I sometimes like to fancy myself as the roguish sort, one who delights in brash thieving and a healthy five o’ clock shadow. My mirror’s reflection is an Earthbound Han Solo who can make the grocery run in under five parsecs, but our world’s lack of space-faring travel has always forced me to hold these ideals at a ground level. Videogames offer a certain degree of escape, sure, but none properly convey both the vastness and freedom of space. That is, until, Double Damage Games set their sights on the lofty heavens with Rebel Galaxy, a game that, for all intents and purposes, was made entirely with my wants and needs in mind.
Uncle Owen and Aunt Juno
Rebel Galaxy plants players in the shoes of a rather unremarkable gentleman in search of his long lost Aunt Juno (sorry NASA, not your JUNO). Upon learning her true smuggler nature from a handful of colorful characters and discovering an alien AI, our stalwart hero sets off to find his errant kin and unlock the secrets of the galaxy. Players must navigate treacherous meteor fields and solar systems to seek out clues while avoiding local conflicts with several warring factions The main storyline somewhat washes out with the massive amount of goings-on in the galaxy, but it’s a standard storyline that isn’t going to confuse anyone.
I’m guessing my GPS won’t work in space…
Flying through space can be rather tricky, and flying through space with the intent to destroy an enemy craft only adds to the challenge. Rebel Galaxy realized this after doing their homework and decided to limit your ship’s directionality to left, right, and straight. Players maintain a constant level of X, while they’re free to cruise about on the Y and Z axis. While it may seem like an extremely tight constraint on a player’s freedom, this was indeed the way to go. When you happen upon a space battle (which you will do, quite a bit), there’s just too much going to properly navigate all three planes of possible motion. Plus, your strongest guns are mounted on the sides, so broadsiding a pirate frigate is made all the more accessible.
The map in Rebel Galaxy is galactically huge, and while a lot of it may seem like empty space, it’s damn near impossible to cruise at high speeds without coming across a distress beacon, minefield, or space station. For having to cover so much ground, Double Damage did a fantastic job of filling the dark void with things to do. One annoying bone this brings up for me to pick, however, is the automatic speed adjustments. Out of warp, the ship is either at idle, max realspace engines, or sublight (pre-warp) speeds. Idle and max realspace are drastically slow, while sublight and warp speeds are perfect for traversing the many millions of cold space miles. The issue here being that the game wants to save you from warping into a sun or asteroid, and thus automatically slows your ship to a crawl if you’re so much as ten miles away from a good sized dustbin. Since translating back to warp takes a series of seconds (IF your path is clear), this makes for an infuriating series of starts and stops equivalent to space stop lights.
Fire everything, then fire it again!
While a lot of the player’s time will be spent cruising idly through space and enjoying the view, the rest of it will be directed towards finishing the unlimited number of side quests the game heaves at you. Luckily, almost all of these can be accomplished with a good ol’ space shootout, and you’ll finally have the chance to live out your pirate dreams. Rebel Galaxy’s combat is closest akin to that of the ship battles in Black Flag. You maneuver alongside an enemy, blast them with your broadside cannons, occasionally hurl torpedoes or missiles their way, and pray to god they spent their armor budget on leather chair covers. You can play with a bit more finesse by timing your power shields or utilizing strafe runs, but the gist of it really boils down to how close can I get and how many pieces do I want the enemy in. While this may sound like it has an expiration date on novelty, I never once grew tired of cruising up to fighters and frigates and tearing into them with a devastating salvo of gunfire.
Though there are only three different ships available in the pre-build, Rebel Galaxy does a fine job of providing just enough add-ons to keep me busy. While many of the weapons feel as threatening as a soft summer’s breeze, the heavy-hitting ordnance and cannons offer all the punch you need to take out the next trade convoy. Players can also visit the local space station to upgrade shields, armor, engines, and tools, while simultaneously repairing damage and re-stocking spent missiles.
Republic Credits are no good out here…
It’s also fair to say this game offers probably the most evenhanded economic situation of any RPG. Where many fall victim to owning all the money in the world (looking at you, Skyrim), Rebel Galaxy maintains a strict balance through reasonable mission payoffs, a constant need for repairs and ordnance, and a conscientious price tag for ship upgrades. Nothing is impossibly expensive after a bit of grinding, but you also can’t buy the whole space station and max out upgrades in a matter of minutes. The game’s market is also extremely variable, and while I can buy and sell anything from space slaves to soy paste (oh…unless those are the same), the ever-changing market prices make for interesting, almost stock broker-esque trade schemes.
Space is pretty. Dangerous, but pretty
The visual environment of Rebel Galaxy is ultimately breathtaking. The rich swirls of colorful nebulas set against a star-riddled sky set the tone for a truly lonesome experience. The individual ships, stations, characters, and cosmic debris are all highly detailed, and the engine blooms and weapon effects are real enough to feel. The planets, up close, look a little lacking in definition, but the game otherwise offers a new, beautiful view every time you embark on a fresh quest. Along the same lines, the sound effects for the engines, missiles, and voiced acting are all spot on. The only audible bugaboo is the extremely repetitive random-enemy dialogue and the three or four high-noon country songs that constantly blare in the background. If anything, turn down the in-game music, crank up your own tunes (System of a Down, thank you very much), and cruise the open tides of space for a truly stimulus-rich ride.
A few asteroids in your path
For a game still dawdling around a solid release date, Rebel Galaxy looks and feels like a tightly packed final product. Nothing broke, almost everything looked perfect, and the gameplay was constantly engaging. However, as with every game, there were a few bits and pieces that may need a bit of hammering. The aforementioned warp speed translations and repetitive lines are a nuisance, sure, but they never actually got me killed: The game has a nasty habit of underselling the difficulty levels of certain missions. I accepted a contract several times on the grounds that it was marked “easy” and would net me some quick cash, only to find my ship blown to smithereens by literally an armada of ships thrice as powerful as myself. I love a good challenge, but this was a grinding task, one of a dozen that I was supposed to knock out in short time to power up for the main mission. While the punishment for death is merely starting again at the last space station, it still felt extremely frustrating.
Overall, Rebel Galaxy does a whole lot more right than wrong. The beautiful environments and exhilarating ship battles more than make up for any slow storylines or frustrating flight mechanics, and the sheer number of options and fair market truly tie it together as an excellent RPG. Unleash your inner Han (or Chewie) and let your smuggler flag fly! You can also check out several of my screenshots below!