When the world first heard about Double Damage Games founded by former Torchlight and Diablo series veterans Travis Baldree and Erich Schaefer, the safe bet was that they would be hard at work on another demon-infested universe straight out of the action RPG genre. All that can be said is "boy were we all wrong".
Enter Rebel Galaxy, about a bazillion light years away from Tristram and Torchlight as can be imagined. Set in outer space, the game has more in common with Star Wars: X-Wing (or probably even Sid Meier's Pirates!) than Diablo.
On first entering the game, players are greeted with some wicked tunes with a definite rockabilly meets hard rock feel to them. To draw another comparison, the musical feel of Rebel Galaxy is something like that found in the Borderlands series.
There's a lot of the American Old West in Rebel Galaxy from the twang of some NPCs' speech to the notion that players are out there to take advantage of all the universe has to offer rather than actually saving it. Missions run from bounty hunts to hijacking goods to gathering resources and using them to trade freely on the market. There's a lot of Han Solo in the way player characters behave.
There is no character creation or even ship design out the gate. Players will remain faceless and voiceless throughout Rebel Galaxy, though there is tons of ship customization in later stages of the game by adding weaponry, armor, shields and more.
The first series of missions, as is expected, are tutorial in nature but are decidedly not the hand-holding type of beginner quests. Helpful tutorial hint pop-ups are provided along the first missions to guide game play but they quickly peter out in favor of experiential learning. But watch out. Being a relatively open universe, the devs sprinkled in missions that can be amazingly simple, perhaps as easy as finding an NPC, speaking to him/her and returning in glory, or they can be as devastatingly hard as to have no actual chance at success. Exploration definitely takes on new meaning and it is the wise player that does so with a grain of caution.
Combat is all run via the player's ship but somehow felt slow and clunky. Ship controls are definitely not PC / mouse friendly and were much better with a controller. Attacking ships or targets is similar to ship combat from the standpoint that the major batteries are fired broadside. Ships are also equipped with turrets that are sometimes much easier and more intuitive to use since the reticle 'locks' in on the target. Turrets are especially effective against smaller, faster ships that are plentiful and are actually much more difficult fights than against larger targets.
The most difficult and frustrating part of the ship-to-ship combat, in particular against smaller craft, is the fact that player ships are constrained to a flat plane of travel. Rebel Galaxy does not feature 3D movement for player ships, but does for enemy targets. This makes battle against small ships a tooth-grinding experience at times.
Even with these frustrations, Rebel Galaxy offers players a true tactical combat experience. Positioning one's ship in the right spot for the big attack that will bring down a foe requires a lot of focus and the timing of attacks takes on new meaning in every battle nearly from the start of the game. A well-timed barrel roll is always a good thing.
The most challenging part of Rebel Galaxy is, however, to find a reason to care. Sure there are things to collect, a ship to upgrade, places to explore, but one is left with the overall feeling that the vastness of space is a lonely place. There are outposts and ships flying around but the game just feels empty somehow. Maybe it's just too much of the same thing going on repeatedly, or maybe just the gigantic spaces to be covered without enough going on in between. Of course, it is space but for a game that people play to be entertained, there needs to be more somehow.
One of the most brilliant parts of Rebel Galaxy, and one that is sure to appeal to a totally different sort of player than the action-combat type, is in the collection of resources or just generally cruising around collecting things that can then be traded or bartered to those in need. Essentially, players can fly around doing just that without engaging in much, if any, combat at all. Find a station in need of some type of material on hand and CHA-CHING! Off to the bank to squirrel the earned funds away or back to the hangar to grab some needed ship upgrades.
In effect, players have two distinct choices, or a hybrid of the two, in which to play Rebel Galaxy.
All in all, Rebel Galaxy is off to a good start. This was a limited preview period via Steam, and the game seems to be hitting a good note with players and both Baldree and Schaefer are 'hands on' developers through their open communication with the player base.