The Orion Conspiracy

Developer:  Divide by Zero
Publisher:  Domark
Year Released:  1995

Review by Rosemary Young (August, 1995)

orion.jpgBesides claiming to be an adventure and to have full speech throughout, the other feature mentioned on the front box cover of this title is that it contains 'strong language'. In other words, swearing, and since this feature is emphasised as a good reason for you to spend your hard earned cash, I thought I'd begin by commenting on this aspect of the game.

I wasn't impressed. And, no, swearing doesn't bother me in the least, I even believe it is a very useful form of expression at the appropriate time and place. But The Orion Conspiracy just wasn't the place. The swearing, in fact, contributed precisely nothing to the game itself. It was confronting and aggressive, and neither the acting nor the character development were good enough to 'carry' it. As far as I can see the only significant effect it might have would be in limiting the game's audience, as it has ensured that this fairly simple game is not recommended for sale to anyone under the age of 15 in Australia (ELSPA recommends it for ages 18 and over).

Speaking of a limited audience, there is just one other cover claim (the back cover this time) that is worthy of a quick mention. According to that, this title also contains material of an 'adult' nature, which means that there is a hint of homosexuality, and towards the end of the game you will see a sprinkling of bloodied bodies and witness a scene where one of the characters is ripped in half by a monster. So, be warned, this one is strictly for 'big' people.

Setting the scene
The Orion Conspiracy can best be described as a murder mystery in space. Although science fiction elements creep in to it and eventually take over, for the most part you will be playing the role of Devlin McCormack and investigating the sudden death of your son, Danny. The action takes place on Cerberus, a scientific station located on an asteroid where research is being carried out into Black Hole emissions. Apparently Danny went on an expedition to the nearby Black Hole, never to be seen again.

The game begins with your arrival on Cerberus to attend your son's memorial service. After the ceremony you find yourself sitting alone in your executive suite when someone slips a note under the door insisting that Danny's death wasn't accidental. Your task, then, becomes that of a detective, to snoop around and see what you can uncover.

Double trouble
As with other detective games you must walk around and ask people questions from a list that will appear on screen when you initiate the conversation. Before long you will learn that your son was gay, and soon after this his lover will also be murdered. You'll be accused of the crime and imprisoned, and when you escape, along with the task of exposing the real murderer, you'll have a run in with some aliens who plan to take over the research station. Thus you will end up playing the hero of another kind, in a different sort of story.

So really, this game is two story genres rolled into one and, to be quite honest, it doesn't work. Neither side of the story is developed enough, and they are not sufficiently integrated. Thus, in the end, the game is quite unsatisfying because you never really get to investigate and resolve the murder before you are pulled into another plot in which you have very little involvement.

The gameplay
So, what about the gameplay? I only wish I could have something positive to say here but I can't. The Orion Conspiracy is a very easy game, experienced adventurers would have no problems at all, and even without the sealed hints that come with it, novice players shouldn't be too daunted.

One of the main problems, I found, was that there were hardly any puzzles to contend with. Oh, there were problems set for you, but very often you ended up not really solving them, and you rarely got the chance to manufacture a situation where you might work something out for yourself. Many of the problems, in fact, were solved for you, or were solved inadvertently. Without giving anything away, here's a few examples.

To get some information you must find a pie for a particular character. Now getting the pie is one of the few problems in the game you must work out for yourself, but giving it to the person who asked for it not only gets the information, but also conveniently solves another problem you'd been mulling over. A bit disappointing.

On another occasion you are told specifically to search for a particular item, but you don't need to exercise your own observational skills to find it, just ask the right person and they'll tell you exactly where it is. Or, there is one part where you must escape from an angry monster. In a cut sequence you'll speed around the ship and stop in a room where you'll be immediately alerted by your 'thoughts' (Maybe I can use something in here ...) that this is where it's all going to happen. What a give-away! Most of the problem is solved for you. This is especially frustrating when you have already checked out that particular location and know full well you're going to be able to do something there. Any satisfaction you might have felt in figuring out just what, is dissolved right before your eyes.

Handy interface
And whilst talking about having problems conveniently solved for you, it is the perfect time to discuss the game interface. Unfortunately, The Orion Conspiracy has one of those dreaded interfaces that delights in leading you along by the nose. Indeed, it's easy to use, far too easy. Select any object in any location and the 'use' icon will appear if you can interact with it using one of your inventory items. I find this very annoying as it denies me the opportunity to work out for myself what, if anything, I might need to do, or use, in a given situation.

And the inventory in this game has another extremely 'helpful' feature. Select an inventory item and if it requires modification you will get a clear signal if you are already carrying the necessary tool to do the job. That's right, the use icon will pop up and show you what action must be performed to make the modification. I was most put out when I found the paper clip and selected it merely to take a look. Immediately the use icon told me to use my hammer, so I did, and re-fashioned the clip into another tool. At the time I had no inkling of any use for my new tool, for all I knew the paper clip might have been crucial to completing the game.

Now, it may seem that I am just nit-picking discussing these 'problems', but isn't it high time someone said something about this type of 'innovation' that is creeping into computer game design. In choosing this type of interface the designers are breaking one of the golden rules of adventure game playing, denying players the fun and challenge of thinking for themselves.

Well, you might have guessed by now, I wasn't impressed with The Orion Conspiracy. Not only was the story lacking, but the puzzles you were granted the privilege of solving for yourself were few and far between.

Had this game had any saving grace I would have passed over the strong language 'feature', maybe with an extra loud scoff, but it didn't. So, as it turns out the language was more 'colourful' than the plot and the puzzles, more colourful than the characters too, even as some of them met their 'bloody' end, and certainly more colourful than the dreary, sterile backgrounds.

I'd stay clear of this one. It's not a good example of an adventure game. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1995. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
386 (486 or Pentium recommended), 4MB RAM (8MB recommended), 10 MB hard drive space, CD-ROM, DOS 5.0, SGVA