October 26, 2015 9:35 AM | John Bridgman
What would you do with an entire galaxy to explore? Flying through space, collecting fame and fortune, prestige and infamy all at once. Dealing with alien beings, ruthless factions, and stern police organizations. All of this and more await in Rebel Galaxy, a slick sandbox space action game from Double Damage Games. Get buckled in and get the broadsides armed, because there's a lot of great fun in store for this adventure.
There's a story behind the sandbox fun, for sure. You've set out to find your aunt, who is described as the "black sheep" of the family. She's gone missing on some wild spacefaring adventure, and soon you wind up on her trail. You discover this trail involves smuggling among other underhanded activities, and find yourself caught up in the midst of these activities. Along the way, of course, is all the sandbox fun you could want out of space.
Trading, bounty-hunting, smuggling, and more mission types await you in this sandbox. You'll be able to put all of your combat skills to the test as you explore and take on more missions, because you never know who or what might be waiting for you as you reach your objectives. I even wound up ambushed by a group that I'd upset en route to turning in a completed mission. Luckily for me the local law enforcement was on hand to help me out.
That's because this game features a fairly deep faction system. Gangs of pirates, military, and political powers all track reputations with you, and depending on how you decide to play and what what missions you take on, your can find yourself in some sticky situations. Play your cards right and you may have a convenient ally, but double-cross too many people and you might find yourself without a friend in the galaxy and a target on your back.
Combat is stellar in Rebel Galaxy. (Pun probably intended). There's a good variety of ships, most of which are bulky and a little awkward to handle, but with lots of firepower. This game is about lining up and charging broadsides and it feels fantastic. Aiming your largest guns and getting that timing right is extremely satisfying when trying to bring down a large dangerous mark. This naval-style combat feels authentic and refreshing compared to most space combat games. There are also turrets to control, which take time to track, but are essential for taking down slower escorts and fighters that may show up to harass your ship.
Speaking of stellar, the galaxy is beautiful. Lots of huge planetoid masses, nebulae, and space debris abound, and while there are, of course, huge expanses of nothing, the ability to fly at warp speed makes up for that. Warp travel also has some nice visual effects, and you've still got a gorgeous backdrop of all the wonders space has to offer. As well, artificial installations like space stations are surrounded with all kinds of artificial junk, and it gives the universe itself a lot of life. It's a subtle touch but it's very well-executed, and keeps the emptiness of space from feeling empty.
The game has a sort of lawless space Western aesthetic to it and it absolutely nails it. Hitting up barkeeps for information, outrunning the law, and fights with outlaws brings together that sort of cowboy feel. That and the bulky, dirty ships and space junk really do reinforce the sense of being in an untamed frontier. The icing on that cake is the sound design, which has some fantastic rock tracks that will probably cause some grinning as you're cruising around. The combat is of course loud and explosive, even if it's not the most realistic, it sounds wonderful. A little cheesy, perhaps, but it's consistently so and thus extremely enjoyable.
Of course, there's a great amount of upgrades and ships that you can purchase as you complete missions and earn credits. Each ship has a limited number of modules for guns, shields, storage, and additional components, though there's also a good variety of upgrades to these modules too, so you won't feel too stuck if you can't buy a bigger ship. These upgrades manage to feel significant, and so it's worth your time to save up and buy that bigger gun or more durable deflector shield. You'll notice the change in your first combat after upgrading.
These aren't the only things you can buy of course. There's a vibrant economy in this galaxy, with legal and contraband goods to buy low and sell high. Corresponding to that are random events, such as epidemics and famine, which can certainly help you pull a profit if you feel like exploiting the needful citizens of the planets below. Contraband is also a profitable venture, though law enforcement won't be too happy with you if you get caught with illegal goods in your hold. These decisions and options make even operating primarily as a space trader - should you choose to do so - fun and engaging.
Control is surprisingly simple in the game, though I highly recommend playing with a gamepad if you have the option. I found piloting and aiming much easier with analog sticks, and being able to switch stations to manually aim guns was much quicker by using the d-pad. It's not unplayable on keyboard and mouse by any stretch, but I think it's much less suited to that control scheme.
Rebel Galaxy is the sort of science-fiction game I've been waiting for for a long time. With its space cowboy aesthetic and its big broadside combat, it's a rewarding and refreshing take on all the possibilities a space sandbox has to offer. The game is true to its inspirations and ambitions, with a huge scope yet still managing to deliver on its promise. This is the game you want if you've been itching for a space sandbox game, and any science fiction fans should definitely give this some consideration, as it's one of the best games in the genre I've played this year.