactics and diversity: 3/8

As we expand human influence beyond our world onto others, we must secure our new holdings with defensive emplacements to keep the aliens at bay. What aliens, you say? I’ve watched enough of The History Channel to know that aliens are real and a severe threat to humankind. Training simulations for dealing with this future threat have been around for some time, starting with a detailed simulation of rock-based attacks and a haunting documentary of alien abduction. Next in the government-approved lineage is Orbitron: Revolution, where you and your trusty spaceship must orbit a circular space station and shoot any enemy comers. What will Orbitron: Revolution add to the genre? Will you be able to defend Uranus?

Orbitron: Revolution features some nice graphics for a $5 indie game. The futuristic space setting is full of metal, starting with the detailed ships exhibiting nice texture work and minor animations. The enemies are somewhat varied (considering their limited count) in design, and the few weapons are plausibly powerful. Explosions will fill the screen as enemies are destroyed, although things blow up and removed from the display quickly, so you never see a lot of on-screen wreckage. The single level layout is full of details that look great running in the background. The problem is, everything is metallic, which means the ships in the foreground and the station in the background visually interfere with each other, making it difficult to spot enemies and successfully engage them. Maybe that’s the point, but I would much rather have had a simple space backdrop to fight against where you could easily see what you are doing. The sound effects are appropriate, although since you’ll be holding the trigger down more often than not the shooting sound tends to get repetitive. Explosions are a bit understated, but voices warnings for incoming waves blend well into the game. The techno music fits the theme of the game, although some might find it annoying after a while. Still, given the price, Orbitron: Revolution offers good value in terms of graphics and sound design.

Orbitron: Revolution is a 2-D shooter that takes place in a 3-D setting: a circular space station. And I should emphasize a circular space station, because there is only one level in the entire game. It works quite well within the confines of the game, allowing you wrap around the action, but having only one setting is quite limited. There are occasionally two obstacles (boosts and laser defenses), but other than that you are free to fly without any inhibitions. Orbitron: Revolution lacks difficulty settings so you can adjust the game to your skill level. There are three game modes to play: a countdown mode, where you eliminate waves of enemies within a three-minute time limit, a guardian mode where you must protect four locations from enemy drills, and a survival mode (called “extra” for no discernable reason) where you only get one life. Each of these modes takes right around three minutes, so you can see the entire game in ten minutes. Replay value is low: the “point” is to chase higher and higher scores, but Orbitron: Revolution lacks an online high score list. There also isn’t cooperative play (either on the same machine or online) to enjoy with a friend. The game is only $5, but it sure is light on the features.

Controls are meant for a gamepad, although you can use an odd keyboard setup as well (the WASD keys plus enter, equals, and right shift). If you don’t like the controls, too bad: there is no way to change them. In fact, the controls are flashed up during a loading screen and never seen again; I still can’t remember which button is for “wavebomb” and which button is for “powershot”. You also cannot use the mouse (for a more traditional PC control scheme). The best part of the game (sadly) is the interface, namely the minimap along the bottom of the screen that displays colors for different enemy ship types. It’s really handy.

There are two ships you can choose from with absolutely no differences between them (so why have them?). You also get only one primary weapon: a laser. You can’t customize or upgrade weapons and don’t have to worry about conserving power while firing: just hold down the fire button the entire game. Tactics haven’t evolved in thirty years, apparently. You are given two special weapons (a powerful single shot and an explosion around your ship) that can be used once you collect enough power cells dropped from killed enemies. Problem is, it takes such a long time to accumulate enough power to fire one special weapon that they really don’t matter in the tactics of the game. The enemy types are basic: fast ships, slow ships, and exploding ships make up the generic shooting gallery. The most challenging enemy is the fast mover, but since you can track them on the minimap, you can avoid them if you’re paying attention. Death is a minor inconvenience: just a short respawn and possible reset of your score multiplier that doesn’t really matter since there isn’t an online high score list to compare against.

Sadly, Orbitron: Revolution isn’t much of a revolution, offering standard arcade shooter fare devoid of variety. The good news: I like the HUD, as it shows the positions of all enemy units so you can fly towards the areas of greatest concern, and the graphics are nice. However, Orbitron: Revolution has limitations in too many areas. First, the controls cannot be customized and you can't use a mouse. There are two identical ships with only one primary weapon, and you can simply hold down “fire” for the entire game as there is no energy management. The two special weapons (an area bomb and powerful shot) take too long to earn, making their strategic use very limited. The enemies are also very generic (fast, slow, exploding) and the single level only has occasional obstacles restricting your path. The level is nice, but the background is too distracting, making it hard to pick things out when the going gets tough. Each of the game's three modes takes about three minutes each to complete and are all played generally the same (shoot everything). In essence, you experience everything the game has to offer in ten whole minutes. In order to stand out in a crowded genre, you have to offer something unique, and the circular levels of Orbitron: Revolution simply aren’t enough.