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Saturday 23 September 2017


To my developing young mind in the 90s, there was something alluring when a game proclaims itself to be 'adult', and not in the Lula: The Sexy Empire kind of way. With its adult themes, dark subject matter and propensity for swearing, the sci-fi meanderings of Divide by Zero's The Orion Conspiracy peaked my pre-pubescent interests when I saw the adverts around its release in 1995. As a fully formed adult, I can now get my hands on the adventure game without the threat of warping my mind. So is it any good?

Adventure enthusiasts will probably already know the answer to that. The Orion Conspiracy has become notorious for being one of the worst point-n-click adventures of all time. It's surprising considering I thoroughly enjoyed The Gene Machine, Innocent Until Caught and its sequel all by the same developer. Having now played this game, I can see where they're coming from. My take on it, however, is that the entire product was a missed opportunity to do something intriguing or even profound.

The outline of the story has room to explore some serious and emotional themes not seen in many games full stop let alone one from the 90s. It could've been an insightful study on loss, grief and the personal cost of war. It could've delved into the themes of homosexuality, identity and frayed family dynamics that are heightened by extreme situations. It could've been about the negatives of capitalism, all-powerful corporations and big business. All of these are part of the story but they're so tangential they might as well not be.

Let's start with the themes of loss, grief and war. Set in the year 2160, our protagonist, Devlin McCormack, has barely survived the Corporation Wars, only to return to an unforgiving world that treats its veterans with less compassion than those from the Vietnam war. Out of work and ostracised, his son Danny runs away from home and his wife commits suicide. It's a tragic backstory, but unless you have the accompanying comic book you won't know too much about it. It's not really touched upon in the game beyond the occasional throwaway line.

Any opportunity for the estranged father and son to reconnect is lost when word comes of Danny's supposedly accidental death. The young man had been working at the Cerberus Research Station as a scientist before an accidental explosion took his life. As the only surviving family member, you arrive to attend the funeral. Shortly after, a note is slipped under the door to your quarters saying that his death was no accident. It was murder! It might be the clunky script, the atrocious voice acting or the forced profanities dotted here and there but Devlin seems rather unaffected by it. This is supposed to be the major conspiracy of the title and the stepping off point to the larger adventure that is to come. Instead, it's brushed off with little more than a shrug as you casually talk to crew members about random topics like sex before unemotionally asking about your son. As a result, the sadness of the situation is diminished.

Later on, there's a shocking revelation that I'm sure you won't mind me spoiling. Young Danny was gay. It's only mentioned the once and is quickly revealed to not be an instigating force behind his murder. Even his supposed boyfriend gets one more scene before he's offed making the entire five minutes of sub-plot pointless. I would say that it's refreshing to see a gay man in a video game who isn't a stereotypical caricature, but that's assuming there was any characterisation to begin with. The Orion Conspiracy does deserve credit for having one of the first games to feature explicitly out and positively represented gay characters as well as officially being the first to use the word 'homosexual'. In the context of the story as it's presented, however, it means nothing. Beyond a line wondering why his son didn't open up to him about it, Devlin seems just as non-plussed by this as he is his death.

To further add to themes of identity, an Invasion of the Bodysnatchers type alien is unceremoniously shoved into the plot around the halfway point. It makes exact replicas of the humans onboard the space station before killing the original. Any potential paranoia, or identity crisis is nonexistent and they appear to be there only to shake up the plot (it has long since stopped being a whodunit, despite not knowing who did it).

What about the evils of capitalism and corporatocracy? The war between corporations is rarely mentioned outside of the comic book, and if it is, there's no real critique of it. I guess it is attempted in some fashion by the fact that two rival businesses named Kobayashi and Mogami-Hudson are co-existing on board. Yet again, their presence does nothing for the overall plot. For a game attempting to say a lot, it ultimately says very little.

So what about the game itself? Well, apart from some iffy design mechanics, re-used assets and a couple of game-breaking bugs, it's okay I guess. The interface is easy to understand, though not without its quirks. The list of verbs are replaced with icons that only appear on relevant hotspots. For example, an item won't show the 'pick up' verb if you can't pick it up (or if you can, but is useless). The flip side to this is that if you will perform a unique action to that item or character at least once over the course of the game, such as 'give', that icon will always be there whether you can carry out that action or not. More often than not, this tends to give away the answer to future puzzles making the flow of the game rather haphazard.

The backgrounds look nice enough in SVGA with some detailed environments and interesting decor. The downside is that a lot of corridors are repeated which make navigating the many locations particularly annoying. There are many screens which have no purpose whatsoever other than to extend the length of time it takes to get from point A to point B. Dialogue is also repeated quite often, particularly when questioning one of the 20 people that inhabit the vessel who are  just going about their day.

