Rebel Galaxy Archive

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Game Review: Rebel Galaxy

During the summer I had a chance to play with a preview build of Rebel Galaxy. Amid those halcyon days, I was coming off months of playing nothing but Elite Dangerous. Because of that, the slow moving, naval-inspired starship combat Rebel Galaxy stood out as an absolute delight. In its final form, Double Damage Games has only improved on their initial offering. They’ve produced a space-combat game with the sensibilities and scope of Wing Commander: Privateer and the tone of Firefly.

It’s hard to miss the gaming pedigree encoded in the very DNA of Rebel Galaxy. Travis Baldree and Erich Schaefer, the power behind Double Damage Games, previously founded Runic Games, which gave us the likes of Torchlight and Torchlight 2. Before Torchlight, Schaefer was lead designer on Diablo and Diablo 2. While Rebel Galaxy doesn’t boast the same hack/slash/loot aesthetic as Torchlight and Diablo, it does convey the same freedom to explore.

Rebel Galaxy’s story is reasonably typical of the open-world space combat genre. Players inherit a piece-of-crap ship from a mysterious relative – in this case, their Aunt Juno. The quest to find Juno leads to encounters with AIs, pirates, and the slightly less-than-upstanding forces of law and order. Without giving too much of the story away, I found it struck the exact right tone for this sort of experience. It captures the best feeling of old-school space opera, banking on a player’s willingness to suspend disbelief in the areas of extraterrestrial carbon-based life forms, FTL engines, and space battles that play out at extreme close range. Sufficed to say, the emphasis is most certainly on the fiction side of science fiction, but that’s just fine with this critic.

Though a person can engage with all the usual suspects of an open-world space game (e.g. mining, trading, cargo hauling) the real fun is found in the combat. Corvettes, frigates, destroyers, and other capital ships lay into each other with massive fusillades of energy weapons. Smaller turrets tend to blast away at the myriad of fighters and small attack craft that populate a battle. The combat is at once filled with urgency, but also slow and methodical. Killing another starship is as much about positioning and timing as it is disgorging hot tachyons at the enemy.

In terms of making money, trade and/or combat are the way to go, at least within my experience. Fetch quest cargo missions are okay, but who wants to be peaceful when they are flying a ship with fourteen broadside plasma cannons? It’s also fairly easy to build up to more impressive starships and better arsenals. Granted, a player will find it hard to go from one story mission to the next without ever stopping to do some work on the side. However, taking the time to hunt bounty or run freight is rarely so arduous as to feel like a grind.

On the subject of trading, I’ll give Double Damage kudos for having more in-game trade data available than what appears in Elite Dangerous. I’m always astonished at games that expect me to believe my computer can plot an FTL-jump but not remember how much I paid for 10 tons of self-sealing stembolts at the previous space station. Though the game could benefit from a bit more trade data, I don’t think anybody will need to have Excel running in the background to ensure they stay profitable.

The only real mark against the game was the odd bit of janky AI. This was particularly apparent on escort missions. Note my use of the past tense. However, Double Damage has proven to be incredibly responsive to feedback, releasing patches very quickly after issues are identified. Playing the game now is pretty much a seamless experience. No frame rate drops. No glitches. No crashes.

While Rebel Galaxy doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of the open-world space combat game, its strength is in its ability to skillfully borrow and fuse the things that do work from within the sub-genre. There’s a little bit of Privateer, mixed with a dash of Starfleet Command, with just a splash of Freelancer for good measure. Everything the game does, it does very well. For someone looking for a space game that will let them jump in and feel like Han Solo without twenty hours of prep work, Rebel Galaxy is a sound investment.

Note: I reviewed the PC version of this game using a mouse and keyboard.


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My Preview of Rebel Galaxy

Over the weekend I had a chance to play with a preview build of Rebel Galaxy, Double Damage Games’ upcoming space combat/sandbox homage to the glory days of space opera. Though the preview wasn’t quite what I anticipated from the press release, it still feels like a potentially splendid entry into the world of free form space adventuring and starship combat.

Reading about Rebel Galaxy’s roots in naval combat games instantly put me in the mindset of Taldren’s old Starfleet Command series of tactical space shooters. As well, the notion of flying about the galaxy and charting my own path to glory, or infamy, elicited fond memories of Wing Commander: Privateer and, to a lesser extent, Freelancer. Rebel Galaxy exists soundly at the intersection of both game styles.

Though these points of inspiration are clear in Rebel Galaxy’s preview build, it’s also quite obvious the game isn’t looking to stand on the shoulders of giants. The game’s combat model pairs the raw firepower of capital ship battles with the fast-paced intensity of an arcade-style dog fight. Initially, it was all too easy to forget to navigate my ship while taking my time to aim a broadside. However,  I quickly picked up the nuances to “sailing”, bombarding capital ships, and flaking enemy fighters as they buzzed about my frigate.

For those less inclined to battle, though I can’t imagine why anybody wouldn’t want to stand on the bridge of a space dreadnought and fire volley after volley into their enemy, Rebel Galaxy looks to offer all the usual suspects in terms of missions for a would-be space captain. I experimented with cargo runs, a few fetch quests, and some assassination missions. Along the way I also decided to play hero and respond to a distress signal. Thereupon, I learned a valuable lesson: when the ship’s computer says one is out-classed by the enemies, one should run. Failure to do so might leave a player with their shields torn away like so much tissue paper, this as a prelude to a destroyer laying a massive broadside into their unprotected hull.

In terms of its visuals Rebel Galaxy is no Elite: Dangerous. However, it’s still pretty impressive to look at – more so when a person considers the game as the product of a two-man team. The ship designs pay little attention to the necessities or requirements of space travel. Instead, the art focuses on conveying the size and aesthetic of what we imagined the battleships of the future might look like in the 1960s and 70s. Purists may find themselves put off by this choice, likewise by the non-Newtonian flight model; I, for one, enjoy the classic space opera appeal this game is offering.

I didn’t bother getting more than two missions into the preview’s campaign. Considering the game isn’t done, I’d rather wait and see what the story has to offer when I can review the whole thing. What I did discover while wading about in the shallow end of space is a good introduction to the world of Rebel Galaxy and helpful tutorial. Completing these story missions offered bonus cash, some new components for the starter ship, and a look at some of the various in-game aliens. Everything on those fronts gives me reason to believe I will be in for an engaging experience when the game drops.

The only part of Rebel Galaxy that gave me some slight pause for concern was its control system. Double Damage is developing Rebel Galaxy for both consoles and PCs. Everything about the controls seems fine for my mouse and keyboard setup. Of course, my ship isn’t particularly well kitted. My worry is if more kit leads to more complicated controls, then the fast paced nature of the game might prove to be something of a liability. I suspect, however, I’m worrying over nothing.

Overall, I think it’s fair to say that Rebel Galaxy is officially on my radar. While it might not give me the fix that Starfleet Command 2 has left me jonesing for, it certainly gives every impression of being a game that will scratch my space combat itch.

Rebel Galaxy drops later this year.