Review: Rebel Galaxy

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I often look back on my early PC gaming years and think about a little known (these days at least) sci-fi role-playing adventure game that could be described in some ways as a precursor to one of the largest modern space franchises, Mass Effect. My favorite game as a kid was called Sentinel Worlds I: Future Magic. It had everything: a team of commandos, hackers, engineers, and pilots flying around a solar system targeting raiders, traveling to remote locations on planets to find materials, and conversations that could shift the narrative. The game captured my imagination in ways that many games these days don’t. 

Back in January while attending PAX South, I ran across a game that filled my mind with so many potential “oh, what if this is the next Sentinel Worlds” questions that I was truly happy to meet the small indie development team, Double Damage Games, in person. That game was Rebel Galaxy. Now, after spending 40 hours with Rebel Galaxy, I can say that the game brings to mind many nostalgic memories but still provides a fresh gameplay experience. The game doesn’t scratch every itch, but the ones it does scratch are fantastic and satisfying. 

The space adventure begins on a mission to find the player’s Aunt Juno in a remote star system while being entrusted to keep an alien artifact. Core mechanics are doled out throughout the first star system as different factions–Merchant, Military, Citizen, Mercenary, etc–are introduced. But the game doesn’t really take off until players help free Juno from capture and she says she will explain more once players meet her in a different star system.

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At first blush the game is deceptively simple. The main focus of the game is space combat by means of controlling ships in a very simple yet enjoyable resemblance of the naval combat found in Assassin’s Creed III and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Side cannons can be aimed, and turrets lining the length of the ship (which vary depending on how players choose to load them out) can also be manually manned or left to be controlled by AI routines. Various missiles and space mines also add to the arsenal of the ship, as well as a specific laser for mining asteroids.

Progression in the story is entirely up to the player’s discretion as there are tons and tons of missions from the various factions that are picked up from space stations found throughout every star system. Typical missions include traveling to a specific region in a star system and defending a merchant trader who is being attacked by pirates or rival merchant factions. Other missions include straight up destruction of facilities, which naturally are well defended by other spaceships. Some missions are much less dangerous (on the surface) and simply require hauling goods from one location to another. One final mission type worth mentioning are escort missions where another ship is paired up for warp travel and (inevitably) that ship needs to be defended against bad guys.

All of these mission types pay out credits which can be used to upgrade weapons, defenses, and subsystems, or to purchase larger ships. Moving from one star system to another means missions become more challenging as enemy ships add upgrades of their own, and so there is a trade-off of spending time doing side missions in order to progress in power (bigger and better spaceships) while also moving the story along.

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After encountering Juno in the second star system, the alien artifact activates and reveals herself to be Trell, an intelligent and resourceful being who offers assistance in return for finding additional fragments to help make her whole. This adds another layer of quests which fold in nicely to the almost grindy repetition of merchant, military, or citizen missions available at each space station. Trell’s fragments offer extra benefits to the ship and ultimately form the focus of the latter half of the story.

In addition to controlling your own ship, mercenaries can be hired to aid in combat. Of course, as progression is made deeper into star systems, the better the level of mercenary there is to hire. Every once in a while the combat missions end up getting a bit too hairy and I’m sad to report that I’ve lost my fair share of mercenaries while battling it out with baddies. What is really interesting, though, is that any faction in the game can end up being the bad guy. Missions can be taken from enemies such that your reputation goes from bad to good with the criminal element while of course decreasing your reputation with proper authorities.

Rebel Galaxy has a lot of fun moments in the game, but it isn’t overly deep when it comes to interactions with the different groups. Dialog choices presented don’t typically offer many branching sub-paths, but they can offer ways to force combat to stop or have space traders hand over their cargo. Rebel Galaxy, on the other hand, does provide a fairly deep and fluid economic market. Goods picked up from one region of a star system can be then transported to another (or even to a different star system) and sold for a huge gain in profit. Market fluctuations also occur if raiders attack different regions of a star system providing a particular good. I didn’t spend as much time with that aspect of the game, but it is well implemented and offers some compelling options for players interested in gaming economic market systems.

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Rebel Galaxy is a visually stunning game. Flying at warp speed through star systems rich with junk and ice and asteroid belts is truly a sight to behold. Flying too close to a planet and having the gravitational friction heat and blur the screen is another wondrous touch. Volleys of missiles and streams of lasers aiming with deadly accuracy at your spacecraft is a feast for the eyes. Hell even the size and scope of ships is truly mesmerizing. The initial ship players begin with pales in comparison to the massive size of a Dreadnaught class ship. Underneath the gorgeous hood, every ship has different turret loadouts and carrying capacities, and the speed and handling for each craft feels markedly different (and that’s a good thing).

One final item that can’t be overlooked is the music. Rebel Galaxy has a fantastic rockabilly sentiment that is highly reminiscent of the TV show Firefly. It’s a sort of twangy trucker rock ‘n roll that adds a wonderful layer to the game’s atmosphere. However, for players who grow tired of the same tracks playing over again and again, the developers offer an option to load custom music when the game launches, which is a nice touch.

Currently Rebel Galaxy is available only on PC/Mac, but Double Damage has plans to launch the game on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One at some point in the future, so console gamers have great things to look forward to. Players who enjoy a good story will not be disappointed. Players who love tactical combat will not be disappointed. Players who love visually stunning space battles and exploration will not be disappointed. In other words, Rebel Galaxy is a gem of game that should not be missed.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Visually stunning space environment
+ Fun and engaging combat
+ Compelling story
+ Wonderfully atmospheric music
+ Tons of ships and missions

Cons:
– Upgrade system can feel a little bit like a grind

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac (coming soon to PS4 and Xbox One)
Publisher: Double Damage Games
Developer: Double Damage Games
Release Date: 10/20/2015
Genre: Space Adventure Simulation
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Steam, GOG.com

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.