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Rebel Galaxy Review

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I’m sorry, I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about Elite Dangerous in this review of Rebel Galaxy. Because the comparisons between Rebel Galaxy and Elite Dangerous are unavoidable, so let me get this out of the way first: Rebel Galaxy is nowhere near as deep and, indeed, as rewarding as Elite Dangerous has the potential to be.

The potential to be.

I have nothing but respect for Elite Dangerous. I think it is an amazing game with amazing potential and amazing depth. But for my part, I found it to be dense to the point of near impenetrability. The sheer size of the universe and all the possibilities presented before you were incredibly intimidating. Elite Dangerous has the potential to be one of the most immersive space flight sims on the market. But it also requires an intense amount of time commitment and a lot of up front effort from you to get the most out of it.

Rebel Galaxy presents a game with much of the same appeal of Elite Dangerous on the surface but sacrifices much of the depth for approachability which, to me, is a wise decision. Within moments of starting up Rebel Galaxy I was gallivanting around the galaxy, rescuing traders from funny-looking alien pirates, hunting down bounties in the hopes of saving up for this titanic ship the size of a small moon that I would use to crush my enemies ‘neath my mighty tread and just generally being an awesome space cowboy.

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Within moments of starting up Elite Dangerous, I was still crashing into shit trying to dock at a space station.

I’m being too hard on Elite Dangerous, of course. And unfair to Rebel Galaxy. It’s unfair to ever review a game in comparison with another game but, as I said, it’s unavoidable because at a very basic level, they are essentially the same game. But Rebel Galaxy is a game needs to be judged on its own merits and there’s plenty of merit to Rebel Galaxy. But unfortunately, there’s a lot about Rebel Galaxy that always feels like a bit of a chore.

Like Elite Dangerous, Rebel Galaxy can seem like an act of repetition. But while in Elite Dangerous you feel like you’re carving out a life in the stars, Rebel Galaxy feels decidedly more video-gamey. I suppose that’s not really a criticism for a video game, but it’s hard to deny how repetitive Rebel Galaxy truly feels compared to Elite Dangerous. Elite Dangerous makes you feel like you’re earning a living as a bad-ass space bounty hunter (or a miner or a trader or an explorer). Rebel Galaxy can sometimes make you feel like you’re just grinding money in a video game.

Perhaps it’s a product of the game’s controls. Elite Dangerous literally puts you into the cockpit of your vessel, going to far as to make you feel like you’re inside of it whereas Rebel Galaxy makes you feel like you’re some external entity controlling the ship itself – a byproduct of the fact that the camera angle puts you outside the ship rather than inside the cockpit. That’s where these two games differ the most: Elite Dangerous is, at least in part, a flight simulator. Rebel Galaxy is…something else altogether.

Ok, that’s the last time I’m going to talk about Elite Dangerous for awhile, I promise. In Rebel Galaxy, you are a dude (or dudette, I guess, it’s never made particularly clear – at least not in the 20 or so hours I played it) who’s searching for his (or her) aunt, Juno. Juno sent you a ship – the Rasputin…spoiler alert: it’s kind of a piece of junk – and told you to come and find her. Along the way, you meet an alien who knew your aunt and who gives you a strange device called a Spectre and…well, the rest verges on spoiler territory, but suffice to say that the Spectre is the plot-macguffin that drives the whole thing along.

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Overall, the plot is interesting. Unfortunately, the interesting plot doesn’t hide the fact that there’s a lot of grinding in this game.

As I said before, the Rasputin is kind of a piece of junk and you’re going to want to replace it as soon as possible. Unfortunately, that means you’ll need money. And doubly-unfortunately, that means you’re going to have to do a lot of menial labor. You could hunt bounties but, at least at first, that’s a difficult proposition since…well, piece of junk. So you’re going to have to either mine, play the trader game, or do missions given at each station.

