Published on February 16th, 2016 | by Chris Scott0
Rebel Galaxy Review
Summary: Hyperdrive is not fully engaged.
Ever since I saw Star Wars as a kid, I’ve always been captivated by space travel, both real and imagined. Real space travel is hard. It’s a lot of science and math. There are games that simulate this reality very well, and while some of them (like Kerbal Space Program) are incredibly fun, they aren’t for the action oriented. Thus, a lot of my time as a gamer was spent piloting pretend vessels in far away galaxies. Games like X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and Wing Commander were staples of my early PC gaming days. One game that I particularly loved was Wing Commander: Privateer.
Privateer abandoned the military focus of its predecessors and gave me free reign to be the swashbuckling space smuggler I’ve wanted to be since I first met Han Solo. I created my own little private space empire, blasting, looting, and scheming my way through the galaxy. A decade later Microsoft released a spiritual successor, Freelancer, that improved and expanded upon what was started in Privateer. It, too, was a fantastic piece of software that I played for countless hours. But then space sims went into hiding, and it’s only been recently that they’ve started to crawl back to the surface of public perception. Games like Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen are big and beautiful titles that respectively, deliver and promise, the best of what space sims have to offer. They are big budget games though and have the money to be visually flashy and extraordinarily deep in their mechanics. Rebel Galaxy is something else.
Developed and published by the two person studio, Double Damage Games, Rebel Galaxy offers a scaled back version of the traditional space-trading sim. This scaled back version can’t compete with what Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen are doing but that is fine because what it does offer is a different, easier to get into experience than those other games. Whereas hours into Elite: Dangerous, I’m still trying to get a handle on the controls and functions, Rebel Galaxy was a near instant acclimation. Much of this is because ship flying in Rebel Galaxy is super simplified.
Unlike in many space flight games, Rebel Galaxy does not give you full freedom to maneuver anywhere in space. Your ship is locked to a specific plane, kind of like if you were piloting a seafaring ship. In fact, Rebel Galaxy’s ship controls, both traversal and combat oriented, seem to be modeled off the ship controls from Assassin’s Creed. You’ll traverse on this locked plane and do battle by maneuvering your ship into position to fire your different weapon systems. It’s very simplistic but it also works. Mostly.
The system occasionally breaks down when in combat and enemy combatants are able to leave your plane and fly over or under you, allowing them to escape or reposition themselves for a better attack vector. They aren’t invulnerable to your attacks while doing this, provided you have the right weaponry to track and autofire on them when they are above or below you, but it allows the AI an advantage you should theoretically be able to counter, never mind that you should be able to utilize that strategy against them.
The reason you are flying around on your static plane of space at all is because you’ve been gifted your Aunt Juno’s small freighter, Rasputin. She’s mysteriously gone missing, left you the ship, and a strange artifact. All of which leads you to set out to find her and shed some light on the situation. Early on, this quest mostly involves you flying around and talking to a variety of colorful characters. As you progress you’ll end up facing off against pirates and other shady space mercs as they attempt to prevent you from uncovering the truth. The narrative isn’t bad, but it’s overly clichéd and not entirely engaging. That lack of total engagement is Rebel Galaxy’s biggest problem, because in addition to the story missions there are other missions you can pick up and do. Early on, these missions are fun as they are more diverse than the story missions you have access to, and they come with the added benefit of earning you some cash to upgrade the systems on your ship.
The upgrade process is, like the rest of the game, pretty simplistic. Each ship, and there are a handful of different classes to eventually purchase, has a variety of slots in different systems to apply upgrades to. The upgrades themselves come in a variety of shapes and sizes, allowing you to tailor your ship to your playstyle. I personally like my ships to be agile and fire quickly in battle, so I’d consistently upgrade my engines to the fastest possible and my weapons systems to fire as fast as possible, sometimes to the detriment of my overall damage outputs. I found all of this to be quite fantastic in the first few hours of my game, but then like a snap of my fingers, the reality of Rebel Galaxy sinks in. The game is a grind and a super repetitive one at that.
Eventually, I found the side missions to all fall into a series of similar structures: defend the convoy, attack the convoy, pickup a deadrop and defend against the inevitable attack, mine some materials in an asteroid field. The only thing that changed was what faction you were doing it for and what impact it would have on other factions. They quickly stopped being fun. So I went back to the main quest and very quickly I hit a roadblock where my ship was just too underpowered to continue on. So I had to break from the main quest again, go do a series of the samey side missions until I could upgrade my ship to be able to continue on. And this became the pattern the game continued on until I felt I’d seen my fill for the time being: upgrade ship, complete story missions, hit roadblock, do sidequests for money, upgrade ship again. The problem for me was that each time I upgraded, I had to sink more and more time into doing the sidequests, which I just wasn’t having a lot of fun doing.
I don’t know where the story goes. It may very well go somewhere quite fantastic. But when I stopped, I felt I was just being toyed with so the game could set me up on another round of its repetitive cycle. And it wasn’t very compelling, even if some of the later story missions I completed were quite cool. While I expect a game like this, with trading and such, to have an element of repetition, I don’t remember Privateer or Freelancer being quite so repetitive, but that could also be hidden by years and years of nostalgia.
I don’t want to say I’m done with Rebel Galaxy, because there is something relaxing about traversing its barren systems to deliver some contraband whiskey to an out of the way space station for a sweet profit. There is also something fun about the base combat even with its limitations. Provided, of course, that you take the game in small doses. I’ll probably continue to do small quests and amass a small fortune to upgrade my ship, and eventually buy larger class ones, but I won’t be doing it often. A delivery mission here, a convoy defense there. Eventually I’ll be able to upgrade my ship and continue on until I again hit a wall, but it’s going to be a slow burn that is at best a tertiary option for what I want to play.
This review was written with material provided by the publisher on the Xbox One console. For more on our review process, please read here.