I have been trying not to criticize the names of some of these F2P games, but come on! Dark Orbit? Seriously? I understand why they chose the name, don’t get me wrong. Orbit has a lot to do with space, where the game takes place. Not that anything in the game actually succumbs to the power of gravitational fields, but that seems beyond the point. I understand why they chose dark, because it sounds dangerous and mysterious, and if they chose black it might sound racist. But, merely smashing two logical words together does not a good title make. I mean, how in the world (or beyond it) could an orbit, the imaginary lines in space, possible be dark. That makes as much sense as a lemon tasting fast. I might as well accuse this game of being too tall for me. But I digress, let’s get on with the game.
What Just Happened?
Yes, this game does in fact include a story section. If you had the delusion that this might have any effect on gameplay, you would be sadly mistaken. In fact, I only stumbled into the story when I was in the help pages. The story is as follows, only in an irritating third person (“the highly developed species known as mankind”):
Climate changes on Earth. Three major companies go into space. They colonize planets and make their climates habitable. Why they couldn’t do that on Earth is beyond me, but whatever. There are limited resources, so all the companies went to war with each other. So that’s that.
What’s This Button Do?
Sign-up is pretty simple, not any different from any other signup. It asks for a desired username and password, and then an email address. You then verify that, yes that is really your email. Then they let you play.
But they don’t really tell you how. As soon as I entered the “world” I was a bit overwhelmed with all the stuff on the screen and having no idea what I should be doing. There was a little button that said start, so I figured that might be a good thing to hit. It was.
That Was Fast
So, after my short paragraph and uneventful time signing up, I began my game. I had to choose between one of three companies to work for. I couldn’t really tell the difference between the three, except that one of them was read in a male’s voice, so I decided to work for them. There was a brief description provided, but nothing to really care about. I was then plopped down in a spaceship in the middle of space (I don’t understand how space can have a middle either) and there I was. I noticed on the map in the bottom right hand corner, aptly named the mini-map, that there was a giant blue blob on the upper right hand side with some red flecks floating around. Do to my excessive knowledge in Radio Detection And Ranging I figured blue was good and red was bad. Moving in the game is fairly intuitive. You see the game from a top down perspective of your ship, and click where you want to go. You can also hold down the mouse to have a form of manual control. After gliding over to the blue glob, I found it to be nothing other than a space station, with a horde of friendly ships hovering around it, like piglets suckling from their mother.
Lock and Load
So, at this “mother” ship you can buy equipment. Or, at least, you can go to where you can buy equipment. You see, you can’t actually buy and equip stuff in-game, it instead links you to the main website’s page where you then purchase things. It wasn’t all that complicated, but it was a bit irritating. I’ll forgive them, because they have a very schnazzy (yes, I just said that) site.
The actual stuff you can buy is sparse to say the least. There are about 10 different ships you can buy, but each one is almost always completely superior to that last. That means there no real choice in which ship you want, just which one you can afford. The rest of the equipment was so incredibly barren I almost feel ashamed of it, as if I had some part in the creation of this game. There are a mere 4 different weapons to buy. That’s it. Four. And 3 of them have practically the same name “Laser LF 1″, “Laser LF2″, “Laser LF3″. Once again, they vary only in their damage output, with each one entirely superior to the last. If you notice a theme here, it’s the lack of variety. This in itself may deter people hoping for a lot of depth in their games, or any sense of individuality. There are also drones and engines you can buy, but they too have a depressingly small amount of variety.
Fire When Ready
Let’s move into the next area you are probably wondering about, how do you use these new weapons? And the answer is disappointingly simple, you just click on the enemy and hit laser attack or rockets. Imagine world of warcraft, only you have nothing but one spell and an auto-attack, and you have a pretty good idea what this is. In my first experience fighting I found the red specks moving towards the giant blue blob, and figured enemy players were trying to over-run our base. Needless to say, I began a full assault on all the red specks in sight, and found that they died very easily. After the initial thrill ran off, I noticed that these enemies would not engage me and would fly around in circles if no one attacked it. To my great embarrassment, I was getting worked up over a bunch of low level NPCs.
So, really, the combat is one of the worst features of the game. It is so simple and automated you might as well be watching someone else play.
The game seems to prefer it this way, since everything in the game revolves around the automated combat. It’s as if the game wants as little interaction from you as possible, but still wants you there, like playing action figures with a 5 year old. The missions that didn’t involve fighting were even worse, here’s an example:
The first mission tells you to find a certain kind of mineral and bring it back to base. It told me to find the mineral in X-1 and X-2. After some fiddling, I was able to bring up the big map and found that I was in some J galaxy. But all of them were Js. There were no Xs in to found. In dismay I flew around randomly and shot down some NPCs that dared fly in circles while I crossed their path. Some of these NPCs dropped the mineral I wanted, but apparently THOSE ones were contaminated or something because they did no count for my quest.
As anyone would do in that situation, I consulted the help pages. They were absolutely no help at all, as it covered only the rudimentary basics, such as how to fly. When I went to the map section to see if I was looking on the wrong map, it gave this confusing bit about how you navigate the Space Map. I had to read it three times to understand that by Space Map, they mean the HUD and your play screen. Why they insist on calling it a map, is beyond me. So, with my new-found vocabulary and frustration, I decided to give another whack and flying around randomly. After doing this for a good 20 minutes I found what I sought, my red mineral just floating in space to be picked up. Apparently the minerals randomly spawn across the map. Since I only gathered one and the quest required 20, I decided to completely abandon that mission and go on to the Kill X of Y ones. Those provided even less satisfaction.
You Pay For This?
So, how do these guys make money? There is your fairly micro-transaction option at work here, you pay real money for uterium. Some ships require payment in uterium, while others are paid for in standard credits. But, since you can find uterium in bonus boxes lying every two feet on the map, payment isn’t really necessary. If you want you can convert your uterium into standard credits too, but that seems to defeat any point to actually playing the game.
Really, you can do a lot better than this game. To give an example of the amount of work going into this, there’s a flash game on newgrounds that is almost identical to this one, and that was a one man show. I cannot think of a reason to play this as opposed to other MMOs unless you have a space-ship fetish, but are too cheap to buy any of the numerous spaceship games that are good.
((This review was made in the year 2009, and may not remain accurate to the current state of the game. Review by Andras.))