When we first heard about Rebel Galaxy, from Torchlight creators Erich Schaefer and Travis Baldree at their new studio Double Damage, we were floored. How could we not be excited about a procedural space-faring single-player RPG adventure with a full economy, factional warfare system storyline, and endless replayability? Turns out, our hunch was right and Rebel Galaxy is one hell of a game. But it won’t be for everyone.
Don’t get me wrong. Rebel Galaxy is an insanely well-made game, especially when you consider that it was made mostly by two guys and roving staff of contract employees. But it can be a bit tedious, and somewhat unwieldy to play if you’re resigned to use just a mouse and keyboard (the start menu recommends the gamepad). Those niggles aside, Rebel Galaxy is something for every fan of games like Privateer, and a perfect entry point for fans of ARPGs wanting to give the space sim a solid try.
What was weird at first, and something I still can’t entirely wrap my head around, is that there’s no Z-Axis in Rebel Galaxy. Everything is done on a flat plane, like your ship has wheels and instead of space you’re cruising about an intergalactic highway. At first, it feels weird, but you later get used to it and even appreciate it. Except when you’re in fights would appreciate a bit more maneuverability.
Luckily, combat is similar to what gamers might remember from games like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. It’s nautical in nature, with your big spaceship essentially acting like a pirate’s frigate. You have strong big attacks with your broadside cannons, which are ideal for taking down big enemies. But most every enemy will come with a pair or more fighter class ships that simply swarm about you eating away at your shields. Cleverly, Rebel Galaxy employs turret-based canons for your to use, manually aiming at the fighterships. They actually lock on the fighters though, so you don’t have to do too much aiming. Just keep your sights trained on them and wear them down before going after the big ships.
The lock-on mechanic might make combat sound simple, and at the outset once you get the hang of controls it can be a bit dull. But as you progress in the game and gain notoriety with the universe’s many factions, the stars become a very dangerous place and fights become a mix of strategy and well-placed button presses to both keep your deflectors up and keep your enemies in the line of fire. It’s all very well done, even if it does take some getting used to.
There are loads of missions to undertake, distress signals to track down, and even an economy to play as you mine materials and bring them from one space station to the next. But the problem, as with all space games, is the slow pace between bursts of action. You’ll do a lot of “running” between locations on your radar, and were it not for the gorgeous scenery and absolutely bitching rock soundtrack, Rebel Galaxy would seem somewhat dull. That soundtrack by the way? It’s really, really good. Gives a great Firefly Sci-Fi Western vibe, which is I’m sure what Double Damage was going for. Plus, if you ever tire of the same ol’ songs, you can replace them with your own library easily in the game’s launcher.
There’s a whole lot of content to chew on here, too. Rebel Galaxy has a constant stream of missions to undertake at every passing space station. And while most will revolve around going to a location and killing or trading with someone, it’s a great way to fill the space between the game’s 20-hour or so main story. What makes Rebel Galaxy last longer though is that each time you start a game, the entire universe is procedurally generated. Missions won’t be the same, and even the story missions will have a bit of procedural flair added to them to make them different than before.
Essentially, if you find Rebel Galaxy’s core gameplay loop to be your own personal brand of crack, then you’re going to become quickly addicted and lose many hours to this one.
We now know that Travis and Erich left Runic to chase their dreams and make Rebel Galaxy a reality. Boy are we glad they did. This is the beginning of something truly wonderful and unique, even though it’s also a throwback to earlier genre games like Privateer and Freelancer. The cool thing about RG though is that you don’t have to have expert flying skills. You can be a total novice and be off and running your own trading empire in minutes. Rebel Galaxy may seem like something deep and hard to grasp, but as soon as you figure out the combat the rest of the game’s easy to learn bit difficult to master systems become just layers on a delicious cake. Recommended.
GAMEPLAY – 7 Travel can be tedious between missions, but combat and playing the markets scratch an itch noticeably missing from PC games these days.
VISUALS & SOUND – 9 Absolutely stunning visuals with a stellar soundtrack and decent VO. You won’t need a superior GPU to run Rebel Galaxy, but you won’t notice either.
LONGEVITY – 8 Its story has some decent twists and turns, but the whole universe procedurally generates each playthrough. Definitely worth the price of admission.
POLISH – 8 I didn’t really run into any bugs, but it often feels like the lack of Y-Axis was done simply because the small team didn’t want to go through the hassle to include it. Systems like trading and loot management could use some refinement.
VALUE – 8 For $20, this one’s a steal. But it really depends on the player, as to whether it’s a wise investment. It’s a solo affair, and one with some real customizability, plus its procedural universe means it’ll really have a lot of reason to play through more than once.