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Review by: Richard Leader
Published: December 6, 2002
Religion seldom lives up to its hype – at least in this lifetime. The evangelical youth pastor of the church I grew up in had convinced nearly the entire congregation that the world was going to end in a fiery conflagration in the year 1995. Alas, it didn’t, and I ended up having to take the SATs. It’s a good thing, too, as an in-depth knowledge of textual analysis is necessary to appreciate the plot of O.R.B. Despite the generic and secular title of the game, the events that occur within it are wholly shaped by the opposing interpretations of religious texts.
The galaxy of O.R.B was once governed by a powerful race of beings known as the Aldar, whose empire endured for over twenty thousand years. It came to an end with a cataclysmic attack by a force remembered only as “The Great Betrayer.” Still, life continued as two civilizations inhabited planets within the Aldus system. While the two races are utterly unaware of each other’s existence, they both worship the ancient Aldar, ordering their lives according to the prescriptions of the Torumin, a vast collection of historic texts. The planet Malus is rough and foreboding, with jagged rocks and extreme temperatures. In stark comparison, Alyssia, with its cool seas and lush vegetation, is a temperate paradise. Though the physiology of the two peoples is never revealed and we’re left to posit that the two are perhaps of the same species, their respective environments have shaped the ways in which they have interpreted the words left in the Torumin.
The Malus, a tribal society plagued by war over scarce resources, saw the texts as reinforcing their aggressive tendencies, though it gave them the means to achieve internal peace by focusing their energy outwards into space in the hopes of someday avenging the Aldar. The peaceful Alyssians read the passages with a great sense of humility, hoping someday to achieve a way to open a portal to bring the Aldar back to the galaxy and restore order to the world. Somehow, each of these civilizations achieved the ability to create spacecraft without harnessing the power of the radio or telescope, and thus remained oblivious to each other’s presence within the same solar system until an Alyssian scout vessel crashed into the surface of Malus. While the vessel was destroyed, the people of Malus discovered the symbol of “The Great Betrayer” on the wreckage and were fearful that the ancient enemy had returned. O.R.B. begins at this point in their history and comprises two individual campaigns. It’s necessary to first complete the Malus campaign against Alyssia before moving onto the latter’s scenarios, as the story continues chronologically from one to the other.
While the title of “O.R.B.” might have nothing to do with the plot of the campaign, resource acquisition is most certainly the basis of the game. Ore is the only material that needs to be collected and is found on many of the asteroids that litter the Aldus system. These asteroids come in two varieties: stationary ones and those that are part of networks of orbiting rocks. Not every one of them contains valuable ore, however, and it’s necessary to use a recon vessel to scan each of them before further prospecting can begin. Once a suitable asteroid is found, a resource base must be constructed – at substantial cost – aboard the player’s space station or carrier and then be sent to its destination. After it lands and establishes itself as a mine, it will automatically create a light freighter to ferry ore back and forth between the asteroid and the nearest station or carrier. Further freighters can also be constructed to expedite this process.
Once a mine has depleted all of its resource units, it’s possible to upgrade it into a full fledged base, the technology level of the player’s faction giving options from creating a repair center to a full fledged military station. This allows for it to create new units and accept incoming freighters, but more importantly, it increases the number of support personnel. Each vessel in O.R.B., even resource bases and freighters, needs a crew to function. Only by rapidly expanding, gathering and depleting mines, and creating permanent installations can there be enough “manpower” (the Aldus system isn’t big on gender neutral language) to command a sizeable fleet. Researching the academic technology tree can also increase this number.
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