Fans of the Tom Cruise sci-fi action flick, Edge of Tomorrow might remember the controversial rebranding when the movie released on DVD. Those famous three words: Live. Die. Repeat. Pretty much the core premise behind any rogue-lite; a gaming genre specifically designed around the assumption you will die…often. Orbital Bullet is no exception to the rule, yet it does offer enough originality to modify the slogan to Kill. Die. Modify. A bit catchier if you ask me.
Orbital Bullet has a lot going on, and most all of it ranges from good to great. What could have easily been dismissed as “just another rogue-lite” commands your instant attention with its signature circular design that puts a unique “spin” on the traditional side-scrolling shooter. But it is more than just a visual hook; the levels themselves are designed around this core design premise with both verticality and depth, with many levels featuring concentric rings that you can move in and out of, creating all sorts of interesting combat dynamics.
As a shooter you are only as good as your weapons, and Orbital Bullet has plenty of those along with all sorts of crafting, body mods, and upgrade opportunities that you will need to explore and exploit on future replays to get further into the game. You’ll earn Nanobytes during gameplay that can be spent on permanent upgrades and skills that will make you live just a bit longer than before…hopefully. Dynamic skill trees allow you to not only customized your character with new powers and abilities, but you can also customize the tree itself, allowing you to personalize the gameplay to your own style.
Each replay presents you with fresh challenges, as everything is procedurally generated from level layouts to enemy placement. Every run is new, as is your approach to defeating the enemies and advancing as far as you can until your ultimate and often untimely death. The game is expertly balanced in such a way that you are always getting something new between runs that compels you to “try again”, making this one of the more addictive shooters I’ve played this year.
There is a surprisingly amount of strategy buried in the combat, with various enemies requiring certain tactics. Some enemies can attack across rings, forcing you to avoid their fire until you can make your way to their ring and defeat them. Some enemies have shields that require you to attack from the rear either by jumping over them or circling around the opposite direction. Thankfully, the controls are responsive, and the resulting gameplay is incredibly fun.
You’ll occasionally come across a shop where you can buy upgrades, keys, etc. or maybe get a new weapon during the actual mission. There is also a hub area you’ll visit between lives where you can do all sorts of game prep; crafting, shopping, etc. before launching yourself back into the mayhem. Since you can’t take your current Nanobytes into the next life it’s best to spend as much as you can before leaving this area, even partial upgrades. There is also a workstation that requires you to defeat six council members to unlock; clearly an end game objective.
In addition to the striking 3D level design I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the outstanding pixel art on display here. Normally I don’t care for these retro graphics; I got my fill in the 80’s and 90’s and have since moved on to raytracing and 4K, yet somehow the art style in Orbital Bullet transcends the blocky pixels, and when in motion I would stack this up against any modern shooter. There are plenty of unique themes for the levels based on planets and environments such as water, forest, caverns, etc. The colors and explosions and particle effects are off the charts to the point where it can even get distracting and hard to follow the action at times. This is pure pixel art insanity, and it is all scrolling around so fast and smoothly it could even trigger some motion sickness.
Complementing the visuals is a soundtrack that can’t be beat. Sometimes I think it was the music that actually hypnotized me into playing longer than I normally planned. While the soundtrack can be purchased as part of the “Save the World” bundle I found no way to buy the OST as standalone DLC. The rest of the audio mix is equally as powerful, with great weapon effects, explosions, and plenty of atmosphere to bring these spinning worlds to life.
Orbital Bullet is definitely a pleasant surprise and a great way to kick off a new year of PC shooters, especially if you are a fan of the rogue-lite genre. Yes, you will die a lot, but with each death comes a fresh renewal that will reward you with better weapons and abilities that will let you get just a bit further and let you see just a bit more of what this exciting and addictive shooter has to offer.
To see the game in action, check out the first hour of Orbital Bullet in our gameplay video with commentary.