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Orbital Decay


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Rating: 4.4/5 (156 votes)
| Comments (28) | Views (33)

JoshOrbitalDecayEvery so often, a small indie Flash game comes along that sits on our "fence" for awhile. We can't review 'em all, so we weigh the pros and cons, discuss the feedback and consider its merit. But at the end of the day, it really comes down to whether or not it's just plain fun. Orbital Decay is one of those games; a retro-styled, shooter/strategy release from Piron Games that I just couldn't bear to see passed up, despite its niche appeal. Inspired by the hundreds of side-scrolling, 2-D arcade-shooters before it, Orbital Decay pays blatant homage to the Super Nintendo era of 16-bit graphics that pang a little nostalgia in many of us.

Instead of the tired old formula though, it incorporates some really interesting strategy elements that you typically don't see in Flash games this small and simple. You play the commander of a massive battleship, or some sort of deep-space warship. (I preferred to think of it as my very own Battlestar JIGtactica—some of the mechanics are eerily familiar.) The story isn't too clear, so don't expect some epic, Hubbard-esque space opera. The long and short of it is that you're alone in space, forced to defend yourself against waves of hostile aliens.

OrbitalDecayYour ship begins with just a main cannon (the Ultragun) and a single fighter (a much smaller ship that pilots itself, patrolling in front of your battleship). The main cannon is the only weapon that you directly control (mouse to aim, click to shoot). Destroying enemies earns currency called "RU", which is used to buy more weapons, ships and upgrades. This is all done through in the build menu, accessed by pressing [Space]. You're shown a diagram with over a dozen "build points" all over the battleship. Click one of these points to bring up its menu, and you get the option of building one of three different turrets; a rocket launcher, laser gun or flak cannon. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but you can upgrade various aspects like range and damage to compensate.

As mentioned, the only gun you control yourself is the main cannon, which can also be upgraded. At first, I was a little bummed about this, but after a while it turned out to be a blessing. When things get heavy, you'll be glad you've got gunners controlling all the other turrets. Fighter ships and repair drones are your final resources. The little fighter ships swarm around and do a decent job of slowing the enemy down if they're upgraded. You have four launch bays total, three of which need to be built before you can use them. The repair drones (also upgradable) are even more important, since you'll need them to come out and fix your ship and turrets when you're getting pounded.

Analysis: Orbital Decay is broken up into a half-dozen levels or so. Enemy ships gradually enter from the right side of the field, first appearing as little radar blips. They come in waves of increasing intensity, similar to a tower defense game. In fact, I found myself drawing more than one similarity to the tower defense genre, which I thought was pretty interesting, considering it's a side-scrolling shooter. There are many different ways to build your battleship, such as focusing on long-range defense, or opting for in-your-face offense. You can min/max dozens of upgradable aspects of your turrets and fighters to create a personalized strategy.

The gameplay gets a little repetitive after awhile, but the challenge really increases on the hardest setting. There are some crazy-looking alien ships to giggle at, and the on-screen narrator is a nice little retro touch. But if you're not a fan of the old-school graphics, don't count on being the least bit dazzled by its presentation. You might even find the controls a little "old-school," mainly when it comes to aiming your cannon. The lack of responsiveness takes some getting used to. But hey, it's a 1000-ton battleship cannon, so whaddaya expect?

Orbital Decay puts a pretty cool twist on an old genre. Even though the overall package might come across a bit lowbrow, the gameplay can be a lot of fun for the right players. As our wise and poignant Psychotronic mentioned, "It's a unique way for action/defense fans to scratch the itch."

Play Orbital Decay

28 Comments

I love this game. A little secret about me is that i love games where i can upgrade things, anything, robots, magic powers, turrets, i love upgrading. However i also love autofire buttons on games that require me to be constantly firing to stay alive.
Also the picture of my guys talking to each other all look extremely similar, for about 5 chapters i thought i had one guy talking to himself.

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Seems to rely a little too heavily on Homeworld and Homeworld 2 for design and story telling in my opinion.