Worst of all is the number of bugs and immersion-breaking design flaws. Remember when I said a character will always have the 'give' icon whether you are at that stage in the game or not? Well, in some cases all of the icons are present when that person is lying dead on the ground. Basically, you can still 'talk' to a corpse. And if you do, the game will crash. This is the perfect example of something that should have been found and fixed during the quality assurance and testing process. Couple that with some shoddy animations and a general lack of polish and you have a game that doesn't feel finished.

What really gets my goat is how the game presents its story. If handled with more finesse it could have been something special. Instead, the need to sound grown-up by using bad language, sexual vulgarity and gore just come off as juvenile. When almost every character you meet will insult you to your face after your son just died no less, you know there's a tactless child on the writing staff. One character even goes into great detail about her sexual exploits when you're nothing but a stranger to her. Everyone is too brash to be believable as human beings, which is at odds with the sensitive subject matters it attempts to raise. It's a great shame as I think there was enough there that could've worked, both as a story and as a game. One could argue that the poor quality was because the developers were rushed to market. Going by my affinity for Divide by Zero's other adventures (all of which are on this site), I wouldn't be surprised if this proved to be the case.

The Orion Conspiracy gives me the kind of grief Devlin should be feeling throughout the entire game. I can see what it could have been, and it could've been great. Alas, my playthrough was fraught with inept scripting and poor design choices. Despite this I can't, in all honesty, say this is among the worst games I've ever played. At times I would even say I unironically enjoyed myself. Unless you can take the 'un' out of the word 'unironically', the rest of the game is simply a tiresome disappointment.

To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual, Comic Book and Quick Reference Card included. Tested on Windows 10.

File Size: 212 Mb.  Install Size: 331 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ


The Orion Conspiracy is © Divide by Zero
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me

Like this? Try These...

Innocent Until Caught  Kronolog - The Nazi Paradox  The Daedalus Encounter


  1. Thanks! This game was amusingly gory at the end, and I found very irritating absence of numbers on the rooms.

    By the way, is it possible to add windows re-release of "Lords of the Realm" to your collection? It was hugely upgraded compared to original DOS version, but there seems to be a problems with it on modern OS, even GoG version cant solve it completely. I mean, maybe there is a way to emulate with Win95, like you did before with some other games...

    1. Sadly, as it's still sold it won't be considered.

      If you have the ISO (.iso or bin/cue, you can try it yourself using one of my Win95 installers as a template. Open dosbox.conf in notepad and alter the line abot isos. You may have to virtually uninstall the original game first for space reasons.

  2. i did like the game, played it a year or so ago
    bit like prisoner of ice
    well but alot of my faves have mediocre or bad ratings (i find later-on in the internet)

    1. I think with adventure game geeks, this game is pretty derivative in everything but the premise and subject matter compared to other games. Then you had to deal with major glitches.

      I guess there is some fun to be had, but just think about what it could have been.

  3. this game is awful... and i play with the spanish translation version which is terrible... i dont know why the main characther (kind of) remains me to sean connery in "Outland"... great movie by the way...

    1. I can totally see the Outland connection. Gotta go see that movie again. If the English script is as bad as it is I can only imagine what the translations were like.

  4. I got this working seconds ago, and had to turn the voices off. Still, I totally overlooked this when it came out, and can't wait to get into it.

  5. Good afternoon friend!
    You are doing a great work,keep going!
    I have some issues with unzipping some games.Especially this on, when i am unzipping it, there is an error message -> Checksum error in D, The archive is corrupt.
    Can you help me by solving this issue?

    1. Hello. There are some points in the FAQ which may solve your issue. The most common causes are the installer not downloading properly, not all files were downloaded or not running the installer with admin privileges. It's likely one of them.

    2. Good afternoon!
      Thank you for your response.
      I downloaded again the games that had the unzipping problems and now all is fine!
      Than you again and keep up the good work!

  6. Don't know if anyone will read this,but any solution to run this in widescreen ,like Stretch to Window ? Scummvm doesn't seem to work with this title.

    1. Open the Dosbox .conf file in notepad and change Aspect to false. I prefer the fullscreen pillared as its closer to the original presentation, but this is the option to stretch it.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. That didn't work,but found a working solution on GoG's forum's ,thanks for the help anyway :D

    4. No worries. Im on holiday atm, so was going by memory.

  7. OMG OMG OMG thank you so much for this one!!! I've searched for it forever but only could find the non-SVGA version. I used to play this as a kid using a borrowed CD-ROM, with my PC severely underpowered to handle the game, so no sound, long loading screens and hard drive grunting angrily as the character took a step, still was so enthralled by it all and somehow this game clicked super well with me at the time :) Looking forward to enjoy it properly decades later.