In a long string of space-exploration games, like the sim-focused Elite Dangerous, the faux-roguelike Everspace, or the collectathon No Man’s Sky, finding a niche is no doubt difficult. How do developers balance simulation and arcade gameplay, or dog fighting versus trading? Rebel Galaxy Outlaw does this by striking a great balance between the extremes of the genre — offering up accessible but challenging gameplay and plenty of unique opportunities to scrape together a profit.
The story goes that our protagonist, a gritty, space freelancer named Juno, has been widowed, and she’s hellbent on seeking vengeance on her husband’s killer. Through various contacts, old friends, and tip-offs, she’s trying to find her way closer to her target. The journey involves a fair amount of odd jobs and diversions — this is an RPG after all — but the narrative backdrop neatly services the game’s grand universe.
As a protagonist, I absolutely adore Juno. She’s tough, and written in a way that seems so genuine and down-to-earth I could swear I’d met her at some point during my Midwestern adolescence. Her banter during my free roam escapades had me chuckling to myself on several occasions, and she’s obviously just tired of all this, fueled only by our idea of what someone like her should be doing given the circumstances. She’s the embodiment of whatever kind of space-trucker or outlaw you’ll inevitably end up being in the game, accenting it with her own personality and gruff charm.
As far as the space excursions actually go, I’d call the experience a bit uneven. The early game, even on the lowest difficulty setting (hilariously called “Normal”) had me gritting my teeth and white-knuckling the joystick of my literal garbage ship trying to avoid enemy fire. That is to say, until you can scrape together enough of a profit, you’ll be blasted to bits by pirates, religious zealots, police, and whoever else you manage to piss off along the way. And believe me when I say profit can be hard to come by. After finishing a mission, repairing my ship, and refilling my ordinance I found myself akin to the crew in Cowboy Bebop: after deductions, my dinner of bell peppers and beef was all bell peppers and no beef.
After trudging through some rather mundane side missions via the Mission Board, I scraped together enough cash to buy some new guns and a better shield unit. This made more of a difference than I thought it would, and before long I was terrorizing the same baddies who ate my lunch a few hours beforehand. Main missions are no joke, so some sizable upgrades are needed before embarking on too many at once. What some will no doubt consider a grind I somewhat justified as part of the up-and-coming rebel experience. Besides, what’s an adventure without a few dozen suicide missions in the name of some dough?
In a genius stroke of design, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw features an “auto-follow” button. Holding it down will automatically tail any ship — friendly or hostile. This makes dogfights a game of fine aim and evasive maneuvers rather than a loop-de-loop competition. Instead of being nauseated trying to track down an enemy, I could use the brilliant overhead targeting mode to carefully select the pirate shooting missiles down my tailpipe, turn around, and engage. I’ve never had as smooth an experience getting into the combat of a flight game as in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw.
While the combat is clearly a highlight, let’s get back to what makes some side missions a little “mundane.” Space travel just isn’t the fancy action that dogfighting is, and this must’ve been apparent to the developers on account of the “autopilot” function. Rather than sit and wait to get where you’re going, you can simply look at the marker off in the distance, hold the A button and, bam, you’re there. This is barring anything interesting on your predetermined path, of course, as the game is kind enough to pause your journey in case you want to investigate any distress beacons or hostile ships, but largely these journeys are uneventful.
As a result, long space-truckin’ missions turn into a game of turn, hold A, turn, hold A, repeat. Even encounters that threatened my cargo were easily avoided by diverting power to my engines and blasting off until I was far enough away to autopilot to my destination. To be fair, there’s not a lot to see in literal space, and you can get anywhere you’d like without using autopilot once. But given the option, it seems like the obvious choice, especially since real-time space travel can take an obscenely long time. I just wish there was more to getting around in a game that’s half about getting around.
Not to say that exploring space is a complete wash. Although there is a fair amount of repetition in distress signals (I once saw the same one three times in a row on a journey to deliver cargo) there are plenty of treasures to be found in the void. Contraband can be scooped up and sold on the black market. If you’re feeling adventurous, hunting particularly dangerous pirates can yield some hefty bounties. Or, like me, you can sit back and relax every now and then, saying hi to passing vessels and taking in the sites.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a fun, accessible game about turning a profit and blowing up bad guys. At the end of the day, it succeeds on most fronts, though it’s held back by some bland intergalactic travel and sense of repetition that sets in a wee bit early. The writing is solid, and the protagonist is a clear highlight for me. For a game set in space, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is rich in atmosphere, and it’s bound to satisfy plenty of us who fantasize about the Cowboy Bebop lifestyle.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A copy was provided by Double Damage Games.
For a game set in space, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is rich in atmosphere. While some activities are a bit of a letdown, there's a lot of gratification in cashing in a hefty profit from a lengthy space-truckin' session.