“Outlawed doesn’t mean outgunned,” is the mantra of Rebel Galaxy’s announcement trailer, and it sets the tone for this open-world and in-your-face sci-fi carnival of destruction. Featuring a host of alien races and ships, the game is a single-player experience where you’re captain of a destroyer-sized vessel trying to make your way through a crazy universe. I had a chance to talk with the developers at PAX South this weekend, and got some inside information on what they’re doing this this game.
Developers Travis Baldree and Erich Schaefer both worked on previous games like Torchlight series, and they’ve brought a lot of that same fantastic fast-paced feeling combat to their new game. Another thing they really seem to have captured well is making the game fun without making it too complex. That’s not something easy to do, and certainly not something that would normally go over well with me.
I’m one of those guys who enjoys the insanely complex simulators and strategy games, so I’m not opposed to some complexity. Frankly, I typically find game with more simplistic interfaces and control schemes boring and lacking in options. I didn’t really ever feel that this time, though.
Granted, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with the game, but the little I did get to experience seemed very intuitive and I never felt like I was missing anything. Combat was straight forward, but with enough going on around you that there’s still a sense of excitement to the fight. I watched a few other people playing the game through the weekend and noted that pretty much everyone figured out the combat quickly and seemed to have just as much fun as I did.
Simple controls don’t mean it’s a simple game, though. There’s a functional economy and pretty solid selection of ships and ship upgrades for players to customize their own experience. There are multiple solar systems to jump between, with a host of NPCs to interact with in each of them. Each NPC has its own personality and goals, and you can impact your relationship with them in several ways. For instance, building up enough of a reputation for violence will allow you to turn pirate and demand other ships turn over their cargo. Of course, that reputation also means other more combat-ready NPCs might be more willing to attack you on site.
Easy controls and straight-forward mechanics demonstrate a quality of development that I would have never expected from a simple two-man team. That well-designed aspect makes the game more accessible than many in the same genre, but I think there are two aspects that put the game well beyond a simple indie project. That’s the visual and audio experience of the game.
Visually, the game is a pure treat. They made the super intelligent decision to hold on to their Torchlight roots and go with a slightly cartoony look. The results are easy on the GPU while still giving you an incredibly beautiful universe to play in. The planets each struck me as being distinct in feel, running the gambit from nebulous gas giant to an impacted rocky planet closer to the star in the solar system I was in at the time.
The ships and stations all have a lot of character to them as well, which really serves to highlight the nature of who you’re dealing with. Most have a grungy feel to them that really places you in the outlaw frame of mind, especially when docking in your rust-bucket of a starter ship. Despite the technology, they’ve really managed to capture a feel of the old west with that, and I really loved it.
The other major win is the audio used in the game. The sound effects were cool, but the soundtrack is inspired. The game is scored with a righteous blend of blues-infected country that reminds me a lot of a certain well-known television series. When things heat up, the track switches to something more like classic rock that has you tapping your toes as you blast the other guys into space dust.
Another intelligent decision in the auditory department was giving the aliens in the game a non-human language. Combined with the groovy ambient tunes and some of the old west feel of the visuals, having alien languages really created serious ambiance by giving you that sense of absence from civlization. True, everything was subtitled, but hearing that alien tongue still imparts a certain psychological isolation and reinforces that feeling of being on the periphery of lawful space.
End to end, Rebel Galaxy demonstrates an attention to detail that hints at a fantastic game. It’s really hard to say after just a few minutes of playing whether the game lives up to the hype or not, but it certainly left me wanting to find out. If nothing else, flying around that awesomely rendered galaxy while rocking out to the great sounds they’ve managed to build into the game will have me playing it again as soon as possible.
I definitely think the combat gameplay has a ton of potential, too. It really felt a lot like some of the pirate games I’ve played over the years, and it’s a combat style that lends itself well to space combat as well. I’d have liked more time to experience more of the complexity the game hints at by trying other ships and swapping out ship components, but I guess that’ll have to wait until next time as well.
When Erich Schaefer tells me their goal is getting the game out this year, I’d really be suspicious of a team of two people being able to pull that off under normal circumstances. I luckily had a chance to play it and see how far they’ve already come, though. That play and watching others have a chance to play tells me they’ve come a lot farther than expected already, so I don’t feel like their goal is crazy as it might otherwise have seen.
If you’re a fan of sci-fi stories with a western flair, I think there’s a really good chance that you’ll enjoy this game when it’s out. Better, I think it’s a game that’ll be very approachable by younger gamers and children, assuming the writing stays fairly PG. I’m planning to buy a few copies as a more appropriate outlet for my own nieces and nephews for those times when they aim to misbehave.