by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
Firefly might be most people’s first and only adventure into the space Western genre. But it’s not the only space Western out there, as video games have been using the formula for decades now. Enter Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, by Double Damage, a homage to games of yore like Wing Commander: Privateer and Freelancer. It’s one part space sim, one part business management, tossed with a dash of RPG for good measure. The fact it has hours upon hours of licensed music tracks on its in-game radio stations looks pretty damn impressive too. How does this spaghetti Western meets space opera hold up, though?
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw follows Juno Markev, a woman of questionable character out for revenge for the death of her husband. After that quest goes awry, Juno finds herself stranded and in need of a new ship and information on the killer. Thankfully, she’s a woman with connections, and quickly finds herself a new ship, though perhaps not quite one she was expecting. Hey, a free ship is free, right?
The catch: Juno has to deliver something to her benefactor, and while she’s told there’s nothing immediately illegal about what she’s delivering, things quickly go south. All of this trouble, for a ship that once hauled garbage and some information about a dude involved with her husband’s death. Despite the serious undercurrent, the game still manages to be a charming and at times absolutely hilarious experience. That being said, the story is simply one part of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, and its business tycoon style space sim roots make up a larger portion.
Let me get this out of the way immediately: play Rebel Galaxy Outlaw on a controller. Your hands will thank you for it. That being said, most of the controls really only matter for the exploration aspect of the game, as concourses and their like are all menu driven. The controls themselves are fairly intuitive and completely rebindable. The complication comes in combat situations where you might need to reduce speed and divert energy to shields and weapons, while summoning a friend to help you out, while evading incoming missiles. This is why I suggest a controller, because the muscle memory is easier to ingrain and rely on in those adrenaline filled moments.
The major complaint I have with the controls is how rarely you need to use them. As I stated above, all the time spent in hubs and concourses is completely menu driven. Docking at a station or landing on a planet is done automatically. You can practically fast travel anywhere, reducing the need to control your ship while traversing space. In some ways, this might be a boon too; people looking for a simple scheme and people wanting a more in-depth experience both have their option without changing a single setting.
Each system has at least one space station or planet you can land in. At their core, every hub offers a similar experience to one another, but not every hub will contain the same functions. The most common I found to have an equipment bay, a commodities dealer, a mission board, and a bar. Some have a ship dealer, and even a merchants’ or mercenaries’ guild available.
While I’ll talk about everything else later, of special interest here is the bar. In typical spaghetti Western style, the local watering hole is where Juno can gain choice information from barkeeps, such as locations of hidden goods and lucrative trading opportunities. Some of their advice doesn’t come cheap, so expect to fork over some credits for the particularly juicy gossip. Bars often provide you a chance to engage in some minigames like 8 Ball, Slot Machines, Dice Poker, and even some retro video games. 8-Ball and Dice Poker can be particularly beneficial, since you can win equipment for your ship should you emerge victorious.
While you start out with a literal garbage ship, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw provides six additional ships to grow into, depending on what type of playstyle you’re looking to develop. Each ship type has several parameters to consider: speed, hull integrity, weapon and missile hardpoints, turret availability, component slots, and what rank of shield, power plant, and cargo bay they can accommodate. Other than the starting Platypus, you have the balanced Sonora, the quick and nimble Sandhawk, the massive freighter Durston, the assault ship Coyote, the tanky SPZ, and the maneuverable Foxbat. I need to reiterate here: there is no best ship, except that which bests suit your needs. For example, I went for the Sonora for a more balanced experience of combat and trading.
There is also a set of sidequests later on in the game that will unlock variants for these additional ships. These variants aren’t considered upgrades at all, but offer additional playstyle choices. For example, the Sequoia — the upgraded version of the Sonora — loses its turret mount for additional speed, an additional missile hardpoint, and the ability to equip higher rank shield and power plant upgrades. The Durston’s variant, the Beluga, gives up a missile hardpoint for an additional turret.
Oh yeah, and if you’re a fan of customizing and have a fair hand at Photoshop? Have fun with the ship painting tool to give yourself those racing flames you could never put on your actual car.
Outside of getting lucky winning specific upgrades from your gambling addiction, you’re going to want to kit that ship with a variety of equipment. The equipment bay allows you to buy weapons, defenses, additional components, and pieces of flair for your shuttle, in case you want to have more than the minimum to express yourself. Weapons range from the simple Utility Laser to the massively powerful (but energy hogging) Tachyon Gun. Every weapon has an associated DPS rating which revolves around factors such as raw damage, shield and hull penetration, and projectile speed. Every ship has at least one Launcher hardpoint too, where you can equip Torpedos, Heat-Seeking Missiles, and other ordnance type weaponry. Ordnance is not unlimited like the standard weapon hardpoints are, however. Some ships even have a turret option in addition to their standard battery, which can be controlled manually, or left to fire on targets in range automatically.
Defensively, you’re looking at upgrading your shield generators to deflect damage taken by your ship, and armor to protect your hull when your shields fail. Simple stuff. Then there are additional factors like your ship’s power plant. This is one of the major upgrades you need to consider, as a ship with powerful weapons and a shoddy power plant will quickly run out of energy for continued combat. There’s also a scanner module you’ll want, with higher tiers providing more and more detailed information about targets. There are afterburners to install, when you need a boost of speed to get away from particularly challenging foes, or perhaps to outmaneuver them. Finally, you’re going to eventually need a jump drive, so you can travel between systems.
