• Lewis Gillingwater

Early Access Review: Orbital Bullet

Reviewed on: PC

Publishers: Assemble Entertainment, WhisperGames, Mayflower Entertainment

Developer: Smokestab

Platforms: PC

I'm not finished with Orbital Bullet. I've sunk countless hours into this rogue-lite shooter, still in early access, unlocked every weapon and upgrade but I'm still not done. A unique twist on a simple formula, Orbital Bulllet's 360° rotating cylinder levels and circular shooting action has kept me coming back when I have a spare 20-30 minutes to sink into trying to beat just one more level.

Taking on the role of a space marine with a gun (and if DOOM taught us anything, that's all the plot you really need), Orbital Bullet tasks you with going floor by floor and exterminating a series of alien pests. The gimmick here, and it's a very fun gimmick, is that every floor is a cylinder, rotating as you walk and connecting back on itself, allowing you to shoot a bullet in one direction and have it circle back to you. This allows for some very cool trick shots and some devious enemy attacks that have you watching your back at all times. Add to this a two-tiered system with an inner and outer ring to jump between, with some aliens able to shoot between them in a way you cruelly cannot, and you have a hectic shoot-em-up that is endlessly entertaining.

All the typical rogue-lite staples are here. You have procedurally generated random floor and enemy layouts, a map with teleporters to get around, bosses at the end of floors and two currencies, one you spend on in-run upgrades and lose on death and one that you carry between runs and buy permanent upgrades with. Some of the rogue-lite staples can feel a bit perfunctory (I'm not sure the shop really adds anything when guns and perks are so plentiful), but it's all part of a formula that works well together.

There's a decent variety of weapons and perks here, though some feel more useful than others and the truly fun tools take a little while to unlock. Again there's a lot of stuff to play with, but some of it feels unnecessary (like the 3 very similar shotguns) and one or two perks, particularly the combo multiplier that gives you damage and speed boosts for quickly chaining skills, feel like they should have been default game mechanics rather than optional upgrades.

What is currently missing from Orbital Bullet, that other Rogue-lites also often struggle with, is run variety. There's a lot of choice in how you tackle the many vicious aliens, outlined in a crisp and visually appealing neon 2.5D pixel aesthetic, but the aliens themselves are often the same. Every run feels quite similar in structure with no variety in bosses or routes.

However, a lack of content is a good issue for an early access game to have. Already developers Smokestab have outlined a new level as part of next month's June content update with more planned down the line. What they've got, while not quite a polished completed product in the same pantheon as rogue-lite greats like Spelunky, Enter the Gungeon and The Binding of Isaac, is a solid and fun framework with an engaging core gameplay loop which, with time and further development, could eventually hit those heights.