Rebel Galaxy is a space action RPG from Double Damage Games who bring with them a strong gaming pedigree. Coming from two of the creative minds behind Torchlight and Diablo, this is a departure from big budget, big team developed titles, and shows the capabilities of just two people working to their own agenda (they’re keen to point out that art and music were contracted out though). In a marketplace that’s not crowded with space faring games, and with a distinct lack on PS4, can Rebel Galaxy carve its own place in the universe?
Having released on PC at the end of 2015, Rebel Galaxy has been ported over to consoles by Blitworks and offers the type of adventure and excitement that Jedi’s don’t crave. At its core it’s a space exploration game featuring trading, mining, combat and lots of warping between waypoints. The point of differentiation though comes from three particular aspects:
- Traversal is along the x- and z-axis only – this might seem like an odd choice for a space based title, not being able to pitch your craft up and down, and I honestly thought it would be the main thing I didn’t get on with. However, it makes perfect sense once you get into combat with capital ships and you embrace the fact you’re not a fighter pilot.
- The universe is randomly generated when you start a new game – we’re not talking procedurally generated content here like a certain title coming later in the year, this is all about providing a different set of star systems (yes, there are multiple ones to cruise around) each time you start a new game, driving the player towards experiencing the story by playing in different ways, but not allowing the locales to get stale.
- Music – the first thing that hits you on boot up is the twanging guitars and almost Sons of Anarchy feel of the soundtrack. It’s absolutely not what you expect, and it’s a welcome change from crisp futuristic electronic tones that lets you know immediately this is going to be a bit different.
You start out by being left a trading ship by your aunt who’s mysteriously disappeared and leaves you only one task: figure out what the strange object is that she’s left behind. Getting yourself into the right position to follow this up can be done in a variety of ways, but the goal is pretty much the same, you’re gonna need a bigger ship and guns… lots of guns. Missions outside the main story are available to tackle whenever you’re in the mood, the only barrier is the difficulty level that’s flagged up in advance. The hardness scale is only a guide as well, taking on a high risk mission isn’t necessarily impossible if you’re skilled and patient, whilst low risk diversions can challenge if you’re not paying attention. Realistically though you’re going to have to buy better equipment to make any real progression.
How you make your cash is pretty freeform. Making use of the system wide economy, buying and selling goods for a profit is one way, and spending time examining the intel for who needs what and where can really help to capitalise on emerging situations. Joining a guild opens up missions that pay slightly better than standard, and also give you access to better specialised equipment as you increase your standing with them. You could tackle the jobs available at each space station or outpost and slowly build cash and allegiance with the many factions trying to survive in deep space. Setting up your own mining operation isn’t a bad idea, trekking out to remote asteroid fields and mineral deposits hidden away in nebulae looking for the big score. Or you could just become a pirate and extort money and goods out of the passing traders, and spend time dealing in black market goods – always running the risk of the local system militia scanning your cargo and trying to take you down. If you feel like doing a bit of everything then that’s up to you.
One thing that you definitely will do is get in a scrap. If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag you’ll find the combat a little similar to that, though requiring a little more strategic thinking. Your vessel has three types of offensive weapons, and three types of defensive, all of which are customisable and upgradable. To fight there are the main broadside guns mounted on the port and starboard sides which you aim with the camera and target (mainly) capital ships with; next there are missile launchers that can be dumb fire or homing based; and lastly are turrets which, because of the multiple mountings per ship, mean you can mix and match different types of lasers and cannons to your hearts content. AI present in the ship can also be used to decide what the turrets are going to target so it takes some of the burden during the more hectic firefights. Did I mention you can manually target with nearly everything as well? There’s a lot of choice here. Keeping an eye on your defenses is crucial too, with manually triggered deflectors stopping some impacts, shields keeping your exterior safe, and then the hull itself providing the last barrier between you and the great vacuum.
Mechanically the game is smooth and well thought out so that after a little bit of time it all feels comfortable and easy to use. It manages to convey the vast distances of space with the amount that needs to be travelled. Most celestial regions are thousands of stellar miles apart (or that’s what I assume SM stands for in the game), so a decent warp engine is essential. Expect to be passing through gaseous clouds and asteroid belts regularly, and also expect to get dropped out of warp each time you get near any kind of stellar mass – the proximity sensors in Rebel Galaxy do a go job of stopping you from ploughing into planets and suns, but have a habit if inhibiting progress if you’ve not paid full attention to the surrounding rocks. You’ll also get stopped by pirates and enemy factions quite a lot, though if you don’t fancy a battle you can try and escape, which works nine times out of ten.
Rebel Galaxy manages to get a lot of character into its universe, not just through the music, and the races you encounter, but also with the design aesthetic. Things aren’t pristine and clean, it’s grimy, dirty and run down in most places. You get the impression that everything is hard fought, hard won, and built to last. Stumbling on a mining colony venting gas out of chimney stacks puts me in mind of the opening of Blade Runner, but not in LA; hauling cargo between worlds made me think of Space Truckers; and the battles between giant capital ships had me reminiscing about Babylon 5, as did the aliens I encountered. There’s even the odd smile put on your face with subtle, and not so subtle, gags at well known films expense.
It’s clear the attention to detail is high, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game from just 2 people before that feels like it’s taken a medium sized studio a couple of years to put together. It isn’t perfect, it can feel a bit of a grind in the early stages, particularly if you pursue the story and jump out of the first system before you’ve upgraded enough, then you hit a steep difficulty curve. If that happens things can stagnate for a bit and feel repetitive as you take on the same types of jobs to bring the money in, but it does open out again once you stop feeling like you’re piloting a paper ship through a field of scissors. It really is an interesting approach to the genre and because there’s very little on consoles to scratch this kind of itch it’s definitely worth picking up. Rebel Galaxy isn’t exactly the game I expected, and that has been a pleasant surprise – I never thought long haul space transport and commodities trading would be so involving.
A review copy of Rebel Galaxy for PS4 was provided by Double Damage Games.