So, you’re broke, you just got a ship on loan that’s a trash heap, and you’re out for revenge. How are you supposed to get all that nifty stuff? Well, a quick visit to your local mission board will get you sorted in no time. Missions come in several varieties, such as deliveries within your local system, or patrolling the sector for problems. Some of these missions are combat focused, dealing with you eliminating pirates or other threats such as mine fields. Each of these missions provides a substantial credit boost, though the safer, easier missions pay way less than the more hazardous ones. In the condition you start the game in anything beyond a normal difficulty rating is pretty much a death sentence, so stick to simple missions to start.
Some missions are also faction based, such as with particular pirate gangs or the Dodge Patrol. Doing these missions will also increase your notoriety with said faction in addition to the credits payout. If you don’t want to be harassed by certain groups, you can use these missions to remain in their good graces (or even get back into them should you suffer a hit to your reputation).
Combat not your thing? Well, there’s always the option to trade goods for credits. The economy across Dodge is constantly in flux, and the business savvy amongst us can quickly profit using the old adage, “Buy low; sell high.” Let me give you an example: in the starting system of Texas, there are a couple mining operations, mostly iron with some gold and obtanium mixed in for good measure. Now, a mining outfit generally doesn’t need the ore themselves, so they sell it on the cheap. Processing plants, however, DO need that ore, and are willing to pay a pretty penny — er, credit — to get it. It just so happens there’s an ore processing plant in Kansas, which is a single jump away from Texas.
Now do you see why having that jump drive is important (outside of being unable to advance the storyline without it)? Commodity trading has the potential to churn profits faster than missions alone, provided you have a decent sized cargo hold to maximize yield, and in tandem with some delivery missions can get you plenty of credits for upgrades quickly.
Okay, back to basics for a bit here. Unlike the original Rebel Galaxy, flying in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is three-dimensional. This is obviously wonderful news for the immersion driven amongst us. Flying around feels incredibly freeing, especially since the system you’re exploring is vibrant with stars, asteroids, and wreckages galore. The game offers two different camera angles in third- and first-person modes, though higher difficulty settings will lock you into first-person view. Trust me, that’s quite a handicap when you’re trying to fend off multiple ships simultaneously.
Each sector has a system map associated with it, with locations of outposts, hubs, docking stations, and other publicly pertinent information. There will also be several unknown locations scattered across each area for you to go and discover on your own. Will it be a nebula that interferes with your sensors? Will it be a mineral rich asteroid field for your mining needs? Will it be a minefield, or pirates, or minefield pirates? (It’s probably going to be minefield pirates, trust me.) Navigating to each of these sectors can be done easily using your system map. You can set waypoints to fast travel, though some people might like to take the scenic route. Either way, often times you’ll run into distress beacons, which provide a random situation for Juno to work her way through. I’ve seen escorting freighters to jump gates, protecting a convoy from pirates, to saving someone who wandered too close to a minefield (told you, minefield pirates).
When engaging with minefield pirates, remember one thing: location, location, location. I can’t tell you how many times I saw the game over screen because I involved myself in a dog fight with some particularly dodgy pirate (pun intended) only to run into a mine (or four). Still, combat is fairly straightforward. When you engage with targets, you lock on and begin firing. Several weapons have aim assist modes, which shows up on your target as a circle, indicating where to aim. You can also auto-follow a locked-on target, ensuring they’ll not escape your salvos of death and destruction. Just keep in mind that your weapons fire and afterburners are determined by the level of your power plant, so don’t skimp! This is also why it’s important to keep a mix of energy and ballistic weapons on your loadout, as ballistic weapons require no energy to fire. Likewise, turrets don’t draw power from your plant, and they can be set to fire automatically, making them insanely useful in multi-target fights.
Missiles are another option, though they function slightly differently in combat than your normal weapons. First of all, most missiles outside of torpedoes and dumb-fire missiles require a missile lock on their target. Missile locks can only happen when you’re behind a target, so getting that position as soon as possible is a massive advantage. Once locked, fire away with your secondary weapon button and enjoy the fireworks. Some enemy ships have ECM systems (electronic countermeasures) installed, which can cause your missiles to veer from their intended target, so don’t always count on a missile lock as a foregone conclusion.
Final Thoughts: Great (4/5)
As a fan of space simulation games, tycoon-esque games, and role-playing games, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw strikes all of those boxes. The whole system gives off a Firefly vibe, that space Western feel permeating each character, each storyline, and each sector you cross into. It’s a solid game, for certain, and I had plenty of fun with it, but as with most things, it does come with some pretty jarring flaws. First, outside of combat, you spend very little time actually flying your ship. For the longest time I attempted to simply fly everywhere, utilizing max engine power plus afterburners, or even FTL flight for longer distances, but after a while, the scope of the sector wins out, and I found myself fast traveling everywhere instead. The early game is a bit brutal and unforgiving, which may make new players give up quickly in frustration. There’s limited credits to be made in the starting sector, the Platypus is a giant target, and you have to invest a ton of early credits into getting your jump drive.
Seriously, though, if you can make it past getting that jump drive, the sector opens up immensely, both figuratively and literally. The story was engaging and interesting, a lot of NPCs (and Juno’s reaction to them) were hilarious. Space sim fans will find a lot to love about this game, for certain, and I believe it can appeal to a wider audience for those that can weather the slog of the early game.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw Screenshots