When reviewing a game designed to be played by multiple players, it is incredibly important to HAVE players in the first place. Without people to play against, any foray into the game to only going to capture a small fraction of what it can do. Sadly, when reviewing an indie game, the number of people who own the game can be small. Never mind asking how many will be on at any one time. I have done my best to experience what this game has to offer, though keep in mind that ‘what it has to offer’ is dependent on the few matches that had enough people to play.
With that out of the way, Orbital Gear is an ambitious little game developed by Night Node. It attempts to bring both the MOBA and action shooter games that have become common of late together… IN SPAAACE!
The game concept is quite simple. Players pick a robot type from four different bodies, select a primary weapon, secondary weapon and a special power, decide which team they’ll be on, and they're off! The game currently features two different modes: Death Battle and Orbital Warfare. The first mode is pretty obvious as to what it is, while the Orbital Warfare is certainly the more ‘MOBA’ type of match. Each side has a series of buildings they are meant to defend while destroying their opponent's structures. To repair their damaged buildings, teams must destroy enemies an collect their cores which can restore buildings. Additionally, as more enemies die, each side has a mega-gun that will slowly charge. If either side manages to charge up their gun, than that team automatically wins the entire match.
As it is set in space, the game features the unique idea of using planetary gravity to move around. Scattered across each map are a series of small planets, each with own laws of gravity. In order to move, the player must jump from planetoid to planetoid using their gravity. This, somewhat surprisingly, adds a unique aspect to combat as manipulating the various gravity fields allows you to soar past enemies, or with poor manipulation, send the player flying back to their own base. Each planetoid can also serve as a shield as players can quickly rush to the other side to dodge incoming fire or to out-flank any enemy that has landed upon it.
Unfortunately the game suffers a LOT by this mechanic. As it is unlikely to change, I will cut right to the heart of the matter. The choice to use the various bits of gravity control, while interesting on paper and screenshots, is a poor idea in practice. For one, it makes the controls very… wonky. When you land on a planetoid but want to continue moving around, which button do you press to go forward? What do you press when on the opposite side of the planet? Where will you go when you decide to jump again? I couldn’t find immediate answers to these questions. It wasn’t random, as I clearly held control over the situation, but the learning curve felt too steep for a game that doesn’t even have the option to practice against bots.
Combat, likewise, is poorly affected by the gravity in my eyes. One of the keys to any game is the ability to read your opponent and predict their moves to counter them. That does not work when every tactical choice you can make, every movement you can do, and can end up totally ruined because a jump was timed wrong. It also makes any gun without a sufficient "area of effect" or homing capabilities difficult to wield simply because you have little idea where to aim in the first place!
The game is simply lacking on the whole as well. One of the reasons MOBA’s, or any sort of competitive multiplayer, succeed is the variety of options it can bring to the table. That doesn’t preclude games where a player can pick various load-outs, but a key factor is being able to predict and counter enemy tactics. If an enemy picks a powerful, but short-ranged weapon you can snipe them from afar. If someone uses sniping guns you switch to a weapon that can be used while remaining highly mobile. If someone picks a weapon that relies on mobility you get a weapon that lets you get in close and follow them.
That doesn’t work when one of the three is effectively negated by the ability to run around a planet so fast that trying to hit them from long range is useless. That leaves only two viable options. Maybe later on, as the meta-game improves and patches get released, that won’t be so much of an issue. Regardless, the removal of one key point in the balance between weapons is a poor sign at best. Despite the potential weapon selection variety, the game shows a lack of thought into how well balanced it actually is.
Far greater than balance or control issues is the bigger problem of the game not being that memorable. I can look at other games thought to be "bad" and remember the likes and dislikes, the things that I enjoyed and the things that drove me up the wall. I had to look at the title of my article three times to recall the game's title. It brings nothing new to the table that you haven’t already seen in the genre. You’ve played this game before, even if you haven’t actually played this game. You’ve played games where you shoot things with swarms of bullets in space, thought the balance unfairly favored one kind of weapon and tactic over another. Orbital Gear doesn’t offer anything new.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe I just didn’t have the time to play it enough. Maybe I’m expecting too much. However, to me that tells me one of two things. Either this game needs a lot more work to stand out, or it holds no sustenance as a game. I know games like this take a lot of work from creators with a very small budget, but sometimes, an idea just isn’t that great. I wish the developers well and I hope that they manage to improve this game, but for now, I just don’t see any reason to play it.