I loved the idea of the first Rebel Galaxy: an arcade space sim that channels the show Firefly harder than the show itself, with a sharp but exaggerated art style and a solid country-rock soundtrack. However, I didn’t love the game: a grindy experience where you spend most of your time traveling between places rather than doing anything and a difficulty curve that made me want to quit soon after I began. I’ve gone back to Rebel Galaxy many times hoping I would enjoy it but every time I did, my time spent became shorter and shorter before I inevitably re-uninstalled it. Still, when the developer, Double Damage, announced Outlaw, I couldn’t help but get excited. So it brings me a great joy to say that yes, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a fine game and accomplishes what the original set out to do.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw has a story. This is a fact. You are Juno Markev, the aunt of the main character from the Rebel Galaxy. Outlaw is a prequel to the first game and starts with a short animated cutscene depicting Juno setting out to find a man named Ruth. When she does, he gets the upper hand and destroys her ship, leaving her with nothing but an old friend to turn to. Juno is a former mercenary who left the game and lived happily ever after with her husband. That is until old Ruthy murdered him. Now, Juno must fall back on her tradecraft and re-enter the world of mercenaries and good-for-nothings. Thankfully, I doubt a space-sim about living a contented life with your husband would be particularly entertaining.
In all honesty, the story of Outlaw doesn’t much matter, it is more or less an excuse for you to start with a crappy ship and have to do odd jobs for friends and potential allies on your road to get revenge. In a peculiar but also kinda brilliant move, most story missions net you no credits. You’re completing jobs because you owe someone or because you want something in return, such as information. To upgrade your ship, components, and weapons, you’ll need credits. Lots of credits. And so you must take on jobs from mission boards at space stations. Bounty hunter jobs. Cargo transport jobs. Minefield clearing jobs. Merchant rescue jobs. Merchant hijacking jobs. Jobs where you defend stations from pirates. Jobs where you attack stations with pirates. If you can do it in a spaceship, there’s a job posting somewhere in the Dodge Sector for it. That being said, you CAN complete the game with your starting ship but I wouldn’t recommend it.
At first, the this setup bummed me out. As someone who reviews games, I sometimes mainline a game to get to the end so I can say I completed it and write said review. It is impossible to mainline Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. Not just because most main missions don’t reward with money but because the side content is, in all actuality, the main content. I haven’t finished the story yet but none of the missions I’ve played have been anything different from any of the side missions except that there’s a story context for what you’re doing. But, since you're a mercenary, there’s always a context for what you’re doing. A captain’s goal is simple: find a ship, find a job, and keep flying. And that’s what I did. A lot.
While I sampled all the mission types, I most often picked up transport jobs. And I was frequently attacked en route and limped back to a station because my on-board repair droid (one of the many upgrades and ship add-ons) takes time to do its repairs and traveling at sub-light speed or fast traveling to a location means that the repair droid will not have enough time to complete its repairs. I found it funny how easily I could imagine the episode of TV that was taking place on board with this setting as the backdrop. Seriously, the second season of Firefly occurred during the downtime of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw in my mind. Before I got the repair droid, the number of occasions where I would make it to a station with a bounty and/or haul of goods only to break even because of how much it cost to repair my ship. These moments go along way in making you feel like a mercenary just trying to get by on the edge of the galaxy.
All aspects of the game support the mercenaries/space-western vibe. On a technical level, the visuals are similar to the first game. Everything looks crisp and characters have an exaggerated, almost cartoony look to them. The lighting is excellent and textures look great, but it’s the art direction that really stands out. Outlaw nails the space-western look with a 10 lbs hammer. Bars are grimy, people are playing 8-Ball pool, arcade machines beep and bop, the casinos are garish, space stations looked like there were duct-taped together. The most stand-out feature is the cockpits of the various ships you can fly. Every single cockpit and HUD is unique and wonderful.
The music is also standout. While I enjoyed it first, I supplemented it with music from Firefly, Serenity, Bastion, and The Last of Us. You don’t have to do that here. While you can still use custom music for all aspects of the game, what’s here is so good, I wouldn’t recommend it. To boot, there are radio stations in Outlaw as well as excellent commercials. The sound effects of your weapons and ship are also very good, but the weakest link in the sound design is the voice acting. It’s definitely not bad and the acting itself is good. The problem is that the characters sound weirdly close like their audio doesn’t exist in the world but is an audio track on top of all the others. I got used to it, but it is jarring for the first few hours.
