Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Butt Stallion. Its continuing mission to explore strange new worlds filled with potentially lucrative minerals, to seek out new life that can be conned out of some cash and new civilizations filled with new ways to earn a living, to boldly go where no one has gone before and blow everything up. Welcome to Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, it’s a bloody space jungle out there.
While I was quoting some Star Trek in the opening paragraph it’s fair to say that Rebel Galaxy Outlaw probably has more in common with one of my favorite shows of all time: Firefly. Space is treated more like the wild west and the gentle twang of a guitar sparks memories of Firefly‘s unique blend of sci fi and western. In the big black void it’s easy to forget about the story and just focus on eking out a living, taking whatever jobs come along so that you can keep on flying. This might be the closest thing to a Firefly game I’m ever going to get. The only thing that’s missing is a crazy chick who can kill you with her brain.
What Rebel Galaxy Outlaw definitely isn’t is Elite Dangerous. The comparisons are easy to understand, though; a game where you get a spaceship and can make a living trading commodities, hunting bounties, taking on missions or raiding freighters like a space pirate. But Elite Dangerous is a daunting simulator that aims to create a vast, complex network of systems that replicate what it might be like to fly a spaceship – which is to say, bloody terrifying and massively confusing. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a much more laid back experience and vastly more accessible as a result, though that isn’t to say it’s lacking in depth. The biggest hint that it isn’t a game looking to destroy your brain is that the developers recommend playing with a gamepad.
So let’s put what Rebel Galaxy Outlaw into perspective: you’ll be hurtling around space while often blowing stuff up. Space stations and planets offer respite, a chance to upgrade your ship, take on new missions and perhaps visit a bar. You can’t jump out of your ship and amble around – it’s all handled through menus. You’ll guard freighters, mine asteroids, fight off roving pirates, become one of the roving pirates and occasionally remember to check in with the story.
You play as Juno Markev whom you might possibly remember as being the aunt of the lead character in Rebel Galaxy. She’s a pretty generic tough woman in a tough galaxy and her motivations are simple; some bruiser killed her husband and now she’d like revenge. It’s a setup that justifies some moral flexibility when it comes to achieving those goals, so get ready to Han Solo your way across the galaxy. It’s just a shame that Juno never gets built any farther than being a generic tough woman who says cliche lines.
Story is kept minimal in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, probably because the developers thought you’d immediately fly off and try to mug the nearest passing ship and ignore it anyway. This is, of course, completely true because I did indeed fly off at the first possible opportunity and see what mischief could be found in space. As it turns outs the flying rust bucket that you start out with is not adept at tackling large cruisers or the local police force. Who knew?
But whenever you do happen to pop back in and check up on the story there’s some enjoyment to be found. While the characters aren’t going to be developed any farther than surface level it’s a diverse and entertaining cast of misfits. Plus, the story fits in some cool scenarios such as a prison break or disabling police ships using an EMP javellin. In other words this isn’t an epic space saga, it’s more like a choose your own adventure but with a lot of lasers and stuff.
Outside of the main storyline you’re free to cruise the big black void with no other objective than making some money and getting the best stuff. Most of the stations and planets scattered around space offer up missions boards filled with simple tasks like cargo runs, pirate assaults, patrols and more. But there are also the Merchant and Mercenaries guilds if you fancy hunting bigger bounties or sourcing expensive goods.
If you don’t fancy taking on preset missions you can make your way in the universe via other means. By equipping your ship with extra cargo room, for example, you can start buying and selling commodities. The game helpfully reminds you the prices you bought past goods for, what stations produce what and more which takes the guessing out of things. While some people might enjoy flying across a galaxy only to discover their soy paste is worthless I don’t, so I thoroughly enjoyed doing some legal and illegal trading on the side. Or you could mine asteroids for valuable minerals, ambush passing freighters or just cruise around looking for trouble.
My chosen way of life was to stop by the bars and pay out a few credits in order to get the lowdown on the local bounties. A bit of kerfuffle later and I’d fly away with some decent cash in my pocket, although the repair bills can be a bit hefty. That’s just an occupational hazard. Bounties would often drop commodities, too, some of which are a bit…well, illegal. Opting to go on the wrong side of the law works largely as you’d expect; cops should be avoided in case they decide to scan you for illegal items, although you can grab a secret stash upgrade for your ship. If you do get caught or decide to just go full space pirate then there are stations you can dock at that deal entirely in illegal goods.
You’re going to need to head out and do a lot of this side-stuff because Rebel Galaxy Outlaw has a hefty grind at its core, stemming from its sharp difficulty spikes. Missions give you a risk rating, from low to extreme, and that should be enough to let you know if it’s worth gearing up a bit more. The problem is none of these difficulty ratings actually seem to mean anything, and thus I’ve flown straight into “extreme” missions without a problem, and gone charging straight into “low” risk missions where I was obliterated in mere seconds.
