Rebel Galaxy Outlaw review – keep on space trucking

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a bit of a throwback. A bright, bombastic space-sim reminiscent of titles like Freelancer and Tachyon: The Fringe, albeit with a much better soundtrack. Its irreverent space trucker vibe and fun, punchy combat help elevate a game which is sometimes hampered by unpredictable difficulty spikes and repetitive gameplay.

Outlaw is a “sort of prequel” to Double Damage’s 2015 title Rebel Galaxy. It’s really only classed as a prequel because it’s set in the same universe as the previous instalment, but earlier in the established timeline. As well as boldly eschewing colons, the developers have shifted emphasis away from the larger capital ships of the first game to smaller fighters and haulers.

Juno Markev is, in general, a pretty cool cat. However, I’m not sold on her ‘just got done wiping my arse’ jacket arrangement.

There’s also a defined protagonist this time round. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw casts the player in the role of Juno Markev, a recently unretired smuggler out for revenge. Her husband was killed during a routine shipping run and she’s hunting down the man responsible. However, after a confrontation depicted in a neatly animated intro sequence, her ship is left a crumpled wreck. As such, she’s stuck with a loaned junk-heap of a vessel and a favour to repay.

From the start, you’re more or less free to go wherever and do whatever you choose. The game’s core gameplay loop (make money, improve ship, make more money) establishes itself almost immediately. Cash is king, and progression is only possible by earning credits. The primary sources of credits are from taking jobs from mission boards on starbases and running trade routes between those same stations. You have the option of performing a variety of roles, including running scouting missions, bounty hunting, smuggling and out and out piracy.

The game takes place over nearly 40 star systems, linked by jump gates. Each system has various starbases and outposts, from where you can repair, refuel and improve your ship, as well as trade goods and take jobs. As a rule of thumb, the farther you push out from your starting system, the more dangerous (and lucrative) they become. Although the main story is only moved forward by completing the relevant missions, theoretically you could ignore it entirely and just focus on becoming filthy rich.

In fact, quite often you’ll have little choice but to step away from the story missions. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw doesn’t have difficulty levels as such. At least, not in terms of altering AI behaviour or enemy ships. Instead, the challenge comes from how powerful your ship and its loadout is. On easier settings, you start with better gear but you’ll still need to improve on it. That means doing some (dis)honest work and earning some coin. I mean, I’m sure it’s theoretically possible to run through the whole story with the starting ship, but such a feat is evidentially beyond me.

Even with an upgraded ship, you’ll still likely encounter some nasty surprises. In addition to the jobs acquired at stations, you’ll come across random encounters in the form of distress calls and ambushes. However, there’s no indication of how difficult these encounters will be until you’re engaged. This can be quite frustrating, especially during the early stages. Your progress can only be saved when docking or leaving bases. As such, dying after unexpectedly getting in over your head can mean a fair chunk of lost time.

Of course this can be mitigated by docking frequently or by just trying to avoid these encounters altogether. Also, diverting power to your engines and running away is a valid and very useful strategy. Missions too are a bit inconsistent in difficulty, even within the “threat level” descriptions the job offers carry. I suppose I found it more confusing than anything; I would begin to feel I was making progress, only to then run into an unforeseen brick wall. It takes a while to learn all the controls too – not because they’re complicated as such, rather because there’s no real tutorial. I found myself saying “oh, riiiight” during the advice-laden loading screens far too often.

This was a mistake.

Fortunately, the combat itself is a lot of fun! The developers have clearly put a lot of thought into how to mitigate some of the negatives associated with traditional space-sim combat. By which I mean you don’t have to fly around in circles in order to find your target. Once you’re locked on to an enemy, you just have to pull the left-trigger of your control pad and you’ll auto-navigate to bring the hostile into view. This allows you to concentrate on the more gratifying aspects of making bad (or good) guys explode. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is more concerned with enjoyable dogfighting rather than realistic physics models and it’s all the better for it.

The game sounds great too. The sounds effects and audio feedback are well thought-out, and give you a good understanding of what’s going on. The voice acting is well done, with a particularly charismatic performance by Lani Minella as Juno. However it’s impossible not to notice though that studio founder Travis Baldree does a lot of the male character voices; it’s a good voice, but it’s distinctive!

There is an extensive licenced soundtrack too, split across in-game radio stations. There’s a classical station and a more jazzy station, but it’s predominantly blues and country infused Americana. It fits the tone of the game well and the accompanying radio adverts give some much needed depth to the setting. That said, there’s the option to play your own music too if you prefer.

These strengths help to compensate for what can feel like quite repetitive gameplay. There are about a dozen mission types, plus the random encounters. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is fast paced, which means jobs can be completed quickly and often. While that’s great for making money, it does mean you’ll soon rattle through lots of similar missions. You’ll hear the same radio chatter and land at often bland truck-stop looking space stations. While this is far from the only space-sim to suffer from this issue, it can still be a bit of a grind at times.

That’s not to say Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is entirely predictable. The story is more expansive than it seems at first and, if you know where to look, you could end up owning your very own spacetruck-stop. Some of the characters you meet along the way can be called in to help out in a fight too, which is handy if you’re focussing on trading goods rather than fire.

I painted my ship black with white dots, because I am a bloody genius.

On that note, once you buy a new ship, the full value of that ship can be used as trade-in on another vessel. You can only own one craft at a time, but this effectively means all ships of a lower value remain unlocked and ready to use. This allow you to switch between fighters and traders whenever you want. There’s also a remarkably extensive ship painting tool; it’s essentially a separate application. I actually felt a little underqualified to use it! However it allows for some really detailed personalisation.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw feels like a blast from the past. It does have some ideas of its own though, especially in streamlining combat and general controls. The fact that you can do almost everything from a control pad is actually pretty remarkable. It’s a colourful, concise and relatively accessible alternative to the more recent entries into the genre like Elite: Dangerous and No Man Sky. It’s also finished, which is nice. At it’s worst though, it’s simultaneously unpredictable and repetitive. Also, it’s story mode is somewhat compromised by the need to invest time in doing odd jobs for strangers rather than unravelling the mystery Juno left retirement to solve. Ultimately, it’s a game best enjoyed in bursts.

Rebel Galaxy Outlaw was developed by Double Damage Games and is available on PC, with PS4 and Switch versions on the way.

Disclosure statement: review code for Rebel Galaxy Outlaw was provided by Plan of Attack. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.