Competitive, 2D twitch-based deathmatch games seem to be few and far between these days. The brilliantly irreverent Nidhogg stands as one fine and recent example but other than that, there is little which really stands out. Enter then, Orbital Gear by Swedish developer Night Node. A furiously kinetic and enjoyable mech on mech death match brawler with a gravitational twist, just a few flaws hold the game back from greatness.
First things first; Orbital Gear is an exclusively multi-player experience where players hop into mechs, choose a pair of weapons and a gadget and then proceed to blast the stuffing out of each other until one of them racks up the requisite number of points to win. There is no single-player campaign and certainly no other sort of additional solo content to speak of. The game is intended to be played and enjoyed with friends in mind, so if you're not the sort of player who embraces competitive play, Orbital Gear will likely leave you cold from the off.
|Few games encapsulate frantic action as well as Orbital Gear manages to
The total lack of single-player content though, actually negatively impacts the multiplayer side of the equation to a fair degree. The dearth of any sort of training modes or CPU controlled opponents ensures that there is little opportunity for the player to familiarise themselves with the basics of the game, let alone improve in their skills in the absence of human opposition. Perhaps this might be something which will be added in at a later date, but at this early juncture, the lack of these modes seems to be a baffling omission in a game which seemingly prides itself on high-level play.
It isn't just the missing single-player content which can make it difficult for newcomers either, a less than comprehensive set of menus means that so much of the game is left up to experimentation and guess work. Take the selection of weapons for example. Each mech can equip a gadget, a primary and a secondary weapon. Of the three, only the functions of the gadgets are defined, whereas the weapons are merely represented by some stat graphs which do little to inform the player of how they actually perform in battle.
Something else that could do with some additional and much needed clarity is the selection of maps that the host can choose from. Maps are simply referred to by a somewhat uninformative three character alphanumerical designation, instead of being named after the actual places that they showcase. Furthermore, as well as lacking descriptors like the weapons before it, there is no indication of exactly what to expect from the map that has been chosen. So again, the player should prepare for a fair bit of experimentation before they know what everything does.
Before any of this weapon and map selecting malarkey happens though, Orbital Gear asks that players choose between the two main game modes; deathmatch or Orbital Warfare. Deathmatch, as one might easily guess, pretty much does what it says on the tin; up to ten players have to hammer the almighty tar out of each other and the player who first reaches the defined score threshold wins the game.
Orbital Warfare conversely, makes things a little more interesting by tasking players to both protect their home planet whilst they attempt to destroy their opponent's. Players can achieve this by either attacking the opposing world en masse with their mechs, or, collect enough power cores so that their screen-filling doomsday cannon can charge up and do the job for them. It’s a neat game mode to have and one that ably compliments Orbital Gear’s frenetic thrills with objective orientated gameplay. Game modes aside, the bulk of Orbital Gear’s substantial lure however, lies in the super-fast and ultra-skilled combat that the game practices.
|Choosing the right weapon is crucial to any battle strategy
Played out with vivid and colourful 3D visual assets set against a 2D plane of movement, Orbital Gear can be a little frustrating and unwieldy to get to grips with at first, owing in no small part to its gravity-centric gameplay. Fitting to its namesake, each map has a number of different size planetoids that the mechs can traipse across once they’ve been sucked into its orbit. Where the initial difficultly comes in however, is that the act of moving around these planets occurs so quickly in either clockwise or anti-clockwise directions that it becomes tricky for the player to move exactly where they want to, when they want to.
Though it might appear that way, this isn’t a criticism; since after a little practice and running around the same planet like a complete loon, it soon becomes clear that Orbital Gear’s sense of movement is at once almost overwhelming swift, yet also brilliantly precise. A player who has even a moderate level of mastery of the game’s nuanced movement can make pixel-perfect evasions of incoming laser blasts, find tiny windows of opportunity to escape from an aggressor to regroup or jump from the orbit of one planet to the next.
It’s a tremendously free-flowing system of movement, which aside from making the player feel extraordinarily empowered, also lends itself to some spectacular showcases of violent mech on mech interplanetary acrobatics.
Possessing a decent command and understanding of movement will only do so much however, since both shrewd tactics and the arsenal that the player employs are equally intrinsic to a successful outcome in any given battle. A smart player will know when to stop moving on a given planet; biding their time and waiting for their opponent to come to them, all the while keeping in mind what escape routes they can take should things start to go south.
The weapons also play a vital role in the formulation of such battle tactics too. Again, it’s a shame that the weapons don’t have their functions described prior to their selection as they are game-changers in the most literal sense and play a crucial component in defining playing strategies. From homing missiles to gatling guns, mines, turrets, lasers that shoot through planets and much more besides, Orbital Gear’s formidable selection of weapons proves to be both balanced and directly conducive to the formulation of effective strategies.
The difference between good players and truly great players though, lies in an innate understanding of dictating where the fight takes place, something which is especially true when battles are being fought in more intimate numbers of 1vs1 and 2vs2 match types. There are few gameplay experiences more satisfying than dropping a line of mines between two planets and then baiting an opposing player into it, opening fire as they stumble through a glowing threshold of exploding death.
|Orbital Warfare proves to be an entertaining diversion from the usual deathmatch shenanigans
Simply put, the potential for high-level play in Orbital Gear is both sizable and appreciated at a time where traditional adversarial multiplayer games are thin on the ground. Quite honestly, folks shouldn’t be surprised if the game starts to crop up on the e-sports scene in the near future.
ORBITAL GEAR VERDICT
When a game of Orbital Gear gets going, it really gets going and there are few things that can truly rival the mix of giddy enjoyment and edge-of-your seat thrills that the game provides. While the problematic menus and glaring lack of single-player content invariably creeps in, tarnishing what is otherwise an essential title, Orbital Gear remains a refreshing and deftly executed take on multiplayer gaming that more developers should consider.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Skating across the surface of a planet, backflipping away from it and getting sucked in by the gravitational pull of another whilst returning fire to an attacking opponent.