Mining is pretty boring and…well, let’s face it, I don’t play a thrilling space adventure game to be an asteroid miner. Trading is somewhat more interesting, at least. It allows you to see more of the galaxy and since fuel costs you nothing, it’s pretty much all profit no matter how many stations you have to go to to find a good deal on the 20 tons of yik yak meat and data cubes you bought. Unfortunately, finding that good deal can sometimes be a matter of traveling to four or five different stations and the game’s fast travel is prone to freak out and drop you back into regular-speed if you pass within the same light-year of an asteroid. The missions, meanwhile, run into the same problems of bounty hunting and trading: your ship is a piece of junk and traveling can be a finicky proposition. Fortunately, after awhile bounty hunting becomes more feasible as you trade up for a better ship and better weapons, but – at least in my experience – it remained the least cost-effective method of gaining money. The pay is just too low in general to offset the cost of repairs and replacement of munitions.

It’s at this point that I turn to talking about the combat and, in order to do so, I have to address the elephant in the room. And that elephant’s (rather awkward) name is 2D Plane.

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Remember before when I said Rebel Galaxy isn’t a flight simulator? Part of that is the fact that the camera is planted firmly behind your ship. But the biggest reason is that the piloting – from regular travel to combat – takes place entirely on a 2D plane. However, before you get all bent out of shape and swear your undying fealty to Elite Dangerous, let me say that the combat actually works extremely well in general, even if it can sometimes start to feel like a chore – you rarely get anything meaningful or profitable out of combat unless a bounty is involved. The only ships that can maneuver in 3D space are small, mobile fighters and this does a good job of showing them to be the pesky, maneuverable nuisances they are. The other large, capital ships you fight are on the same plane as you.

This gives the game an interesting, almost nautical feel, which is further amplified by the fact that many of the ships in the game have a significant emphasis on broadside combat – meaning you shoot your weapons out of your port and starboard flanks rather than the front. Ships have turrets as well, allowing you to shoot at any angle, and these turrets often have unique properties like firing salvos of missiles to take out the pesky fighters swarming around you or being particularly effective against shields or exposed hulls, but the broadsides are your bread and butter. I thought this would be awkward at first, but once I got used to it, I quickly traded in my turret-focused Scarab for a more broadside-focused weapon.

So overall, combat’s fun, though it can sometimes get in the way if you just want to rush into a station and do some trading. Enemies will sometimes take over certain stations – well, not the stations themselves, but rather forming annoying blockades – placing disabling mines around them. This is more a nuisance than anything but sometimes the sheer number of enemies and their threat can be surprising, particularly since the game is particularly awful at warning you about threats. I had “very low” difficulty missions rip me to shreds. But for the most part, I soared through the early game crushing “very difficult” missions with no problem at all. Basically, I just disregarded the warnings about difficulty and flew by the seat of my pants, which made the whole thing feel much more reckless and slapdash…which was kind of nice in a way. It made me feel like a brash space captain like Mal or Jet.

The universe is alive as well, though not to the same degree as Elite Dangerous. Pirates and malcontents will sometimes make moves on stations – blocking incoming trade routes or forming blockades – and stations will experience gluts and famine just like in real life. This can make the universe feel like a living, breathing thing…but more often than not, it was just numbers on a page and didn’t really make me feel like I was doing anything other than basic math. Still, it’s nice when you can find out in a bar that a certain station is experiencing a famine and take it upon yourself to buy up all their surplus food to make a humanitarian trip to the starving station. A very profitable humanitarian trip.

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My criticisms of Rebel Galaxy might sound like a mixed bag but overall, I would heartily recommend it to fans of the sci-fi genre…though not necessarily fans of sci-fi flavored flight simulators. For all the time I spent comparing Rebel Galaxy to Elite Dangerous, I doubt there’ll be much overlap between fans of the two series. I feel like the sorts of people who will like Rebel Galaxy are the folks who want a more thrilling, fast-paced affair that fans of Elite Dangerous will find shallow and cartoony. However, there’s a charm to the game that even managed to draw me in, and I’m not the biggest sci-fi fan on the planet.