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Thanks, Josh, for the sneaky cheat code. I picked Normal mode first, and found a possible problem that may or may not be intentional: from one stage to the next (since there's no break or cut scene between them), you don't go back to full HP. If you've been beaten up enough by the end of the last stage, the next stage could be impossible to finish.

Otherwise, this is a pleasant twist on the side-scrolling shoot-em-up: rather than piloting one small spaceship and shooting down huge ones, you play as a huge spaceship shooting down smaller ones. The only problem is that the same problem holds true: it's hard for the big spaceship to hit the smaller ones. (That's what the turrets and drones are for)

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Oh wait! I've got another opinion, which is also another comparison: Futuristic Storm Winds! Instead of holding off an endless army, you really do win every encounter, but that's because you're pressing forward in your spaceship base instead of making stands on battle platforms.

Orbital Decay doesn't have as wide an array of options as Storm Winds, but it lets you upgrade the aspects of each option enough to have about the same flexibility.

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This was pretty fun but not too terribly difficult

I just built 2 lasers and a flak right on the front, and a rocket in the middle. Upgraded those half way, kept them repaired.

Built another 2 fighter bays.

Then alternated upgrading my main gun with the weapons out front. Everything maxed out about the same time, after which I maxed out my fighters.

With this strategy I was able to take out most of the capital ships before they even got within firing range of me.

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My impression of the game:
Cool! Giant spaceship and a big cannon. Let's buy some upgrades.
Alright, I've spent my 100 RU. Bring it on!
*cricket chirps*
Okay, my fighter flew loops for a while and now it's offscreen patrolling up and down. That's okay. I'll have early warning.
*cricket chirp*
Uh... any time now.
*cricket chirp*
Where are the enemies?
*cricket chirps*
Hypnotic... scrolling starfield... feeling sleepy...

Seriously, I sat there for like 5 minutes and no enemies. I know my computer's a little slow, but this is ridiculous.

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Dedenburid Author Profile Page April 10, 2009 12:26 PM

Great game, love the idea. While it was probably unintentional, Raiders of the Lost Ark seems to be referenced.

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fuzzyface Author Profile Page April 10, 2009 1:07 PM

Honestly I didn't like the game, because you have to constant fire for hordes of enemies... it feels a bit empty and tiresome.

I like the idea of having a hugh battleship for a change. @Gar However its a game myth that little ships are good to take bigger ones. It really depends on how you build the physics in your game universe, and the often overused small ship high tech ship with skills vs. big stupid monster shows the cultural footprint this games have and carry on. For example this all plays on the assumption that big ships have a difficulty targeting small things, which in case of target computers is a stupid principle, just without it most sciencefiction game worlds as we know it just wouldn't work. Just imagine: "Finally there is this big enemy mothership. Boom! With it far superior firepower (and no problems to aim at you) it just blasted you out life. Should have come with a bigger thing... End of Story." Doesn't sound like fun, eh?

Maybe I'd enjoyed the game more if the main gun would have been automated also, and you are doing only the strategic stuff, making it kind of a puzzle game.

Maybe I'd enjoyed it more, if there would be any info on the stuff you got. What makes a laser different to a flak different to a rocket launcher? What makes new drones vs drone repair vs drone effectiveness, etc. currently its pure guesswork, with no "ingame manuels" to hint what does what well. Okay the aliens are new to the player... but even there scanners that would tell a bit more about the style of a ship would be a real bliss.

I'd also appreciate it, if the healthbar of the mainship would be always visible, sometimes I scrolled to the right, to take out the big meanies while leaving the smaller to the cannons, however i have no idea about health status while scrolled away.

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tsunamimc Author Profile Page April 10, 2009 7:02 PM

Wow...this looks interesting but I like any game that micro-manages....

Having played FFXII which when in a good 'micro-managed' mode acts as a shooter....really go out and try it...you have to be over half way through, so isn't really a 'casual game' normally found on JIG! But casual games are getting closer and closer to the nirvana, Tower Defence from one side, Shooters from another (as exampled here.) and Turned Based Strategy close the triangle (yes I include RPG's in this genre as the classic Japanese RPG is simply a basic form of one in my eyes!) AI always being the issue that spoils most games out there.

