My sublight-drive disengages as I come upon my coordinates. As I was warned, several large freight ships were being attacked by a swarm of local pirates. Diverting power to engines and kicking in the afterburner for good measure, I rapidly close the gap. Resetting my systems to balance power between shields, engines and weapon systems, I lock on to the nearest pirate, who’s decided that a head-on assault is the way to go. Unfortunately for him, not only has my hulking cargo ship been outfitted with hefty armour plating and shields, it’s also packing three 30mm cannons, and two automatic machine-gun turrets. My weapon systems all come into range at the same time, and I open fire. A withering hail of fire destroys the pirate’s shields, and tears into the front of his craft. He only has a split second to start swearing over the comms systems, before his ship explodes in a ball of flame. Singling out another pirate – this time attacking one of the merchants – I swing in behind it, position my targeting reticle far enough ahead to lead the shot, and open fire. This pirate, unlike her unfortunate colleague, swerves after the first few shots have landed, throwing my aim – but only for a short while. A frantic burst of chatter of the comms alerts me to the fact that another merchant is under attack, this time from a huge pirate frigate. Not in time to save the merchant, I can at least make sure they’re avenged. Closing in on the frigate, I unleash a volley of 12 proton torpedoes, along with firing every gun I’ve got. The torpedoes slam into the frigate one after the other, melting its starboard shields, and shredding the hull. It detonates in a spectacular fireball, which badly batters my ship about. After that, the rest of the pirates only take a few moments to mop-up. I receive a reduced bounty (owing to the destruction of one of the merchants), and head to the nearest starbase to repair, rearm, and start all over again.
It’s been quite a while since there was a decent, single-player space-sim (in fact, the last one I truly enjoyed was Freelancer published in 2003). Rebel Galaxy Outlaw gives players a vast area of space to explore (the Dodge Sector), several different types of ships they can acquire, and largely the freedom to do as they wish – whether it’s to follow the game’s story, or not. Does playing as a merchant, buying and selling commodities, and transporting them between the various systems that make up the Dodge Sector appeal? You can do that. Just outfit your ship with extended cargo-storage, and travel between systems, learning which stations produce what and where you can get the best prices. Perhaps you may even join the merchant’s guild, for access to even more lucrative contracts. Of course, it’s also possible to turn smuggler (just make sure you’ve fitted your craft with a police-scanner-proof hold). Or you can ignore that altogether, kit your ship out with mining equipment, decent cargo capacity, and go prospecting.
If the exploration-and-trade is not so much your style, perhaps a more militaristic approach would suit? Mercenary, bounty hunter, and even pirate, are all options. Space combat in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a satisfying mix of skill and tactics. Knowing when to divert power to shields, or boost engines is just as important as dogfighting ability (though you can lock-on to enemy craft and let your ship automatically try to get on its tail). Knowing when to run is as important as knowing when to stand and fight. If overmatched, you may be able to open comms with your foes, and call a truce, or offer to jettison your cargo if they leave you be. Or, you can hurl a threat, and watch as they either turn and attack you as a priority (useful in escort-and-protect missions), or simply turn tail and run.
It’s fun, varied, and there is a lot for players to see and do. The Dodge Sector is made up of over thirty different systems. Each system is connected to others via a web of jump gates, and contains at least one (often 2-3) different bases (belonging either to the ‘Commonwealth’, ‘Pirates’ or ‘Independents’ factions), and numerous bounties, points of interest, and so on. The systems themselves are huge, and while you can engage your sublight engines and trundle across the vast emptiness of space whilst listening to the numerous radio-stations available (just don’t engage your sublight drive while you’re facing a planet), the handy autopilot feature greatly reduces travel time. There’s also plenty for players to spend their credits on, from new ships, weapons and equipment upgrades (there are quite a few to pick and try), to even their own base.
In terms of design, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw’s heads-up-display, combined with a clever popup radial-menu and PDA menu, ensures that players have easy access to all the relevant information they need. And while it mightn’t be the prettiest space-sim around (in fact, the graphics in places look decidedly dated) it’s still fun to watch, especially during combat. Players can also open a Photoshop like app, which allows them to customise the paint of their ship to an extent rarely allowed in games. Controls are tight, responsive and quickly become second nature – though players will really benefit from having a decent gamepad for this game – and there’s even a introductory flight-school for new players (highly recommended). Overall, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw feels polished and well made.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw fills a gap that’s been missing in the PC landscape for a while now. It knows what it’s trying to achieve, and does it excellently. If you’re a fan of space-sims, or the ability to trade, fight and explore as you wish appeals, then Rebel Galaxy Outlaw may be just what you’re looking for. ■