Need to know
What is it? A colourful combat-focused space western
Expect to pay: $30/£24
Publisher: Double Damage Games
Developer: Double Damage Games
Reviewed on: Windows 10, Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, Nividia GTX 1070
Link: Official site
The boundless promise of space exploration is a precarious asteroid field for a developer to navigate. It takes the luxuries of time and funding for galaxies like those of Elite Dangerous or No Man’s Sky to reach their potential. But if you’re an indie developer bereft of those resources, then it’s vital to know your limits—to condense the cosmos into something characterful and manageable lest your game gets swallowed up by its seductive vastness.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw knows its boundaries, limiting its galaxy to 40-odd solar systems named after cities in the US. Its guitar-twanging rock soundtrack and vibrant colours give it the tone of a punky western—a bit Firefly, a bit Borderlands. It’s thrifty where it needs to be, and does a commendable job of embellishing its relatively rote gameplay loop with presentational swagger.
Driving the game’s spunky spirit is the protagonist Juno, a vagabond on the trail of the people who killed her husband and tried to knock her off too. You gain most of your intel by chatting with the patrons of bars dotted around the space stations of the cosmos.
There’s a pleasing air of shadiness about these haunts as everyone seems to know something for the right price, and there are mini-games like pool, slots and arcade machines that you can kick back with after a gruelling expedition into not-so-deep space. Unfortunately, you don’t get to walk freely around the bars and stations, instead interacting with them through menus and in-game cutscenes.
Things get tough out there in the corruscating cosmos. It may look like a neon-tinged music video set in the Guardians of the Galaxy universe, but it can be unforgiving, and I found myself dying often in my ungainly cargo container of a starting ship. You can easily find yourself outnumbered by a swarm of pirate ships, and a gamepad is nigh-on compulsory if you want to make it out of there mostly intact.
Combat sticks within the norm of dogfighting space sims, with a few well-advised convenience controls and snippets of flair raising it a little bit beyond the mean. You have the usual assortment of blippy lasers and blasty missiles, but one of the better features is auto-follow, activated by holding the left trigger. Not only is this great for orientation, but turn up your thrusters and you can really get up close to enemy ships, chasing them down as you dart between clusters of space debris and freighters.
You can bring up a radial menu too, which pauses the game while you scan the area for enemies and pickups, or use the local map to select a target and zero in on it within the instance of space that you’re in. As you progress through the story, you’ll also meet motley characters who you can call in as buddies during a dogfight, intensifying the action and making the enemy’s job that bit harder.
At any point, you can communicate with the pilot of a nearby ship, whether it’s a police vessel inspecting you for counterfeit goods or a pirate engaging you in combat. It’s particularly cathartic to cuss troublesome enemies as you prepare to finish them off, or offer to spare their lives in exchange for their cargo. These are simple touches, but accompanied by Blues Saraceno’s driving soundtrack, they help each encounter feel breezy and energetic, even if mechanically there’s little here to really rock the spaceboat.
The structure of missions will also be familiar to those who have played other space sims. You chat to bar patrons or go to mission boards, and take on a simple carousel of combat, reconnaissance and cargo delivery expeditions.
The main story quest is a slightly more verbose twist on the above, as you get pulled into a plot of corporate greed and underhand dealings, but the writing didn't quite invest me in it. Somewhere between the sullen, bone-dry personality of Juno, and the limited cutscenes and conversations through which the story is told, this revenge tale lacks the venom you’d hope for. It’s a long old campaign, but it feels rather protracted rather than well-paced.
There are hints that you can play Rebel Galaxy Outlaw as a plucky trading vessel, with a dynamic fluctuating market that lets you trade goods, as well as the higher-risk activity of ferrying counterfeit goods to those willing to buy them. But realistically, you’ll spend the bulk of your spacefaring in combat. This can get a little repetitive, but with the carrot of ship upgrades and better weapons dangling over you, it offers enough incentive to keep you pushing on.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw lives up to its name among space sims. It’s spirited, good-looking and vibrant, effectively spraying several cans of blue and pink graffiti over the existing space sim template. None of its systems are particularly deep, but skimming along over them can be an exhilarating journey.