Have a project up my sleeve that takes it all the way.... more like in my dreams... but thanks to all you developers doing it in the real world and enabling us to step closer to gamer heaven!

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I get this weird feeling like the repair drones aren't actually doing anything. My health barely seems to go up, and when I'm faced with swarms of enemies and asteroids (I'm only on the second level), it just continues to drop slowly without seeming to increase. Eventually I'm whittled down and explode. Is there something I'm missing?

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Okay, that weird thing I mentioned with the enemies not appearing? That only happens in normal mode. Easy and Hard are OK.

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Like Dan said, the repair drones are pretty wonky. A lot of times they'll be happily repairing my full health laser while the rocket right friggin next to it is getting hammered.
Occasionally the drones will even fly out to space, apparently trying to repair the enemy. It's kinda aggravating when my ship is at like 1/8 health and all the drones seem to be doing jack, it almost breaks the game. I have to die and restart just to get the drones to do something.

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Does anyone understand what the heck the plot is about? It doesn't make a lick of sense to me.

Evil clone ship from 15,000 years in the future (past)? Why? How? Is this a time loop? What happened at the end? Who were the raiders? What the heck is the weapon they are looking for? Why did the "clone" ship look nothing like the player's ship? Huh?

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This could have been a really good little game. It is a lot of fun and the depth involved in both upgrading your ship, with limited resources, while blasting away at the enemy makes it a challenge.

It's just not worth it. I agree with most everything fuzzyface said about the upgrades being unclear (why is 'damage' listed as starting at 0 for some and a number for others?)

I hate games that force you to hold down the mouse button. There's never a reason to stop shooting unless there's nothing on screen, so make it a toggle.

The biggest problem is the broken checkpoint system.

I can almost accept, even if I don't like it, that it doesn't save state. That might be too much data, and you don't lose too much.

The main problem is that continuing to the next stage ruins your previous checkpoint. Playing on hard, I followed this pattern: Died several times in Stage 1 while trying to figure out the best upgrade path. After finally making it through Stage 1, I died at the start of Stage 2. So I had to re-play from the start to get more health going into Stage 2. That was better, except I now died at the end of Stage 2. Finally I restarted, and had a great Stage 1, and a pretty good Stage 2 - except at the very end, when I took a bunch of damage. So then I'm stuck in Stage 3, and it's impossible to continue because I don't have enough health to make it even halfway through stage 3. My great Stage 1 was wiped out the second I did so well in Stage 2 that I made it.

And I realized that to finish, you'd have to restart that way at every single Stage, finishing perfectly *each time* to have any hope of going on. It's just not worth it.

The system is indifferent to moderate/poor play (you die and restart the Stage) but severely punishes good play, only allowing near-perfect play in order to go on. It's nearly impossible to improve at it, and not worth it to me to invest the time.

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Steve, what I understand of the story was this:

The ship you're in was sent out by Earth to retrieve some weapon in order to win a war against the [Traal?]. That was '10,000 years ago', and somehow you ended up at this point (time loop?).

Because you didn't come back, Earth was destroyed. This is a 'future' culture that possibly developed from the remnants of Earth - I think that's where the 'clones' are supposed to be from. As I understand it, these are the 'raiders'.

The 'twist' is that you're both AI, and humans have been eradicated (I think).

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I thought this game was awesome.

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Didn't like it.

I agree with most of the negative comments above. But my biggest gripe was the slowness and a gameplay which boils down to "guess the upgrade path" with no hints on what is the correct way, no breathing space and the punishment of having to go back to the very start when you do it wrong (yes, I know, there are "checkpoints", but I don't see a point in replaying my "final dying scene" over and over again).

The "strategy guide" is useless, too. It basically says "upgrade the main gun, then droids, but hey turrets are the key, and let's not forget the fighters". Gee, thanks.
Upgrading the main gun takes forever with mininal apparent benefit, droids repair the ship but how many droids with how much repair rate I need is pure guesswork (often wrong), fighters are great when it comes to pulling enemy ships offscreen where I cannot touch them and turrets just get destroyed since I obviously don't know or have ways to know when to build them, which type and how much.

