Orbital Gear


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Complete Review & Description

Gravity is a consistent force – always dragging us down. With the advent of games like Half-Life 2, and its emphasis on physics as a core mechanic, gravity became more than a tool simply used to drag characters into pits of spikes. With the accessibility and usability of middleware engines like Havok, implementing physics in a game became trivial. Games no longer had physics because it added to the gameplay, but because it added to the sense of immersion.

Orbital Gear, developed by Night Node (a small studio based out of Sweden), is a side scrolling competitive shooter. The hook that sets it apart from titles like TowerFall and Samurai Gunn is the physics. As the name suggests, the game is all about using gravitational fields to move around an arena. While the movement feels satisfying, the majority of weapons lack any immediacy to their use – making a game that tries to prioritise direct control – often feel entirely out of your hands.

You control mechs (think the sleek Japanese variety), moving around the battlefield by jumping between planets, being affected by their gravitational fields as you go. You’ll be carrying two weapons and an active skill to help you blow up other players, with the ability to re-pick these any time you die.

The weapons themselves vary from your stock standard assault rifle and flamethrowers, to the more esoteric; a rifle that fires a single shot and generates gouts of flame along a planet’s contours, to a gun that shoots a large, slow moving gravity well.

What makes these weapons interesting is how they interact with the gravitational fields in the stage. Weapons like the grenade launcher can be used ingeniously with some skill – shooting grenades along the apex of a planet’s field will slingshot them across the map at blinding speeds. Pulling this off feels good, and is akin to the feeling of pulling off your first rocket jump in Quake.

While there are numerous weapons to choose from, and finding ways of making them interact with the environment is enjoyable, the majority of them suffer a common flaw. They have this weird half-second delay in their initial firing – with the exception of the mini-gun, which has to spool up. This is also present when firing with one weapon, and then quickly attempting to fire another. It’s not like this delay exists because of any weapon swapping animation (each weapon you choose is bound to the left or right mouse button). It just manages to feel like a bug, like the interval between shots is somehow being applied before the first shot too. If this is an intentional balancing issue, I’m not entirely sure I agree with it. It seems at odds with the game’s core tenets.

There are four active skills to choose from: rocket boosting, proxy mines, a turret, and a directional shield. While the mines and turret can be useful for surprising enemies, the rocket boost is easily the best. It increases your mid-air mobility, and allows for extensive control of your movement. Using the boost to feather a jump between planets, coming off their orbit with increased momentum, and then dropping grenades on an unsuspecting enemy, all in one fluid movement, is exhilarating.

The game comes with two modes. You have your standard deathmatch, and ‘Orbital Warfare’. The latter has your team destroying enemies and picking up their ‘Energy Cores’. These are used to charge up your team’s cannon, which when fully charged, fires at your enemy’s, winning you the game. Another win condition can be met by destroying all of the enemy’s structures (inconsequential buildings that are situated on their side of the level).

You’ll be playing these modes across a handful of maps, with each one being stylistically different in terms of colour scheme, but also mechanically different. Some come equipped with platforms that act rather conventionally, while some have stars with reversed gravitational fields – pushing you away from their centre, effectively acting as a tool or an obstacle depending on how you approach them.

However, remember that Orbital Gear is a multiplayer only game (with no local play). I’m not entirely convinced of its longevity if it only comes equipped with five maps and two game modes. Some sort of community driven aspect would have gone a long way here, like the ability to build and share your own maps.

There’s a solid foundation to Orbital Gear. The momentum-based aerial acrobatics are fluid, and mastering them is rewarding. The weapons are varied, and it’s interesting how they interact with the game world. It’s disappointing then, as the delay they have in firing is at odds with the one-to-one ease of movement the game is built around.



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