Space Road Truckers
“Space cowboy” has always been my go-to-job whenever anyone asked me what I was going to do with my college degree, but my time playing Rebel Galaxy has forced me to confront just how much of a joke that statement was. After playing through Double Damage’s intergalactic space odyssey, I feel the calling of a Lone Ranger style romp through the void like never before. With its emergent moments and satisfying combat, Rebel Galaxy is a space tale that belongs completely to the player.
The game’s baked-in narrative has you hunting for your aunt Juno, who is apparently much seedier than you had been led to believe in your childhood. You’ll need to forge some uneasy alliances with some of the galaxy’s shadiest beings in order to find her. Characters are good enough to keep the plot afloat, but don’t expect any aspect of the game’s story to grab you. The real narrative requires some heavy lifting on the player’s part along with the title’s variety of factions.
Early on, it felt like I was making some important decisions, like choosing whether I should hand over a mysterious artifact to a shifty alien trader or keep it for myself—but these options come up less and less as you progress through the game until you’re basically being pushed along to the end. For the most part, any action you commit in the galaxy raises or lowers your intergalactic relations. If you spend your time shooting down transport ships and stealing the cargo for yourself, you’ll then lose favor with the civilian camp. You can mend your connection with ease by either engaging in missions that have you protecting civilian ships during transit or by taking down a particularly gnarly baddy belonging to one of the various marauding factions.
While the game doesn’t say much about what separates each organization from the next, that didn’t stop me from building my own impressions of the various clans the galaxy presented. You’ll have to use your imagination when figuring out which factions to align yourself since Rebel Galaxy doesn’t take much time to build a personality around many of its characters, but it does offer the unique opportunity for players to build their own code of ethics and face the universe on their own terms. For instance, there were a few chances to resolve my issues with the Red Devil Cartel by taking a mission to deliver their cargo, but since they were the first bastards to blast me out of the sky, I was never interested in doing business with them, no matter the price.
And that’s the greatest triumph of Rebel Galaxy: Double Damage has built a world in which you can craft your own set of rules. The rewards are just as great if you choose to be a slimy ship jumper, attacking anyone who dares cross your path, or you simply ferry cargo from one station to the next, buying low and selling high. You can even spend your time mining raw materials from asteroid belts—if you’re the most boring person in the entire universe. The star system is your oyster, and you can crack it however you want.
I chose to make the majority of my dough early on through the game’s economic simulation. I would travel around the galaxy, smartly trading acquired goods. Accompanied by the game’s rock-and-roll soundtrack, I felt like a trucker, pulling all-nighters delivering the much needed supplies to folks across the galaxy while the prices were still in my favor. Understanding the complex intergalactic marketplace is necessary if you’re looking to make any money in trade.
The cost of resources at a particular station is compared automatically with the prices across the system. However, you only update those logs by either hacking into terminals randomly scattered throughout the void or physically visiting each station, because I guess a phone call is out of the question when you’re in the depths of space. This might lead to you seeing that pure water prices have seemingly dropped in the station you’re at compared to prices across the sector, but if it’s been 30 days since you’ve last visited the place you want to sling your cheaply acquired goods, then you might be surprised to find that prices have dropped system-wide, leaving you with a bunk batch of water taking up valuable cargo space on your ship. This, combined with an inability to see how long an in-game day actually lasts, led to some frustrating moments, but also added strain to the normally boring process of trade. Even so, I can see why transporting designer clothes to a station experiencing an economic boom may not make you feel like a space-truckin’ badass—even if it is one of the only ways to ensure your hull stays in one piece.
For those who might find trading a bore, blasting stuff with your lasers is one of Rebel Galaxy’s strongest points (as well as the best way to make cash later on). Whether you’re hunting down bounties, or just trolling the system looking for fights, trouble is never far off. More than once I was halted during one of my routine delivery routes by a massive crew of the slug-like Korian Outsiders with an eye for my head. High tensions caused by the value of my cargo versus the potential for even more money to be made from claiming the enemies’ bounties were the source of many unplanned battles.
Most of the battles you’ll be committing yourself to will take place in the missions, however, which can get exceedingly monotonous. Missions fall into one of about five archetypes, so you’ll be repeating the same “go to point-A and kill person-B” style missions often, sometimes even one after the other.
The monotony of the missions would be absolutely intolerable if not for how amazingly the combat handles. Your ship, as well as larger enemies, control on a 2D plane while smaller foes buzz around in the 3D world. Swapping from powerful broadside cannons to take down enemy frigates to mounted blasters for pesky attack drones is a thrilling experience, but I usually left the task of taking down smaller opponents to the much more proficient customizable AI, which can be altered to prioritize different targets from the menu. Rebel Galaxy’s naval style combat isn’t quite as slow as its closest recent comparison, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and since your spacecraft is much more agile than a ship at sea, you can easily swing your surprisingly agile ship to point your weaker shields away from enemy fire. Prioritizing enemies and planning your approach are always more important than positioning, which places the emphasis on strategizing rather than trying not to be in the wrong place on the field.
Weapon and ship selection are slow to grow, but once you get to the game’s second star system, of which there are about 15, you’ll be drooling over the exorbitantly priced ships and weapons on offer. Each upgrade feels like a massive change. Mining lasers, which do quick work on both asteroids and enemy shields, and particle beams, which tear apart enemy hulls, feel vastly different despite belonging to the same sub-group of weapons. Upgrading your ship is expensive, which makes each new add-on feel that much more earned.
The impact of your ship’s improvements is punched up by the impeccable sound design, which has all the sci-fi whirrs and vrooms you would expect from a space simulator without ever feeling hokey. Throw on top of that some of the best implementations of rumble since Star Fox 64 and the spacecrafts feel like hulking forces to be reckoned with.
Handholding has become the norm for games with systems as complex as Rebel Galaxy’s, but here you’re allowed to pick and choose what parts of the smorgasbord of features on display. What makes this game so great is its reliance on players to take charge with their actions. Double Damage has set up a vast sandbox to explore, and while it may require a few leaps on the player’s end to fully enjoy, the change is refreshing.
|Developer: Double Damage Games • Publisher: Double Damage Games • ESRB: T-Teen • Release Date: 10.20.2015|
Rebel Galaxy is a robust trek through the stars, even if it is bogged down by a heavy reliance on repetition and a weak narrative. A host of systems that are all built to generate organic emergent moments, no matter what your play style, make Rebel Galaxy one of this year’s biggest surprises.
|The Good||Procedurally generated systems working together lead to some genuinely stunning moments|
|The Bad||Repetition emphasizes a poor story|
|The Ugly||The term “Space Slaves” makes me feel uneasy|
|Rebel Galaxy is available on PC, with versions for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One coming later this year. Primary version reviewed was for PC. Review code was provided by Double Damage for the benefit of this review.|