New Orbit: Episode 1 landed precariously on Google Play late last month. The screenshots of minimalistic outer-space fare and gravity-based gameplay weren’t much to look at, but after playing for only a short while, it was easy to get pulled into a gritty story about surviving on the edge of civilization where even air is a precious commodity.
New Orbit follows the unlucky journey of a stranded engineer trying simply to find his way back home after his ship was blown up. With little more than an escape shuttle to get around, he has to deal with some of the nastier characters that inhabit the fringes of an intergalactic empire to get back home.
Graphics and audio
The graphics are very sparse, but detailed where they need to be. The real attention was put into the animation and simulated physics, which are very convincing. Nearby objects show as faint color-coded glows on the edge of the screen, while simple lines jutting from the ship help players navigate.
Character portraits feel a little amateur, but the audio is excellent. Between the dark, electronic music and the varying filters applied to incoming audio transmissions, it’s very easy to feel like you really are stuck on a piece of space junk trying to stay alive.
Beyond the excellent physics gameplay is a story of desperation and struggle that’s very easy to get involved with. The developer is Austrian, so some of the writing is off, and the accent in the voice acting can be distracting, but the premise, characters, and situations are altogether believable. There’s even seamless decision-making throughout the plotline, depending on where you land and when.
Gameplay and controls
New Orbit’s controls are dead simple: touch and hold in the direction you want your ship to go. Things get tricky when you take into account inertia and gravity, even with the color-coded guides to help. Seemingly easy missions like picking up space debris can be a challenge as you struggle against the pull of larger astronomical bodies.
There’s a bit of additional depth beyond figuring out trajectories. Scanning planets for minerals enables mining operations, and zooming out with a pinch gesture reveals a larger chunk of space to openly explore. It feels very much like I’m only scratching the surface of what this kind of gameplay is capable of doing
- Believable, gripping story
- Excellent minimalist physics gameplay
- Slight language barrier
- Sub-par character portraits
New Orbit is a refreshingly original, gripping, and fun game that is easily worth the $1.99 pricetag. It’s a shame that this is only Episode 1, since I’d love to be able to play through the whole storyline with a single title, but as is, I’ve still got a lot to chew through. If you’re looking for a space-themed game with great physics that doesn’t involve birds killing pigs, New Orbit is a great way to go.