Space simulation games have been enjoying a resurgence lately. Last year we saw the release of Elite: Dangerous to continue the long running Elite series; while next year there’s the much anticipated Star Citizen – the spiritual successor of Wing Commander and Freelancer. This year will see the release of Rebel Galaxy, a newcomer to the genre being developed by Double Damage Games. Although lacking the pedigree of the other releases, Double Damage Games have been developing games for years – most notably the acclaimed Diablo and Torchlight series. With that in mind I eagerly booted up the game to see how an RPG developer would handle something new and unfamiliar.
Traditionally space simulation games give you a star system and a ship, and then leave you to fly around in your cockpit looking for trouble. While all of these are present in Rebel Galaxy, the first thing that you’ll notice is that the game is in a third person view, rather than the traditional first person cockpit perspective. Furthermore your ship, as well as any other NPC capital ships, are stuck on a 2D axis; only smaller fighters are capable of navigating up and down. The best way to compare it is with naval games, where the capital ships can’t fly nor go below the waves, with smaller fighters taking the place of submarines and aerial support. While this may be disappointing to hardcore space simulator fans seeking dogfights, it’s a design choice that makes Rebel Galaxy stand out from the aforementioned big name releases as well as focusing on broadside space combat – but more on that later.
Each time you start a new game the star system is randomised but you will always have a corvette just outside of Rust City, where an alien resembling Jabba the Hutt will hail your ship. He introduces himself as Orzu and asks you to visit the bar in order to move the main story along. The beauty of Rebel Galaxy (and the genre in general) is that if you’re not interested in the story or want to do something else, you’re free to fly elsewhere and accept missions from other space stations. Each port has its own affiliation and function, which influences what events may be encountered there.
A diplomatic space station may, for example, allow you to do missions for hostile factions such as the Red Devil smugglers to improve relations; meanwhile a research station will specialise in dealing with hi-tech commodities. There are several missions available at each station ranging from cargo delivery to bounty collecting so you’re never short on options or forced into something you don’t want to do. These missions are procedurally generated from a template of approximately ten objectives, so you won’t be ferrying the same cargo to the same station every time. However it can become noticeably repetitive running the same job in a different location so hopefully in the final build there will be even more mission variety, particularly more non-combat jobs.
That being said, Rebel Galaxy’s dynamic world keeps you interested in between missions. As well as being hubs for picking up mission contracts, each port has its own bar and news board. From these you can pick up information about bounties, trading tips and galactic events. These events include random economic booms, making certain goods cheaper at specific ports, or a travelling ship – such as a relief vessel being dispatched to a station suffering from famine. Depending on if cargo ship arrives at their destination, the economic situation of a station will either improve or decline – which a shrewd trader can take advantage of.
There are also random events that you won’t be informed of, but will instead stumble upon while travelling. As well as traders and pirates going about their way, occasionally these groups bump into each other resulting in a distress call that will light up on the HUD. By assisting (or raiding) the traders you can net some extra credits as well as minor reputation boosts. In addition to distress beacons, there are also unknown signals that can be picked up from floating message transponders. These can be hacked with a short mini-game to disclose the co-ordinates to a hidden cache, which aren’t as boring as they may sound. One of these co-ordinates took me to a scrap field, with numerous trade goods drifting in space. The catch being that the entire area was a minefield, requiring either careful dexterity or brute force from your ship’s guns.
Both corvettes and frigates (the two classes of ship that are initially available for purchase) have multiple guns: broadsides and turrets. Broadsides are the more damaging weapons and can fire at anything alongside your ship. They may either be fired rapidly, albeit inaccurately, or charged for higher accuracy. The downside of broadsides is that smaller ships, that can fly over or below the cannons, are almost impossible to hit. To take those down you need to use your turrets which, in contrast to broadsides, are mounted either on top or under the ship. They are capable of rotating and firing in any direction, including above or below your ship. Unlike broadsides, turrets will fire automatically even if not controlled. Their default targeting behaviour can be individually set in the options, ranging from focusing on fighters, capital ships or only targets that have been tagged by your scanners – which will conveniently pause your game while you cycle through targets.
Truth be told, turrets seem a little too strong due to the ability to tailgate hostile capital ships and firing at their engines since turrets can aim in front. Provided you’re behind them, they will be incapable of using their broadsides and at this point the ship with the stronger turrets will win. Although it negates the importance of broadsides which are the most unique feature of Rebel Galaxy’s space battles, having multiple play styles is in the spirit of the game; so there are arguments both for and against making turrets weaker against capital ships.
Regarding play styles, it’s great at how much Rebel Galaxy incorporates methods that aren’t shoot first, ask questions later. Almost every mission in the primary storyline has an alternative peaceful solution since each time you approach a non-hostile ship there is an option to hail that ship, allowing you to trade, ask for tasks or even just insult other pilots.As an example, one of the earlier missions that you’re tasked with involves taking out a notorious pirate in the sector. While you can just blow his ship up and collect the reward, it’s possible to negotiate with the pirate and pay him to leave the sector.
I’m excited to see what, if anything, Double Damage Games will add or change in Rebel Galaxy over the coming months. Although I enjoyed my time subverting the militia by doing smuggling runs for the Red Devil Cartel and getting access to unique Merchant’s Guild equipment at their headquarters, I wished that I could have helped factions fight over territory similar to sandbox games like Mount and Blade (it is possible however that it could have been an end game event, that this first look hadn’t reached). Nevertheless, the atmosphere with its rich colors and the alternative rock, and the sandbox freedom is engrossing enough to make Rebel Galaxy a much anticipated release.