It may have the name of a Disney-fueled Star Wars spin-off, but from the initial loading screen, Rebel Galaxy sets its own unique tone.
You see, not everyone wants to be a fighter pilot with the gift of The Force (at least not all the time). Some of us want to play the youthful Han Solo; resourceful smuggler, ruthless mercenary and proverbial space cowboy.
In Rebel Galaxy, it’s not a matter of the polarising blue/red decisions, it’s whether you can effectively deal with each encounter, friend or foe. Do you try to talk or bribe your way out for having contraband in your cargo hold? Or do you open fire, destroying the arresting ship and salvage its contents?
On The Road
In a set of remote star systems at the edge of the galaxy, you find yourself following a bread crumb trail from your distant aunt Juno, a swashbuckling trader who needed to jet off in a hurry but left you the keys to the Rasputin, her ageing but capable ship she used back in her younger days of the merchant trade. An old friend of your aunt’s points you in the right direction of where to find her, but adds a caveat – better start making some money and upgrading that old rust bucket if you want to survive in this sector.
In Rebel Galaxy, it’s not a matter of the polarising blue/red decisions, it’s whether you can effectively deal with each encounter, friend or foe.
The first few missions are the typical fetch quest variety, but it’s not long before you’re engaging pirates, defending convoys or if you choose, becoming a space bandit yourself. The expansive systems you explore are two dimensional but there’s no shortage of treasures to stumble upon, distress beacons to respond to, or nebulae to explore as you rip past at warp speed.
It’s a familiar setting to fans of old school free form exploration games like Freelancer and even the dog fighting gameplay of Eve:Valkyrie or Elite: Dangerous. But developer Double Damage Games (made up of Travis Baldree and Erich Schaefer who founded Torchlight’s Runic Games) knew better than to step into the saturated field space combat games without giving Rebel Galaxy a unique twist. There’s no fighters you can control (though you do battle with them), the combat is all based on hulking capital ships. These flying fortresses fire devastating broadside cannons and have upgradeable turrets for all sorts of stellar weapons from missiles, flack cannons, lasers to mines. For your defence you have shields, a deflector to absorb the incoming barrages and booster jets to help get you out of trouble.
Fire The Cannons
The combat mechanics work quite well despite your ship and other capital ships being restricted to movement in the same 2D plane. The combat missions are not shy of challenging a cocky space rookie either – I was obliterated in a bunch of “average” difficulty quests by thinking I could just fly in and shoot stuff up. I soon figured out how I could approach an enemy armada from their flank and use debris fields as cover, turning my ship to absorb impacts from a different side as I hammered away at the enemy’s weakened shields. Some battles went on for 10-15 minutes, a fist pump-worthy victory for a patient and strategic captain.
The story line is a bit anemic and sometimes it was difficult to even focus on the quest that would help me get closer to finding aunt Juno, but the beauty of Rebel Galaxy is that it encourages nomadic free-form exploration. Heading out on missions in search of Korians with turrets blazing wasn’t always the quickest way to get my ship upgraded, either. Monitoring the trading routes, one can intercept shipments in order to raise demand and sell at an inflated rates. Feel like dabbling in smuggling contraband like slaves and live organs? Watch the Militia don’t scan your vessel and try to confiscate it, or open fire when you try to escape. This was the Han Solo experience I never knew I was looking for. The wooden look-alike characters I came across never seemed that compelling, but the dialogue would often give me the option to assist, rob or destroy them to keep it all interesting
But what really kept me coming back to Rebel Galaxy was the soundtrack. There’s no techno-metal-dub step mashups here, just dirty blues rock with artists like Blues Saraceno, Nick Nolan and The Blue News. In fact, I’m listening to the Spotify playlist of the soundtrack as I write this review. Having one of these riffy tunes fading in as I hit the warp button or fire my first volley of Tachyon blasts from my broadsides never got old.
It’s no Star Citizen or No Man’s Sky, but Rebel Galaxy scratches the spacefarer’s itch with exciting battles in randomly generated star systems. And the best soundtrack to interstellar travel, ever. For a $20 game, Rebel Galaxy deserves to rival this season’s biggest blockbusters.