I’ve been eager to get my hands on Rebel Galaxy since I first got wind of the project. The team at Double Damage is crafting a simple-to-play space simulation, but one with beautiful science-fiction visuals and an expansive, open galaxy to explore. I spent an afternoon flying through Rebel Galaxy, trying out ship customization, story missions, and most of all, explosive space combat. I can’t wait to play more.
In many ways, Rebel Galaxy skews towards simplicity over complexity, especially in comparison with many other outer space ship games. While space is vast, your ship moves along a flat plane, as if the expanse of space is an ocean rather than a sky. Rather than fly a tiny one-manned fighter, you’re maneuvering large freighters and capital ships through the asteroids and debris of space.
As a result, anyone who has played Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag or Rogue is likely to feel a sense of familiarity. The developers told me some weeks ago that Ubisoft’s flagship franchise and its naval experience was indeed an inspiration, but Double Damage has added a lot of other features to give Rebel Galaxy the depth it needs to stand on its own.
The first way the game provides that depth is through a choice-driven story. Your character heads off into space in pursuit of a missing family relation. Along the way, you happen upon a strange and ancient artificial intelligence artifact that is more than you bargained for. As I traveled between missions, the story went out of its way to give me choices about how to proceed. Do I bully my way past that alien item broker on the space station? Do I acquire a needed material by attacking a trader fleet, or head off to mine an asteroid field? As I chose my fights and allies, faction alliances began to pop up on screen, showing the way my reputation was changing with the forces around the galaxy.
Another important factor in providing Rebel Galaxy its long term viability is the ship customization. In addition to cosmetic changes to my ship (or even the option to buy an entirely new ship), my choice of armaments and defenses dramatically changed my approach to play. Each weapon and item fits into a slot on the ship, so bringing along a mining laser might mean leaving off a flak turret. If I spent my money on a better warp drive to get around the system, it meant waiting a little longer for those better shields.
This dynamic map shows off just one solar system, but a broader sector map shows many more
Rebel Galaxy also includes a robust internal economy, in which you can buy or scavenge materials and then sell them on the various markets you find around the galaxy. As in old classic games like Privateer, prices vary at different locations, so wily traders can make a killing by bringing much-needed supplies to distant backwaters. When I was short on cash for my upgrade, I simply bought up a number of supplies, and then did a tour of nearby stations, selling at locations that provided a good turnaround. As I traveled, I paused at locations with promising mining opportunities, and when I got in a fight, I took the time afterwards to tractor beam in valuables.
That leads me to combat, which during my play time, was the meat of the experience. Rebel Galaxy shoots for an interesting mix of action and strategy in its fast-paced combat encounters. Challenge comes in the form of multiple enemy ships and configurations that are all attacking at the same time, often in an environment of asteroids or other stellar objects that present additional difficulty. Most of the time, I found myself trying to line my ship up for long broadside runs, during which my ship’s side cannons could devastate enemy fliers. But especially with faster paced enemies, I’d switch over to manual control of one of my top or bottom-mounted turrets, and blast away. After some upgrades, I had access to missiles, which could be deployed in harder fights to potent effect.
On the defensive side, Rebel Galaxy demands that you watch carefully for incoming barrages – especially missile assaults. In these moments, you can press a button to deploy your deflectors. These ultra-powerful energy fields block 100% of incoming damage, but you can only keep them up for a few seconds. Once they’re depleted, incoming fire is bouncing off your much less powerful ship shields, and below that, your hull. When deflectors are deployed, you also can’t charge or fire your weapons, adding another thing to consider, even as enemy fire continues to pour in.
Sometimes retreat is the best option
One thing that’s easy to miss out on until you play the game is Rebel Galaxy’s unmistakable sense of style. Double Damage is going for a gritty frontier vibe here, and the details on the ships, the tone of the characters, and the appearance of ships and stations help to communicate the feeling. This isn’t a clean, sanitized outer space, but rather a place filled with scoundrels and criminals – everyone is out to get their piece of the pie. That abrasive quality carries over into some novel music selections; the whole game is accompanied by Southern Rock-style music, which tends to ratchet up in intensity once the lasers start firing. The juxtaposition of sci-fi battles with steel guitars and singing made me laugh more than once in delight.
Rebel Galaxy looks like a truly vast game; during my afternoon playing I never departed the initial star system, and a huge map of additional systems remains to be explored. I’ll be interested to see if the intensity of combat holds up over longer term play periods, and I hope that the travel times between locations won’t become boring. As it is, my time with Rebel Galaxy was pleasantly surprising. Sure, this is a more straightforward and simple affair than some other space games like Elite Dangerous or the upcoming Star Citizen. But in many way, I liked the pick-up-and-play qualities of Rebel Galaxy, and I’m eager to see how the decisions I made early in the game affect things later on.
Rebel Galaxy is on the way for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, and Mac sometime later this year.