Rebel Galaxy: Review

rebel galaxy review

Rebel Galaxy tries to evoke the feeling of being a cowboy on the edge of space and a lot of reviewers have compared it to Firefly, which it isn’t. While it draws from the well of the short-lived TV show – the music in particular – it actually is a boiled down version of games like Elite. You fly around in your spaceship trading, mining, and shooting at other ships. You fly around in your spaceship along a 2-D plane shooting at ships with your broadside guns. This makes it feel more like a space version of a naval game rather than the zipping around by the seat of your pants one would expect from a Firefly inspired game. In Rebel Galaxy, I did name my ship “Serenity” but  after upgrading it to a full on destroyer class ship, any similarities fell away.

That’s not to say the game isn’t good, it’s great fun. The distillation of Elite and Freelancer really lets you focus on the core, arcade-like aspects of the game. I don’t have to worry about 3-D space, or fuel, or anything that distracts me from blowing up pirates, mining, and trading. The trade-off is that there’s not too much variety in things to do. Every mission, except some story missions, is go someplace or go someplace and blow stuff up. It is exciting at first but after a while, the grind may get to you. The special ships and circumstances – blockades, pirate lords, treaty convoys – add life to the universe but are somehow not enough. The story mission is entertaining but the characters come and go and you end up spending most of the time alone. The late game ships are huge, and I wondered what I would be doing on those ships all to myself. You don’t have a crew yet by the end of the game you fly ships the size of a small planet.

While other space games have you flying through empty space for a fair majority of the game, Rebel Galaxy’s universes are pretty cluttered. There are asteroid belts, pirate vs. militia fights, bandits hiding among space wreckage, and signals of traders looking for assistance. Rarely will you fly uninhibited for an extended period of time but it was these moments that I really appreciated. Rebel Galaxy allows you to add custom music to the game and I had added some melancholy rock to play when I was flying peacefully in space. Emily Jane White’s Keeley was especially enchanting as you roam space between battles. That song now will forever make me think of Rebel Galaxy despite not being part of the game. And then you run into some alien scum and the dirty rock music kicks in signaling that you are ready to destroy!

rebel galaxy sun

And yes, all aliens are scum. Rebel Galaxy doesn’t do much to give it’s alien races some kind of flavour. All pirate factions except one are alien (and you can only join the human one) and there is only one type of alien ship which is not automatically hostile. Alien races, except the characters you meet during the story missions, are no more than adversaries that come from who knows where. All the space stations look like they are human controlled. All the militia and traders are human as well so where do the aliens come from? It doesn’t matter because you will be killing lots of them. The people inhabiting the galaxy are quick to violence which is surprising because space ships aren’t cheap! I wondered how many planets of resources I had shot down over the course of my playthrough. These ships must have cost a tremendous amount of time and resources to make, some are even bigger than the space stations, and I shot them down in a few seconds.

Combat is easily the biggest part of the game and it delivers. There are numerous types of loadouts and strategies to experiment with. Personally, mine was to get as close as possible and shower the enemy in space mines while letting loose with my gargantuan laser. There are also weapons that let you fire from a far distance, missiles that can be used from range, and if you get bored with the broadsides combat you can take over one of your turrets. There is a nice feel of complexity among the simple elements of combat that keep it relatively fresh as you uncover more weapons but after you have accumulated a lot of gold none of this really matters. Which isn’t a fault of Rebel Galaxy per se, any game with similar player advancement design suffers from the same fate.

Just like similar games, sometimes it feels like work. Go here, shoot that guy, come back, get paid. After a while, the illusion behind the missions gets lost. Nothing really changes, the missions mostly stay the same. There are special events such as trade booms and military sieges that you can engage with if you wish. You can smuggle space slaves (not sure what the difference between a space slave and a normal slave is?) or mine for the face of Gozu. But in the end, these events and missions that make the world seem alive still amount to nothing. Again, it is not really Rebel Galaxy’s fault as it is the foundation it is built upon. It is a foundation we have seen over and over again and faulting Rebel Galaxy for it is not saying that the game is bad, but that this type, or style, of game is bad. And while this type of game might not be for you, it is most certainly for me. What Rebel Galaxy does well, and it’s strongest influence from Firefly besides the music, is that attitude of “I do the job, I get it done, I get paid.” And it does it so well. This space game isn’t breaking new ground, and it doesn’t want to, but it’s perfecting a type of game that we have seen come and go over the last 20 years.

It is easy to criticize Rebel Galaxy for what it could have done, but a game should be criticized for what it is trying to do. It’s a fun game with some variety but most of the solar systems look and feel the same. Collecting cash to upgrade your equipment and ship is the main driving force and when taken to completion you will be almost unstoppable which gives the game an unofficial end point. But Rebel Galaxy is meant to be a fun, light space sim and it accomplishes that. It is certainly worth the price and certainly does include some surprises and interesting situations. It sits in that perfect middle ground of being interesting enough to catch your attention but easy enough to dip in and out whenever you feel like being a space cowboy.

 

 

 

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