Even without the difficulty spikes, though, there are periods in the story where you need to head out into space and earn some extra credits for ship upgrades. Your vessel can be outfitted with different weapons, better armour, more cargo space and more. At the heart of the ship is the power supply which dictates how long you can hold down the trigger for or what shields you can power. Balancing this is key to pimping your ship: do you want to take some hefty guns that suck up power, or do you want some lighter guns that will leave plenty of juice for your shields?
The original Rebel Galaxy offered up a nice, varied selection of ships to spend your hard-earned credits on, so it’s hard not to feel disappointed by Rebel Galaxy Outlaws meagre five ship selection, although there are another four to be found via side-missions. At least each one has its own fully rendered cockpit, a claustrophobic enclosure that you can barely see out of. The third-person view lets you admire the action and get a better view of incoming death, but the first-person view feels more immersive. With that said, some people may find it too constricting.
So while the ship selection might be a little lacking, there is some good news to be found; Rebel Galaxy Outlaw contains an extensive, impressive painting tool that lets you coat your ships in whatever atrocities you can come up with. It’s one hell of a paint program and I estimate that the time from firing up to full-on dick motif to be quite minimal. It’s probably for the best that there’s now multiplayer otherwise your encounters with other players would probably revolve around seeing swastikas, cocks and boobs flying around.
Now it’s time to get to the actual flying part. There’s full support for keyboard and mouse as well as joysticks/HOTAS setups. Surprisingly, though, the PR guy that sent me over the review code recommended that I play with a controller. So I grabbed the Xbox One controller and fired the game up.
The basic handling is easy to grasp and a lot of fun. And you can properly take advantage of space’s lack of gravity by cutting the engines, spinning around and firing off your guns whilst flying backwards.
Combat in space can be a bit confusing and can also boil down to spinning madly to chase the enemy indicators. So as a response the developers have chucked in a system where you can hold left trigger to have your ship automatically follow the enemy, including matching speed. This doesn’t automatically aim the weapons but it gets you pretty close to being on target. Of course, you can ignore this entirely and do it the old-fashioned way. I personally found myself using the system more than I thought I would, just because sometimes spinning in circles started to get annoying.
Dogfights are pretty simple affairs: you pull the trigger until the thing blows up, perhaps tossing in a missile or fifty. But there are a few little complications here or there, like how you can shift power to weapons, shields or engines. And in space spatial awareness is rather important. Your shields are divided into four quadrants, so by keeping an eye on those you can gauge where incoming fire is or ensure that you’re keeping the shielding areas of your ship are facing the biggest threat.
While they might be simple I did find myself getting engaged in the fights. The game neatly manages to avoid the potential issue of having space combat take place across vast distances and thus you can enjoy getting up close and personal. And going up against big ships feels great, especially when you use their hulking size to hide from their guns.
If you fancy something more challenging you can also tweak a few options to remove all assists and give you less starting resources. It makes the game much tougher in combat, and you really have to work hard to get a good ship and gear. The rust bucket that you start with feels like even more of a death trap.
The biggest flaw Rebel Galaxy Outlaw faces is repetition. While games are repetitious by their nature the best manage to misdirect the players, disguise it and otherwise manage to keep us from noticing. Outlaw struggles to keep its repetition stuffed in the closet.
Travelling across the galaxy doesn’t help, either. The large map is a series of sectors, each connected via jump gates. You can travel to gates or any other waypoint using autopilot, but the game always drops you out of FTL when you approach a gate. This means a long journey involves repeatedly going into auto-pilot, coming out, holding A to travel through the gate, going back into auto-pilot and repeating. Occasionally you’ll be spat out to deal with enemies or distress beacons. Considering how much travelling needs to be done going in and out of auto-pilot becomes a chore. A system where your ship could auto-jump gates as well would be fantastic to help cut down travelling, especially since the space is almost entirely free of things to seek out, discover and explore.
The final thing we have to chat about before wrapping up this dump-truck of a review is the soundtrack. The developers claim that there is some 24-hours worth of licensed music in the game and I can certainly believe it. There’s over a 100 tracks on offer from the likes of Blues Saraceno. It’s a fantastic mixture or rock, blues and twangy goodness, and there’s even an option to enable streaming friendly music to help ensure people don’t get hit with copyright claims. It’s a hell of a soundtrack and I would often just cruise through space listening to some tunes while mining valuable minerals.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw sits in a nice spot, aiming for the people who love the idea of a space trading/combat experience but find the idea of something like Elite a daunting prospect. But the game certainly struggles in some areas, like the limited ship selection and weird difficulty that constantly left me wondering if I was meant to go buy more upgrades or if the system was just a mess. At its core, though, it really is a good game, especially if you always liked the idea of trading and fighting in space but can’t commit to some of the bigger, scarier games out there.
3.5 out of 5