Exploring space is in again, with heavy hitters like Elite Dangerous paving the way for a surprising variety of star exploration, trading, and dogfighting games. These games tend to come with a steep learning curve, shoving players out into a vast and seemingly empty universe without a clue. Such games are fixated on their sheer imposing level of freedom, but at the expense of playability and personality.
Rebel Galaxy, however, isn’t like these other games. It’s chock-full of personality and easy to get into. Catering to the dreams of devil-may-care space jockeys in the classic golden age style of sci-fi, it sucks you in from the start, providing plenty of guidance without sacrificing a sense of freedom and, more importantly, fun.
Rebel Galaxy is totally centered around indulging the fantasy of being Han Solo (before he got suckered into joining those obnoxious rebels) or Captain Malcolm Reynolds from Joss Whedon’s Firefly. The overall plot revolves around a mysterious message to meet your long lost mercenary aunt at some seedy, backwater space station. She’s given you an old rust bucket to get you moving, but is long gone by the time you actually arrive.
From there, it’s clear your ship needs work, weapons, and upgrades, which all require money. Thankfully, the galaxy is ripe with backwater space stations, all brimming with product to buy and sell, bartenders with loose lips, missions to take on, and, of course, people to kill.
How you earn your money is entirely your business. You can opt to take the high road and just stick to legal goods, paying attention to the markets and tips to buy stock cheap and sell high. Or you can take the really low road. Rebel Galaxy lets you jump right into the black market, buying and selling organs, weapons, and, shall we say, “unwilling” human and alien labor (which is practically a genre trope at this point. Slaves are illegal, of course, but that only means the profits are potentially greater.
Rebel Galaxy lives up to its name in every sense of the word. Thrusting you into a vibrant space with competing factions, vicious pirates and a thriving and constantly changing economy, the game manages to feel accessible and involving even if you’ve never played a space game before. Part of the reason for this is the simplified means of travel. You control your ship purely on a flat plain, as if it were adrift in a literal sea of stars as opposed to the vacuum of space. There’s no up and down movement to worry about.
This works fantastically. The controls and combat are modeled after sea-faring ships from games like Assassin’s Creed Black Flag. You circle your opponents, lining up your side cannons to unleash a massive barrage of destruction, while thrusting and maneuvering to stay away from their broadsides. There are auto-turrets, tons of ship customizations, and a wide array of weapon choices—if you have the cash to afford them. Combat is intense fun, with a distinctive flavor.
Even outside of combat there’s always something to do in Rebel Galaxy. Everywhere you go, someone has something that they’re will to pay you money for, and the available missions change based on your choices and the faction you end up aligning with. Players interested in becoming the scourge of the spaceways, for instance, will find numerous opportunities to hitch their space wagon with the Red Devil Cartel.
Join these scurrilous space criminals and play through the entire game as a pirate—at the expense of your relationship with the the other factions (the Militia and Citizenry). The benefit of joining a faction is multifaceted. Join the Devils, and pirate craft will assist you in combat. You’ll be allowed to dock at Pirate stations and get pirate specific ships, weapons, and equipment. There’s even a whole chain of missions that only trigger if you are “pirate friendly”.
Granted, the same goes for all three factions. The factions you’re friendly with not only determines not only the stations you can dock at, but also has an influence over your conversation options with ships of that faction. This is especially important because you can actually hail other ships in space, even during combat.
No matter what your style of play is, be it serious trader, illegal smuggler, pirate, assassin, or just trying to be as Han Solo as possible, Rebel Galaxy will accommodate you. It’s a beautiful mix of freedom, narration, and style creating a sense of space that fits our illusions of what we wish it might be like—a wild west of opportunity and adventure. So, while it’s not as vast or deep as Elite, the focus on characters, atmosphere, and sheer flavor mark Rebel Galaxy as a memorable and unique flight of fancy.
Jason D'Aprile has been covering games and entertainment for the last three decades across a variety of platforms, many of which are now extinct. In addition to covering gaming (both obscure and otherwise), he also writes a bit of the odd fiction and tries hard to avoid social media.
RELATED: Gamer Next Door Pamela Horton Has a Deadly Best Friend in ‘Fallout 4’