Rebel Galaxy: Almost a Browncoat

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Firefly holds a special place in the hearts of many. Gamers like myself have spent a great deal of time searching for a game that at least approximates the feeling of managing a raggedy crew at the edge of space. Our cohort have been enticed and allured by many prospective games in the past, usually leading to disappointment, many in recent memory (does anyone else remember that terrible Firefly tabletop game?). The one that has come closest is Rebel Galaxy, an independent title released last week on Steam, but it still doesn't quite hit that spot.

Look, I'm not saying that Rebel Galaxy doesn't have a lot going for it. Of the dozens of space based games in development/released right now, it's part of only a handful whose combat mechanics go beyond the basic "fly, fly, shooty shoot shoot, fly" framework. On its surface, the combat may seem simplified, only allowing the player to move along a single plane and allowing multiple turrets to act independently of player input. However, thirty minutes in the game should be enough to show any player that there is a lot more to the game than pointing your ship at your target. 

Getting to the point, the combat is more like a naval engagement than standard space game fare. As such, broadsides are an important part of any strategy. Broadsides are large, powerful guns mounted alongside your ship. They do a lot of damage when used against other capital ships, but are nearly useless against the smaller fighters.

A variety of weapons, modifications and ships make for a plethora of engagement strategies

The defensive capabilities of your ship are arguably more important than the offensive measures. When under fire, you can use equipped flak cannons to keep fighters off your back and power special "deflectors" that will block incoming fire for a couple seconds before needing to recharge. Using them effectively is more about timing than spamming the command button. Firing turrets, broadsides, adjusting speed and using defensive deflectors feels less like Privateer and more like a fighting game. It's an interesting twist that brings a distinctly piratical element to the atmosphere of the game. 

The mission system is very straightforward. Visiting stations allows you to look for work in the local bar or by searching through the job board. A wide variety of missions await, from simple escort missions to larger attacks against hostile guilds (you could leave all the combat and story behind to trade commodities or mine resources). Attacking a certain guild for a while will quickly lower your reputation with them and consequently make it harder to travel through any sectors under their control. For the moment, I'm steering clear of any Militia entanglements.

Negotiating deals in shady bars is a key part of being a successful scoundrel.

Despite all the things I love about Rebel Galaxy, the game is not without its faults. The soundtrack, built on twangy guitar and rock riffs is a little overbearing and wears on my nerves pretty quickly. It does bring the frontier "you can't take the sky from me" vibe in a few places, but is largely too loud and intrusive to keep it around for long. I recommend turning it down or off. 

The combat, especially with multiple fighters can be overwhelming. Maintaining a proper situational awareness is very difficult when dealing with multiple ships, especially fighters with a capital ship or two. I've run multiple missions marked as low risk that have ended horribly, simply because I was unable to protect an exposed flank fast enough.

I like Rebel Galaxy, I really do. It comes close to that space western feel I've craved for so long, but it really tries too hard to drive it home. Still, it is a solid game with an interesting combat feel and more reasonable scope than many of the more pie in the sky space games out there. Instead of promising a ton of features, Rebel Galaxy focuses on getting a few features right, and that is certainly something worth commending these days.