by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 5th September, 2019
A story-driven pick-up-and-play space sim with a strong Wild West vibe in the spirit of Freelancer, Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw is perfect for anyone who likes space sims that don't require learning manual for each ship.
Space sims are on the rise again. After being ignored for more than a decade with only EVE (MMO) and X (singleplayer) games being offered as choices for everyone with a desire of living their own space opera the genre saw a renaissance in the 2010s with games like No Man's Sky, Elite: Dangerous, Everspace, Rebel Galaxy, and many more indie titles that sprouted like mushrooms.
But none offered a story-driven experience taking place in a relatively small region of space with the freedom of allowing players to trade, headhunt, pirate, or do any other work they desire while at the same time offering arcade ship controls that don't require a freakin' flying manual for each ship. Until Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw came.
Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw is the prequel for Rebel Galaxy, a story-driven game that had simple, two plane controls (it wasn't a space sim per se) where you flew ships with RTS-like controls. The prequel ditches two planes of freedom of movement and goes full-on space sim flying. In Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw you can just pick up the controller and pilot your ship.
The game is easy on beginners and is the complete opposite of Elite: Dangerous and X games, both of which need a week-long course to learn to fly ships and another course to learn their economies.
Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw is an arcade with simplified economy and a strong vibe of two legends of the genre: Wing Commander: Privateer and Freelancer. So, if you waited for a worthy sequel for these two story-driven, old school space sim games (the last quality offering was 2006's Darkstar One) wait no more.
The game puts you in the cockpit of your own ship, a junkyard worthy hauler after you get beaten up and your ship gets stolen on a desert planet. You play as Juno, a gritty space veteran who investigates her husband's death.
Your investigation led you to a no-good mercenary who is the reason for a new scar on your face, zero credits on your account, and no ship to call your own. Juno then pulls some strings, gets a new (beaten up hauler that barely moves) ship and to return the favor she must get some work done. The game begins and you have the freedom to do anything you like, with a story to drive you forward.
As soon as you launch to space the whole Dodge sector (a region of space where the game takes place in) is at the palm of your hand, with about 40 systems ready to be visited.
But, as these things go, you can't really do much. With a lousy ship equipped with junkyard level gear, you will have to trade and do basic side missions to amass enough credits to put some decent parts and weapons on your ship. And these basic side hustles are here to acquaint the player with ship controls and general gameplay.
It's all pretty basic and easy to learn. Each ship controls in the same way, and it's all pretty arcadey, which I really liked. I got familiarized with basic flight systems and was ready to break away to the first story mission in no time.
This arcade flight system is awesome, especially for beginners. There are multiple time-saving options like autopilot players can use instead sub-light flight to reach space stations and planets around systems, and it works great.
You can simply autopilot to any location inside a star system which is a huge time saver. Purists can simply ignore it, and they can pick one of the two hardest difficulty levels at the start of the game, both eliminating third-person camera and allowing just cockpit camera view.
There are four difficulty levels and each comes with fewer assists and worse starting equipment (worse weapons, lack of an afterburner) and while I wanted to pick the second hardest difficulty I couldn't because, as I mentioned, they don't allow the third-person camera. And I love the third-person camera in flight sims. Do note that harder difficulty doesn't mean tougher opponents; they stay the same no matter which difficulty you pick.
The flying assists are really helpful and won't mar your enjoyment, except if you want a pure piloting experience. Basically, you have one assist that follows enemies - by holding left trigger - in dogfights and I used it only when an enemy pulled a maneuver that put them behind my craft to avoid headache-inducing loop-de-loop maneuvers.
Another assist is the aim assist but it can be turned off in settings, which I recommend to everyone. Generally speaking, the control scheme is super easy to learn and while those who don't play space sims will often feel overwhelmed during the first couple of hours they will feel at home after they finish a couple of side missions that include dogfights.
One thing that should be noted is that a controller or a flight stick is a must. Mouse and keyboard controls are simply bad and if you plan on playing Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw that way, just skip the game or get a decent controller. Yes, this is a PC game but the reality is that M+K combo is simply a no go.
So, after you pick a difficulty and start playing the game the whole Dodge sector is yours to explore. You should amass some money in Texas system (the starting system) and at least get some weapons and better armor before you embark on the first mission because you will be eaten up and spat out in no time by every enemy if you decide to enter a dogfight without proper gear.
And after you get your first story mission that plays outside of the Texas system make sure to save up enough money for the first ship upgrade along with better shields and more powerful generator because you'll find yourself vulnerable and an extremely easy target with the first ship. Luckily, the game is super rich in ways to earn extra credits.
There is unlimited number of side hustles that include trucking gigs , attacks on pirates, headhunting, missions where you have to defend traders (don't play those since enemies are super-efficient at eliminating their targets and you often end up with zero credit reward on top of repair expenses), attack missions where you assist others in attacking pirate forces, and more.
Simple trading is more lucrative since the game features a simple economy and offers an excellent way to check out prices in other places in a system. But once you discover mining, you can forget about all other ways of amassing credits.
I managed to get the hold on the most expensive ship and quality pieces of equipment after just 3-4 hours of mining meteors in just two systems. And this is what I don't like about the game - there are simply too few ships you can buy and once you get the best one you will earn enough credits for all the best equipment pretty quickly just by doing simple recon and attack jobs.
On the other hand, the dogfights are awesome. You are often outnumbered and the sheer excitement of fighting pirates is through the roof. You have to be efficient with your shots and having any kind of rocket launcher is imperative.
