At the beginning of Lost Orbit, after your character is stranded in the middle of space, the game’s narrator (an omniscient observing robot) begins intoning vague proclamations about our hero’s plight and expresses bemused confusion about humanity. Clearly riding the coattails of the narrator in the wildly popular Bastion, the robotic voice-overs in Lost Orbit oscillate between detached compassion (such as the increasingly confusing line “everything’s gotta die, but this poor guy – he wasn’t going easy… I guess he figured he hadn’t had a chance to live yet”) and over-the-top sarcasm, such as indicating that he is creating an event in his “calendar” to study the remains of the protagonist’s brain after he dies. Unlike the narrator in Bastion, this one seems to wait giddily for his next chance to say something he thinks is either ironically hilarious or deeply profound. And, unfortunately, he is your constant companion as you slingshot through asteroids searching for a way home (or, really, just for the end of the level).
Narration is of course irrelevant for gameplay, which involves aiming your character in various directions and zooming around dodging rocks and other impediments of increasingly menacing varieties (it goes without saying that the game asks you to imagine space as a two-dimensional obstacle course where it is impossible to simply fly up and over things at will). All the while you are encouraged to collect floating bits of Obtainium (presumably the opposite of the stuff they were mining in Avatar) which can be used to purchase upgrades. Not wishing to strain believability too much (for some reason, given all the rest of it), these upgrades are supposedly crafted (again, somehow) by the robotic narrator, whose name is revealed to be Null.
Focusing so much on the story is perhaps strange in a game that seems essentially uninterested in it. Your character (whose name is Harrison) appears oblivious to Null’s painfully enunciated passages, although the narrating robot does recount several conversations they’ve supposedly had together, mostly involving mind-numbing dialogues about barbecue and camping and how it’s a “shame” that the robot can’t eat. Null speaks about Harrison, continually referring to him in the third person which leads to a sort of detached identification on the part of the person actually playing the game. It’s difficult to empathize with the character you’re controlling when the only voice in the game acts like he’s very far away or has been dead for decades. Yet the function of narration like this is to show that the actions you’re performing by simply playing the game are somehow representative of the character’s mood within the game. It’s the constant presence of this dialogue, much like in Bastion, that causes you to assume it has some importance. It shapes the entire experience of Lost Orbit. Which is to say, it’s what takes the game from “derivative 2D sidescroller” to “derivative pretentious indie game.”
The idea of the narrator isn’t the problem, it’s his propensity to offer up random one-liners and truly cringe-worthy bon mots such as “like the girls of his youth, pulsars rejected his advances, sending him hurtling back into space… alone.” You can almost hear the drool (which brings up another overwrought quote: “drool swam out of his exhaust port… eughh… at least I hope it was drool”). Then there are the ham-handed attempts to create universe-building jargon: “gens” instead of years (or maybe days?), “tain” instead of dollars, “sims” instead of seconds. It’s all trying so very hard and it falls so very flat.
The game’s music is only slightly better, a sort of El Ten Eleven knock-off interspersed with spikes of electro dance pop that might be from a “make your own music video” kit. There are moments where it isn’t so bad, but it’s usually quite obnoxious and one wonders whether space really does sound like a tween’s fantasy of a nightclub. Together with Null’s incessant dialogue, it’s difficult to recommend playing the game with the sound on.
The levels themselves are actually pretty good, and the game is the sort of easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master arcade fare that begs to be replayed again and again. The early game mostly involves dodging things and timing boosts, while later levels feel more like pinball and require less strategy but quicker reflexes. The game can be fairly difficult, since various objects pull you toward them and if you even nudge one of them you explode instantly.
“the game is the sort of easy-to-learn but difficult-to-master arcade fare that begs to be replayed again and again”
If you can get past the audio (preferably by simply turning it off), Lost Orbit is fun and occasionally exciting but not particularly original. There are no doubt hundreds of similar games to grind and master every angle, and this one is fine enough but it’s not really memorable in a good way. Perhaps one of Null’s soliloquies sums it up best: “for a long time I’ve considered the truth: that it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t exist.”
***A PC code was provided by the Publisher***