Some of the tedious grinding can feel like a chore, but everything else comes together amazingly well and it’s all because of the game’s masterful atmosphere. It’s full of skeevy characters and betrayal and all that sort of stuff you’d expect from a “junk sci-fi” setting – think Firefly and Cowboy Bebop, a feel that Rebel Galaxy evokes masterfully with its tone and music. I never once felt like following the plot was a chore and I was interested to find Juno and see what she had to say. And this is what the game does best: its atmosphere. Everything from the clunky, junky ships (there are no sleek Protoss battle cruisers here, folks) to the dialogue (all quite well voice-acted), to the character designs and animations and, yes, the music (though it could do with a few more tracks…the ones it has do get old after awhile) are in service to an excellent aesthetic that do a lot to immerse you even when the mechanics sometimes fall short.

Rebel Galaxy is a brilliantly atmospheric game that delivers on the developer’s promises of impactful, enjoyable action sequences that overcomes anything it might sacrifice in the name of approachability. If you ever wanted to be a bad-ass space captain carving your reputation amongst the stars – in a…mostly legal fashion – then Rebel Galaxy will almost certainly deliver.

See you soon, Space Cowboy.

Rebel Galaxy was played on PC via Steam. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher.

[taq_review

Writer, journalist, teacher, pedant. Reid's done just about anything and everything involving words and now he's hoping to use them for something he's passionate about: video games. He's been gaming since the onset of the NES era and has never looked back.

Review

The Great Perhaps Review — Perhaps Not

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The Great Perhaps gameplay screenshot 1

Warning: The article contains discussion on the subject of suicide. If you or someone you love is struggling, The International Association for Suicide Prevention provides contact information for help across the world.  

One common piece of advice for budding comedians is to never ‘punch down’. The target of a joke should be someone of a higher status or privilege than the joke teller, rather than a person within a marginalised group, such as the poor, the disabled, or the mentally ill. While this is not a hard and fast rule to comedy success, with shows like South Park using shocking moments to illuminate larger problems within society, without a deft hand, punching down comes across as cruel or offensive. The Great Perhaps, the first title by developer Caligari Games, makes an off-colour joke about suicide in the first five minutes of the game, setting a confused tone for the rest of its three-hour playtime. While this puzzle platformer shows some potential with solid puzzle design and great art direction, its terrible writing taints the entire experience.

The initial foot-in-the-mouth moment happens in the game’s animated prologue. Kosmos is an astronaut in a space station orbiting the earth. During a typical day, his communications with Earth are suddenly cut off, and he sees black smoke spreading across the globe. The station automatically puts him into cryogenic sleep, with instructions to wake him when returning to the surface is safe. Upon awakening, he discovers that over 100 years have passed. Kosmos is in despair, realising that everyone he ever knew or loved is dead, including his wife and children. He asks the ship’s A.I., L9, to vent all the oxygen in the ship, ending his life. She refuses, saying that the task is illogical. He asks again. She tells him to ‘nut up’ and to go explore the Earth. Kosmos reacts in astonishment, not at her cruel words, but at the fact she has developed a sense of humour. Magically cured of his suicidal ideation by her sassy insults, the pair decide to go explore the Earth and see if anyone survived the apocalypse.  

Those whose lives have not been touched by suicide may find difficulty understanding why this moment is so offensive. This ‘nut up’ attitude stems from this belief that those suffering are not trying hard enough to get better—that one can just think themselves happy. Men especially suffer due to social pressure on them to not express their feelings, resulting in a suicide rate three times higher than women. Telling a suicidal person to ‘nut up’ would make them more likely to go through with their plans, not laugh. Real treatment takes a lot of hard work with support from both loved ones and mental health professionals. 

