One of the most popular types of games are those that are set in space. The science fiction genre continues to be one of the biggest in the industry and there are hundreds of new releases every year that focus on space and aliens. Yet, there are relatively few titles that give players something that they truly want, the ability to explore the depths of the universe in their own spaceship, despite the huge success of games like EVE Online and Elite: Dangerous.
Even when such games do come to market, they are usually involve lots of fiddling around in menus, excessive amounts of mining and trading rather than any real exploration. This can make such games feel more like spreadsheet management simulators than the romantic experiences we really want. So does Rebel Galaxy manage to avoid these traps?
Created by Double Damage, it throws players straight into the action straight from the get go without establishing any sort of backstory. You are simply left to travel to an objective after finding out that your aunt Juno is missing. This marks the beginning of your quest and it doesn’t exactly se the world on fire in terms of narrative – a theme that continues throughout the experience as there is very little to drive you on in terms of story. The various characters you will encounter also offer little in the way of personality or development, but this isn’t a huge drawback as the game isn’t trying to be narrative focused, instead providing the player with a platform to explore the galaxy and make their fortune.
Players can do this in a number of different ways. Money can be made through mining, trading, general exploration, collecting bounties and carrying out missions. The mining is about as fun as it is in most games of this type, making it about as enjoyable as any sort of grind in a MMO. Trading though is made to feel slightly less like you are an accountant thanks to its simple navigation screens. It’s easy to see what resources that should be bought and sold with the help of a color coded system, removing much of the hassle.
The brunt of the gameplay comes in the form of missions, both story and optional, that can be obtained from job boards at space ports. Some task you with escorting a trader through a dangerous section of the map, some ask you to transport goods to a faraway location while others require you to break through a blockade. Whatever the case, enemies are likely to be encountered along the way, necessitating the use of combat to get out of trouble.
This is where Rebel Galaxy is at its best but where it can become overwhelming. Until the basics of combat are learned and you have had the ability to practice, fighting enemy ships can be a total disaster, seeming entirely frustrating. Combat is largely modelled on traditional naval warfare titles, much like in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, with players having to use broadside assaults to take out enemy shields and destroy them. It is given more sophistication thanks to a large number of different weapon options and turrets, along with a manually controlled deflector that absorb some damage, giving some complex strategic options.
The fact that the player controlled ship is limited to travelling only on two axis gets rid of some of the usual complexity and allows for this broadside centered attack system, yet it doesn’t diminish the challenge. To successfully get through encounters, its necessary to focus attention on particular enemies, maneuver into advantageous positions and know when to retreat.
Getting around the galaxy is also relatively easy thanks to the intuitive map design and an easy to navigate system whereby you can travel to additional sectors using special jump gates. Unfortunately, the gameplay, despite all of its positives, still relies heavily on a variety of menus and option screens. These can certainly take some getting used to, though after a few hours you begin to feel that you know exactly what you are doing and can quickly swap to the relevant menu quickly and efficiently.
Considering the small install size and relatively cheap price, Rebel Galaxy also manages to include some rather nice looking visuals. Stars and planets look as impressive as you would expect them to in real life, while the various ships and space ports have a wide range of designs or styles that are clearly inspired by gritty science fiction franchises such as Battlestar Galactica and Firefly.
Where the game really stands out is in the sound department. Weapons all have a satisfying audio accompaniment that gives them a sense of power, while the other sound effects, such as the warp engines, are equally as well done. The best bit though is the soundtrack, a mixture of hard rock, blues and western themed tunes. These songs provide the perfect backing to the action on screen and fit in with the overall theme in such a way that you can’t help but have a smile on your face as you are warping to your next location or blowing up a mercenary.
Rebel Galaxy definitely does plenty of stuff right, chief amongst them is removing much of the complexity that plagues other games in the genre. Yet it also falls into some of the same pitfalls along the way. It has surprising depth for its price and could easily provide 50 hours of gameplay in a single run through the campaign, though things might start to get a little bit repetitive in that time. If you own an Xbox One though and want to explore the galaxy, you could do a lot worse than this title.
A review copy of Rebel Galaxy was provided to the author in the form of a digital code by developer Double Damage Games.