A famous strapline once informed us that "in space, no one can you hear you scream." Brief as it is, this is a handy way of summarising the fact that because space is devoid of matter at a molecular level, no sound can travel through it. If ever there has been something that gave me cause to doubt this saying (and the truth behind it), that something is surely Rebel Galaxy. The new space sim/shooter from Double Damage Games is so crammed with ships, space stations, planets, asteroids, floating icebergs and God only knows what else, that it simply must have enough mass to uphold a credible argument for all those massive explosions being audible.
Rebel Galaxy shares a lot in common with other space simulators, and it includes all of the trappings you would expect: combat, trading, bounty hunting, piracy and so on, but what really stands out are the things it does differently. To start with, Rebel Galaxy has a fully featured story with well-animated and fully voiced characters who make it feel like a big budget production and provide much needed impetus, rather than relying on the player to create their own adventure. The game also has some unusual technical features ranging from interesting to genuinely unique, so strap yourself in and engage warp engines — this is the XBLA Fans review.
Here's what I liked:
Human interface — As with all space sims, you'll spend a lot of time piloting your ship in Rebel Galaxy, and perhaps the game's biggest success is how simple — relative to its peers — it is to do so. The first innovation in support of this is that while ships rotate left to right and move forward at various speeds as you would expect, but they cannot pitch up and down. Thematically, this is representative of them being large capital ships that have no need to do so; they're more Star Destroyer than Tie Fighter. In gameplay terms it simplifies and intensifies combat onto a single plane that feels much more explosive as a result. Many other control features are kept nice and straightforward (for the better) and very few buttons house more than one function, meaning that muscle memory becomes the norm for ship control, combat and navigating the detailed but uncomplicated maps and menus.
All weapons, open fire — Simplified combat and intuitive controls mustn't be confused for lack of depth or challenge, because Rebel Galaxy has both in spades. Despite the fact that combat occurs on a (literally, not figuratively) level playing field, complexity is introduced through the weapons systems. Each ship has a number of multi-directional turrets, a set of broadside cannons and a potential auxiliary weapon. Further, all ships also have both a traditional deflector shield and a user-activated backup shield that absorbs all damage for a limited time. In the heat of battle, balancing ship speed to line up and aim the perfect broadside hit whilst also preventing your own ship from being destroyed can be hectic and hair-raising. The volume and variety of laser fire, missiles, smaller fighters, explosions and other pyrotechnics illuminating the sky in Rebel Galaxy is something to behold, and it all operates at a rock solid frame rate.
Space Odyssey — As I indicated in the opening paragraph, Rebel Galaxy feels more densely populated than any similar game I've played. Couple this with a fun and interesting story, and set it in a galaxy full of diverse and individual systems and you have a recipe for a vast and rewarding experience that is very compelling. It's not an easy game, and because there is no quick or cheap way to make money, it demands a lot of time and effort, especially because it doesn't save in between space stations — so visit often.
Here's what I didn't like:
Flying solo — It's a minor criticism because Rebel Galaxy provides such a strong solo experience anyway, but if there is one key feature missing at the moment, it has to be a multiplayer mode. If a fully fledged MMO couldn't be supported, then even a limited arena-based deathmatch mode might very well have been fun. Doubtless, though, if such a mode had been included, I would only be complaining that it wasn't enough.
Bum note — I'm not going to belabour this point, because it's entirely subjective, but another unique feature of Rebel Galaxy is its soundtrack, which is a kind of cowboy-rock effort not dissimilar to a cut-rate Wolfmother or Led Zeppelin. Sadly, I didn't like a lot of the tracks. Putting personal feelings aside, the score does fit the game perfectly, creating a sort of Firefly or Cowboy Bebop feel.
Rebel Galaxy is my favourite Xbox One space sim/shooter to date. It strikes a perfect balance between simplicity and challenge without losing any of the weight and impact that we've come to expect from an epic space opera. The storyline is good, if a little clichéd, but it does a great job of ushering the player around a rapidly expanding galactic playground and ensures the often jarring learning/tutorial phase is almost entirely absent. Almost everything about Rebel Galaxy is commendable, and if you have any interest in the genre, this is a good place to start.
Score: Buy It
Rebel Galaxy was developed and published by Double Damage Games. It released on January 13, 2016 for $19.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.