This monumental lack of understanding permeates the game, although thankfully not as egregiously as the initial example. The flat intonation of Kosmos’s narration initially seems inspired, a man who has stepped back from the precipice of self harm but is still deeply troubled. However, the content of the writing actually shows that he is really cured, despite the monotony of his voice. About half an hour into the journey, he and L9 encounter a man about to jump off a roof, upset that no one likes his writing. He invites Kosmos to jump with him, but Kosmos proclaims he has ‘better things to do’. A callous attitude for a man who, within the last day or so, was in the same position. He manages to help the man by showing that his book will be successful in the future, handily sidestepping any real understanding of how to defuse such a situation. One does not need to be an expert on mental illness to write about the subject, but a modicum of research, understanding, or respect would have gone a long way. The Great Perhaps seems uncertain if it wants to be mysterious or funny. One moment, Kosmos will be lamenting the downfall of humanity; the next, he is riding an ostrich. L9 switches between making jokes and acting like a cold machine. The game is disjointed and lacks the emotional weight to support the story it is trying to tell. 

The gameplay of The Great Perhaps fares better than the writing. A two-dimensional sidescroller with light puzzling, akin to Inside or Limbo, the game’s unique hook is the lantern Kosmos finds that lets him briefly travel back in time. The lantern button can be pressed for a glimpse of the past world, then held down to travel into the past for 20 seconds. For the most part, this mechanic works well, using the lantern to get around locked doors, bring objects between the past and the present, travel down a metro tunnel without getting hit by a train, or eaten by mutant rats. However, in some instances, the mechanic can be fiddly. The transition between worlds is fairly slow, so for sections where one has to swap to avoid a danger, the sluggish transition is frustrating. L9 will warn the player of a danger, but she usually warns too late for the player to perform the switch and save themselves. If this shifting function was on a toggle, rather than button press to turn the lantern on then press and hold down the button again to switch worlds, a lot of frustration could be mitigated. The time in the past would also benefit from being a bit longer. Throughout the campaign, several pipe dream-type puzzles appear in the past world, with the player needing to rotate tiles to form a continuous line from point A to point B. Getting kicked out of the puzzle every 20 seconds because of the time change was annoying. 

Kosmos has some finicky movement, which is not a problem during the standard object puzzles, but is an issue in the handful of chase sequences dotted through the game. One section is set in a tight apartment building that requires him to push a cart, climb on it, jump to a ladder, jump across the gap, throw rocks to knock down the next ladder, scramble up, and run up two sets of stairs before reaching freedom. An already tricky sequence is made worse by Kosmos constantly getting stuck on objects. The enemy is close behind him for the whole sequence, so the sequence has little room for error. A bit more space between Kosmos and the monster would allow for collision-based delays.

Along with an autosave, The Great Perhaps has a chapter-based system as well. This system can be helpful if the player finds themselves in a soft-lock situation, which happened once during the review playthrough. In one section of the game, Kosmos needs to prevent a bank robbery in the past. A vital object—a large stick of dynamite—managed to phase through the floor and out of existence, making progress impossible. The autosave occurred after the dynamite escaped the confines of the world, so the only option was to load from a chapter. Thankfully, this chapter system was in place, otherwise the whole game would have needed to be started over. Perhaps a ‘reset screen’ option in the pause menu could be a helpful addition to prevent this problem in the future.    

The world of The Great Perhaps has a pretty, cartoon aesthetic, with the transition between the past and the present showing a stark difference in how the place has aged. Lots of menacing creatures have emerged since the fall of mankind, with two-headed rats, giant mole-like beasts, an enormous octopus, and a creepy shadowy humanoid all doing their best to bring Kosmos down. Music is similarly well crafted, with a particular highlight being the escape sequence in a collapsing underground city. Kosmos has to assemble a giant robot to escape, and with each piece he completes, the music increases in tempo and adds more instruments to the mix. On the planet’s surface, the music invokes a sad, lonely atmosphere, trying to insert the emotion this game sorely needs.  

The Great Perhaps gameplay screenshot 2

So much potential is wasted in The Great Perhaps. Puzzle design is solid throughout, but hampered with finicky controls. Art direction is outstanding, but the story that the game is trying to support flounders between ‘funny’ and serious, and is full of clichés. Offensive content notwithstanding, The Great Perhaps is a very run-of-the-mill time travel story delivered in a monotonous tone. Many adjectives could be used to describe this game, but ‘Great’ is certainly not among them.

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on Linux and macOS.

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