At some point in the past five years, a decision was made that space sims should be slick and clinical. Blame Mass Effect, EVE Online and Elite Dangerous. As someone who’s always taken a Firefly or a Red Dwarf over a Star Trek, it’s a shame. I want to roguishly navigate the underbelly of space; I don’t want to chew over the fineprint of intergalactic treaties.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw definitely fits the gorram bill. It’s gunning for the space cowboy niche that I’m clearly looking to have filled: there’s country and soft rock blasting through the radio (24 hours of it, no less); everyone’s in rickety metal ships that could pass for wagons; missions are doled out in bars that may as well be called saloons. Like Mandalorian and Firefly, this is a western in sci-fi clothing. There’s even card and dice games to try your hand in.
I was smitten from the off, as Rebel Galaxy Outlaw just nails that unkempt, rickety tone. It also helps to make the flying analogue: you feel like you are in a barely functioning tin can in space, and the audio design as you clank your ship into gear or whack into an asteroid is superb.
The story is relatively simple. You’re Juno, forced out of retirement by the death of your partner and the need for some credits to get by. You lean on an old acquaintance who lends you a ship, but there are debts to pay which are steeper than they first appear. You’re barely subsisting, doing the jobs that others won’t take on, and that means working with miscreants you’d rather avoid. Throughout, there’s some maternal issues to overcome.
It took me a little too long to realise that Rebel Galaxy Outlaw was a sequel (Rebel Galaxy was a modest hit in 2015 on PC and 2016 on Xbox One). Lazy journalism. But it does show how stand-alone Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is, needing no onboarding or ‘previously on’s to get you up to speed. It gets stuck in, and early, and everything feels familiar from the off.
Having got your first mission, you’ll be heading to the launch pad and into space. This was the second indication that I was in good hands. Everything feels built, from the ground up, for console play, and Double Damage Games have clearly considered the faults of other space sims and looked to address them here. Instead of spinning wildly, trying to find your next target, there’s an LB lock-on system, and you can cycle between targets. You can use the same button to auto-escort allies. Instead of tediously trudging towards an objective, you can just autopilot and be there in seconds. Jumping to different systems is just as easy.
These are brave decisions, as space game enthusiasts tend to love the detail and complexities of various dashboards and unwieldy 3D space. But Rebel Galaxy Outlaw plays for accessibility and immediacy, and it gets two leather-gloved thumbs up from me. It means you can get to the good bits quicker, and it benefits the rest of the game.
Missions get you credits, and credits get you stuff. You can outfit your ship with weapons, armour, and conveniences (a tractor beam should be your first purchase). You can buy commodities that trade high or low in other systems (Elite still casts a small shadow here). You can join guilds to access specifically-themed missions, and you can visit the saloons to play games, get information or access more missions.
You can probably sense the game loops that keep you going here: you’re always aching to upgrade your ship, perhaps shift the junkpile itself and get that ship you’ve always wanted. The barkeep might point you towards a system that’s buying your commodities at inflated prices. Everything is nudging you to one more mission, one more trade, and it’s completely compelling.
It’s hard to find a dink in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw’s hull within the first five hours of play. The problems come more in the 10th, 20th, 30th hour of play.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a big game, both in terms of its universe and it’s playtime. You can get lost in its various game systems, and that could skyrocket your game-time into JRPG numbers. My issue was that the game couldn’t quite maintain my interest all the way through, and the reasons regard repetition and pacing.
Repetition comes largely from the kind of game it is. You’re only really flying and navigating menus – there’s no real on-the-foot exploration or combat – and there are a limited number of scenarios that you can create from those component pieces. I lost count of how many times I came to a supposedly safe situation, a distress call/escort mission/hacking platform/simple trade, and then things escalated into a gunfight with bogeys filling my radar. This slow-fast pattern occasionally grew tiresome.
Even more so, there are interruptions that will halt your autopilot, and thrust you into an ambush, distress call or similar. These happened too often for my tastes, and weren’t varied enough, leaning into the same patterns of pitched dogfights. And when I did get into the main missions, the limited budget for the game sometimes shone through. There are too few significant, memorable moments, which gives the game a low-key feel. It’s hardly a triple-A game, so these possibly shouldn’t be expected, but it didn’t stop them being missed.
The effect is to make the game feel thin in places. I’d recommend dipping in and out, rather than playing in long shifts, as it’ll dull the repetition (it was a shame that I couldn’t take my own advice while reviewing – I’ll have to give it some time and return at Christmas, perhaps). The trading, flying and shooting feel too good to leave Rebel Galaxy Outlaw dusty and unplayed on your backlog.
It’s easy to recommend Rebel Galaxy Outlaw on Xbox One. As a space sim, it’s been built for console, and it manoeuvres through a minefield of controls that have junked so many others. The trading and upgrades will keep you hopping into the cockpit, over and over again, but be wary of overheating the experience: the missions aren’t hugely varied, so Outlaw should be best played in short bursts.