I’ve yet to discuss Outlaw’s gameplay, not because it’s bad, but because it is less extraordinary than the visuals, tone, and music. Throughout the game, you will pilot various single-person space-craft (unlike the first game that had you piloting carriers and dreadnoughts). You can fly your ship from the first-person cockpit view or from a third-person. While I love the look of the cockpits themselves, I found that they take up too much screen space so I played the game in third-person instead (note: higher difficulties restrict you to the cockpit view). The moment-to-moment gameplay is simple, you fly to various stations and either fight someone, deliver something, or both. It really is the wrapping around the gameplay that makes it so enjoyable. Outside of combat, every station in the Dodge Sector has an economy, producing certain goods and demanding others. You can buy and sell between stations and make quite the tidy profit doing so. Despite what to me feels like the perfect balance of arcade and simulation, I could see plenty of people calling it either too casual or too dense. Or both. For example, in the thick of battle, you will need to decide which of your ship’s systems need more power (engines, shields, or weapons) and possible change often. But, all of the take-offs and landings are automated.
The biggest change in Outlaw from the first Rebel Galaxy is in the way you fly. In the first game, it played similarly to the naval combat in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. One the one hand, this is great because one of the traditionally worst parts of games with space combat is trying to keep track of your enemies. By removing the Z-axis from the playing field, it simplified things a great deal. The problem was that you were stuck only to the X- and Y-axis, but everyone else could fly on the Z-axis which made you feel you were at a disadvantage. All of that is gone in Outlaw; you have a full six degrees of motion. The way they solve keeping trying of other fighters is with a lock-on follow camera. By holding the left trigger (with a controller obviously, the game support mouse/keyboard and flight-sticks but Double Damage recommends a controller), your reticle not only locks to the enemy but you automatically follow them. You can also pause the action and bring up a tactical map, see all the players on the field, and select one so that when you pull the left trigger, you can automatically lock on even if you’re not facing their direction. From this map, you can also see what cargo ships are carrying, who has bounties, and whether a ship is friendly. It’s a wonderful system and takes the frustrations out of space combat.
The final aspect I want to remark on is the difficulty curve. In the first game, I never made it over that curve, even the easiest missions made me feel outnumbered, out-gunned, and out-matched. In Outlaw, the slope is gentler if you want it to be. You can take pirate jobs and rescues right off the bat or you can take jobs to clean up minefields and simply sell between stations. It makes the earlier hours slower going, but if you’re not confident in your mercenary abilities, you can work your way up. The flexibility here is outstanding. I wish more games let you decide how difficult the game is based on how you play rather than it being a matter of damage numbers behind the scenes.
My only issues with Outlaw are in bugs and the save system. As of this writing, I’ve experienced five crashes to the desktop, with no rhyme or reason to them. Thankfully, I didn’t lose much progress with any of the crashes and I’m sure Double Damage will continue to release patches and squash bugs going forward but they were annoying nonetheless. More annoying is the save system, which saves when you enter a space station, leave a space station, and travel between planetary systems. The biggest issue here is that if you’re, for example, working on a job that requires clearing out enemies in five locations within a system, you either have to visit a station between every encounter or complete all five encounters in one run. It’s terrible when you’ve cleared four of the five locations and you die clearing out the final one. A few more checkpoints would go a long way to making Outlaw an even more enjoyable experience.
Outlaw is irrevocably everything that the first game should have been. It combines arcade and simulation gameplay in a way that is dynamic and fun but it definitely does require commitment. The space combat feels meaty but approachable. The technical graphics are great but the art style is phenomenal. The music is better than in the first game and there’s more of it. In all, I had great fun in the Dodge Sector, so much so I abandoned the main story for about 25 hours. The feeling of being a mercenary and the lure of completing “just one more job” is palpable. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a fine, fine game. You could even call it “shiny.”
Jonathan is the host of the DarkCast, DarkCast Interviews, and Gamers Read. He loves books, video games, and superheroes. If he had to pick favorites, they would be Welcome to the Monkey House, Mass Effect, and Superman respectively.