I guess when you happen upon the "correct" buildpath or cheat you may have a good time. But as I see it the game needs some serious tweaks to be truly something worth investing time into.

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Heh, thanks for reviewing OD :)

About the story, there's nothing about time travel or time loops, it goes like this:

Radiant Star was sent 15000 years ago to retrieve a weapon that would help Earth gain an edge against Thaals. By devious means :) Thaals sabotaged your carrier before entering the jump-gate and knocked out its AI. This is why when the game starts, your two AIs wake up with memories of the last actions they were doing 15k years ago etc.

For a long while, your ship drifted near the last jumpgate and drones defended it. Without a lead, they would eventually replicate/build a ship around the jump-gate - the God Ship - creating your AI evil alter egos.

From time to time, the (short) jump drives misfired, making the carrier appear in random places. This is why it is first referenced as a "Ghost Ship" by the raiders. The raiders are just random inhabitants of the region, they have no special meaning to the story.

The Aru (the second "civilization" you meet) came in contact with your evil counterparts which were their Gods for a long while, hence the God Ship. Aru rebelled against the Gods and seeing you assume that the Gods have return to punish them. This is how their hostility is explained, this is why your AI can understand their language without the translator device etc

I'd like to know what's the reference to Raiders of the Lost Ark :) But there are obvious and obscure references to a certain episode from Transformers G1 series, from Star Wars the old movies and from Homeworld.

Anyway, there are also two easter eggs...both of them are loosely related to a easter egg in Fallout 3 :)

I know about the "drones that walk into nothingness" bug, it was fixed in a later version, maybe it's possible to update the game here.

As for the strategies, there is a video walk-through of a finished hard game posted on some Japanese site. The strategy, of course, works on normal too.

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About the only strategy that worked for me was to:

1. Upgrade main cannon - fire-rate over power first.
2. Upgrade fighters (they're your health buffer).
3. Upgrade repair bots.
4. Fully upgrade all fighter stats.
5. Finally, add some lasers.

All in all, fun game, but a bit too unforgiving. Too much guesswork on the long-term decisions.

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Sounds like a great game, but it freezes for me at 37% and doesn't finish loading. I'm using Shockwave Flash version 10.0 r22 and Firefox 3.0.4.

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twinotter April 12, 2009 7:27 PM

Karg, Is it your game? Great game. I like the plot, even if I couldn't follow it - in part that was due to a bug that had only part of various text boxes appearing. That actually had the effect of making it seem more alien!

I found it relatively easy... My upgrade strategy was basically what Pieter above suggests - though I focused on the top three items first... and always upgraded power/rate first.

How about filling the plot out? Perhaps a sequel could have a non-linear plot with objectives...

ps. the Captcha could use a "reroll" the Captcha to get something you can actually read button...

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Yes it's unforgiving on Hard, but if you play it on Easy, you can upgrade and fiddle with whatever you want, and it'll still work. That's where the fun of winning with different approaches comes into play.

(Still, I was reluctant to upgrade the main gun at first, since it's so hard to lead shots that move slower than the little spaceships the size of the blasts themselves)

There was a typo toward the end that made me think of the God Ship's AI speaking with a Southern drawl. That sort of ruined the significance of the Douglas Adams-style revelation.

That the spaceship is still on the mission for a war that ended 15,000 years ago. Kind of bleak, but that doesn't get in the way of shooting down everything.

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Not so much a plot-sensitive spoiler as a mood-wrecking one. (In other words, I found the "Typo")

"Without a leading AI, they done all sorts of nasty things".

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Someguy May 3, 2009 3:22 PM

Drone Repair seems to increase the rate at which drones repair turrets (Lasers, rockets, etc.) Whereas drone repair rate seems to only effect how quickly they repair the hull.

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hehe, i understood the plot pretty well.
pretty grim how they are on a mission to end a war that was lost eons ago. pretty interesting plot though. even if it leaves me wondering.
cant w8 for the sequel :)

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Had to come back to this one. What a great game! Is there a sequel yet? Would be nice to have more levels to continue upgrading the ship.

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