The marketing material for Guardians of Orion, currently in Early Access, makes it look like it was designed by a focus group of Steam users. The Steam description exclaims, “Guardians of Orion (GOO) is a Hyper-Adrenaline, Sci-Fi Shooter featuring Dinosaurs and Robots focused on Accessibility, Over-The-Top Gameplay, Power-Ups, 4-Player Survival Co-op Multiplayer, Destruction, Gibs, Gore and more!” Maybe I’m being pedantic, but I’m pretty sure you can’t call a list of eight things a “focus,” especially if one of those things is “more.” But verbose marketing aside, Guardians of Orion seems the kind of game I would enjoy. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, the combat is more extreme than strategic, and the multiplayer is co-op rather than competitive. Plus, I do enjoy everything listed above, so I tried not to be too cynical going into the game. Unfortunately, I think I might have been better off trusting my instincts.
Despite its issues, that description does a very good job of telling you what the game involves. It’s primarily a top down, twin stick shooter. You choose one of three character classes (with more promised to be coming each month during Early Access), one of a few levels, and start shooting. The weapons and special abilities differ with the class, but ultimately I didn’t find the gameplay to change all that much. Your goal is to survive waves upon waves of dinosaurs and robots, while collecting power ups and defending your machinery.
Now, I say that it’s primarily a top down shooter because the developers recently added a more traditional third person shooter camera angle (as seen in the game’s predecessor Orion Prelude), and you can switch between the two on the go. This is a pretty cool feature that I haven’t seen in any other game before. That being said, I honestly don’t see the point. Besides the obvious tactical advantage of a top down view, which include only having to aim in two dimensions, the third person camera is in a very odd position. It’s way too close, so a large portion of the screen is always covered by your character. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t see any reason to switch from the default top down view.
Still, the core gameplay is competent enough. Things work the way they should, and everything runs smoothly. Unfortunately, that’s about all I can say; the game gets boring very quickly. Guardians of Orion currently has two game modes, but the difference between them is so minor that for a long time I was sure they were exactly the same. You’re going to be playing survival mode, one way or another. You can play by yourself, but the game is designed to be played online with three other players. Again, everything works fine and it does what you’d expect. But all you’re doing is shooting dinosaurs and robots over and over again, and that’s really all there is to it. Guardians of Orion doesn’t add anything new to the gameplay.
It seemed like I was just aiming at the nearest dinosaur and holding down the fire button, occasionally running away from some of the bigger ones. Seeing a huge T-rex run up and chomp your character is pretty entertaining, I’ll admit, but it once again brings me back to the game’s description. It’s being sold on having all of these things that Steam gamers want, but that’s the problem: we already have games with those features. In order to be worthwhile, I feel a game needs to either add something new to the formula, or have a different focus from other games. As it is, there’s nothing drawing me to Guardians of Orion outside of the need to write this piece. Even if there was, the gameplay is crippled by the constant need to protect your “harvester.” The entire game is a protection mission in addition to a survival mode, and it’s really annoying when you’re trying to teleport away from a throng of dinos and the HUD keeps telling you that you need to get to a different part of the map pronto or lose all of your progress.
Maybe I’m asking too much. As is often the case when I talk about indie games, it seems like a lot of people disagree with me. This title has great reviews on Steam, so perhaps it does appeal to some. For my money, though, it’s just boring. Yes, the designs are cool, and the graphics are perfectly decent (though at the moment there are no graphics settings available), but it all just seems like a pale imitator of something else. The good news is that it’s still early days for Guardians of Orion, and developer Trek Industries has promised a ton of new content will be added to the game in regular intervals. For fans of twin-stick shooters, it might be worth keeping an eye on this one, and seeing what it looks like in a few months.