Learning to fly in dogfights is much easier with the chase assist turned on and after a couple of hours, you will start to actively look for the next combat encounter. The arcade nature of the game is perfect for combat and I loved every second of every dogfight in this game.
Do note that the game features a buddy system where characters you've met during the story can come to assists you for a short time. This is important since some side missions require a buddy to your side since going solo will get your ship destroyed in a matter of seconds.
So, if you find yourself getting your ass kicked constantly during a particular side gig try calling up a buddy and then try that mission again.
Overall, the whole trade-fight-do side missions loop is extremely satisfying and simple to learn. The game's really old school when it comes to these things and everyone who played Wing Commander: Privateer and Freelancer and loved those games will love what Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw has to offer. The only feature that isn't balanced is mining.
As I said, you can earn enough for the top ship and really powerful gear in just 3-4 hours while earning the same amount of credits via side hustles and trading would take at least triple the amount of time, probably longer.
When it comes to presentation Rebel Galaxy Outlaw shines in every department. The game's really a looker, with excellent explosion effects and lighting and detailed ship models.
Jump gates and various space stations (as well as other man-made objects such as containers, fuel stations, etc.) don't look super detailed and follow the same visual style seen in Freelancer.
Space looks pretty with lots of stars in the background and beautiful nebulas. Dogfights are filled with explosions and laser weapon effects and look like non-stop firework. Each ship features its own unique HUD design, and all of those are made in the 90's space-sim style.
They are colorful but not clear enough so you might have troubles with the aiming reticle, shield and hull integrity info (each ship's HUD use different colors for hull integrity, which is really annoying), and power available for shields and weapons. The same can be said about menus, which also follow this hard-to-read retro design.
Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw performs perfect and the game will work even on proper potatoes. My rig (i7-7700, GTX 1060, 16 gigs of RAM) ran the game at constant 60fps at 1080p with zero drops or slowdowns. Overall, the game looks pretty nice and while it doesn't look as fancy as Elite: Dangerous developers at Double Damage did a phenomenal job regarding their budget and manpower.
Voice work is also pretty solid. There aren't many different voices in the game but they all sound quite alright, with the appropriate amount of emotions and with real acting prowess when it comes to the voice of Juno and other notable story characters. In-game sounds are varied, with lots of explosions, afterburner thumping, pew-pew weapon noises, and more.
NPCs sound okay, with pirates and some crazy religious cult nutjobs standing out from the pack. Those sounds really slimy-evil (pirates) and insane (cultists) and overall, the voice work is pretty good for an indie game. Where Rebel Galaxy: Outlaw really shines is the game's soundtrack.
There are literally dozens of licensed songs divided into six (maybe more?) radio stations that play country, southern rock, hard rock, post-grunge, hardcore and metal, jazz, and classical music. There are even a couple of hip-hop tunes found on the Latino sounds radio and I love most the songs found in the game.
The radio stations are richer in music than in most other games (except GTA titles) and the sheer number of songs is astounding, especially when you take into account the fact that this is an indie game with a tight budget. Kudos to developers who curated one of the best soundtracks I heard in recent years.
The story of the game has strong Wild West vibes and the whole vibe of the Dodge (the name says it all) Sector is that of the great American frontier. Juno is a former pirate and she knows her fair share of shady characters. Smugglers, pirates, fishy businessman, mercenaries, she knows them all. But most of the people who have a place in the story are genuinely good fellas who're just trying to earn some credits and not stir up the pot too much.
And Juno is also extremely likable; a grizzled former pirate who just wants justice. She's a well-written character and her motivations are clear and easy to relate with. And she has a solid number of cool one-liners. There are multiple story branches each following a different acquaintance of Juno, and they all are interesting and worthy of your attention.
The story of the game is a story of outlaws who have to stick together in this godforsaken part of space where you can be ransacked and left for dead by pirates or some other scum at every corner. I really like the vibe of the game, it's just like playing Red Dead Redemption, but in space. Fortunately, the story is filled with positive emotions and is quite lighthearted compared to RDR and its sequel.
There are lots of story missions with a couple of plot twists that don't artificially stretch the story. There's also a number of story-driven side missions you get from characters who helped you and these are also a joy to play. Overall, I really like the story and it provides an excellent backdrop for your space adventures.
It won't get boring or tedious but the problem with it is that you will get the best ship and pieces of gear long before the final third of the story meaning that you won't have the motivation to earn extra credits for the better part of the game. I have to say again, adding a couple more ships (with super high prices) would be amazing since you'd then had the motivation to do side hustles instead of just working out story missions during the second part of the game.
Luckily the game came out with day one mod support so I hope that the modding community adds new ships and new equipment to the game in the future.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw has its quirks, the game is far from being perfect. The HUD is near undecipherable at times, save system is quite bad (one autosave without the ability to load earlier saves), there are pirates all over the place and they attack you at every corner.
Some side missions are not worth the trouble (like trucking gigs that require the player to acquire the goods or defense missions), there are just five ships you can pilot (including the one you start with), some players won't like autopilot feature and assists, and there's zero incentive to do side missions once you get the best equipment.
But the whole Freelancer vibe is amazing, controls are arcadey and easy to learn, dogfights are superb (I took attack side missions even after upgrading the ship to the fullest because dogfights are so fun), the story is one of the best in the genre, and the whole Wild West backdrop simply rules.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is an excellent choice for every space sim fan who craves for a new Freelancer or Wing Commander: Privateer and/or for a story-driven space game. The game's also great for casual players who are scared by Elite: Dangerous and X series daunting gameplay mechanics and complex economies. The game has tons of charm and its quirks are massively overshadowed by its qualities.
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