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Rebel Galaxy Hands-On Preview

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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.

Rebel Galaxy 01

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.

Rebel Galaxy 02

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.

Rebel Galaxy 03

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.

Krzysztof has been playing strategy games for 20 years, first starting with Dune 2 on DOS. When he's not sending wave after wave of men to their deaths, he enjoys exploring gripping stories and colourful characters - his favourite being the Ace Attorney series.

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198X Review — A Nostalgia Trip Without a Destination

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198X

Some short stories feel more like chapters—snipped out of a larger work—that struggle to make sense on their own. 198X represents a translation of that ethos to video game form. As a result, the game feels unfulfilling, though that does not detract from the overall quality on offer. Ultimately, the player’s appraisal of 198X will depend on whether they place more stock in story or gameplay because while the former leaves much to be desired, the latter will be a hit for anyone with fond memories of the 8- and 16-bit classics.

In the framing and overall structure, 198X is decidedly modern, but everything else pulses with a retro vibe. At its core, the game is a compilation, weaving together five distinct experiences under the auspice of a story of personal development. From the Double Dragon-infused ‘Beating Heart’ to the turn-based dungeon RPG ‘Kill Screen’, each title feels slick, if a little undercooked. Those old-school originals could only dream of being as smooth as these throwbacks. However, the two-button input methodology results in the games feeling just a touch too simple, though their brevity—each clocking in at a maximum of 15 minutes (depending on the player’s skill level and muscle memory)—makes that less of an issue than it might have been. If more depth is present, it is hidden well, as the game lacks any sort of tutorial to guide players. Nevertheless, the stellar presentation goes a long way towards papering over the cracks.

The pixel art aesthetic of 198X is staggering. Each of the worlds that players make their way through is pitched perfectly to fit the mood it evokes. From the grungy brawler of the first game to the more melancholic mood of the open-road racer, the screen is drenched in lavish colour and far more detail than one might expect from such a seemingly simple art style.

Easily a match for the visuals is the audio. The in-game sounds of a car engine or bone-crunching strike are low-key, which allows the music to come to the fore. Those tunes are all from the electronic genre, simple, yet layered with enough depth to not feel tedious or tiring. Easily overshadowing all the rest though is Maya Tuttle’s voice-over narration as The Kid. Her tone is one of pervasive resignation that works to reinforce the same mood within the script.

That melancholia will surely strike a chord with anyone who has grown up on the fringes. The Kid speaks of once loving and now hating the Suburbia of their childhood, where memories of happiness collide with a contemporary feeling of entrapment. The words and lines are powerfully evocative—made even more so by the connection between the gameworlds and the prevailing emotion at that point. The problem is that they amount to nothing. The story comprises of these snippets—these freestanding scenes of life lived lonely—that never coalesce into anything. The Kid may find an arcade and speak of finding some sort of home and a source of strength, but it goes nowhere. The game ends just as things start to get interesting. Setting up for a sequel is no sin. Plenty of other games and media products—from Dante’s Inferno to Harry Potter—have done just that. However, to be effective, such first parts need to offer a story in and of themselves, not just the promise of a story to come, and that is where 198X falls apart.

With each game in the compilation being a straightforward, one-and-done affair and the overarching narrative feeling like a prologue at best, 198X is wafer-thin. The presentation is simply remarkable, and the package has enough variety to be worth a look, but the unmistakable impression is that something is missing.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Coming soon to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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