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Rebel Galaxy review

Pace: the final frontier.

Rebel Galaxy's rendition of space is full of possibilities - but they're all a little too dull and repetitive for it to really work.

I think the system militia like me, though I'm not entirely sure. There was an incident a while back where they caught me smuggling Space Slaves (presumably somehow different to regular slaves) and we had an argument. Thinking it would end in my doom and the reloading of a saved game, I consented to a Space Fight, but then found myself Space Victorious and my Space Reputation slightly tarnished.

Only slightly. The thing is, I've brought in so many bounties for the Militia that they don't seem bothered about my murdering the crew of a couple of patrol vessels and their opinion remains steadfastly "Neutral." This hasn't stopped me taking a sneaky little job on the side with one of their captains, either. It's a mission where we assault a base together and every time we set off I prepare to watch my colleague die over and over again because they're too stupid not to fly straight into a swarm of enemy ships. No big deal, since they're always alive again when I nip back to the outpost we started from, so we try once more. Space, I suppose, is a silly place.

Space is also a very big place and much of it is empty, meaning my life as a mercenary-cum-trader involves a lot of long and languid cruises back and forth in whatever my newest vessel is, rock music blaring out the Space Radio and my travels occasionally marred by brief bouts of intense violence. A lot like a day in the life of a Top Gear presenter.

Nobody needs to perform a parentage test on Rebel Galaxy to see a lineage that stretches back to Elite, by way of Chris Roberts' Freelancer. Its vision of space is that of a lawless frontier, one where opportunistic libertarians find their fortune chasing down bounties, trading goods and taking jobs without asking questions. Independent of all this, there's other Space Business going on and the chance you might sometimes come across things like a police chase, two factions in a fracas or perhaps even an invasion fleet. Space, the game wants you to believe, is alive all around you.

This is what we call a 'target-rich environment.'

There's also a flavour of Firefly added in, with plain speakin' mercenaries languishing in bars and the twang of a steel guitar (or the roar of an overdriven one) filling the soundtrack. The ships are rough and ready, while many of the cargoes awaiting transport are as unromantic as alcohol and soy paste. Life is hard out here, Rebel Galaxy says, as well as being cheap.

Mostly, though, it seems that life is slow. Space is really big and a lot of it is empty. As you might expect, all your travel means that Rebel Galaxy has the equivalent of a time dilation feature, warp engines that send you shooting across the map just as soon as you've put some distance between yourself and the nearest ship or stellar object. Nevertheless, even with their acceleration, you still spend a lot of time tapping your fingers as you inch toward another waypoint and quite a few trips are interrupted when you find yourself flying into previously unseen asteroids, space junk or occasional ambushes. Then, it's a case of shooting or three-point-space-turning past this obstacle to carry on along your way.

And I think that's what has most defined my Space Career in Rebel Galaxy: flying toward my next objective and occasionally manoeuvring around whatever might appear in the way. In fairness, the second most common thing has been the combat. A lot of combat. I've destroyed hundreds upon hundreds of ships in countless fights, some of which even tested my mettle. It's not uncommon for me to be set upon by a swarm of fighter craft who are woefully equipped to match me and, after a minute or two, have all been destroyed, leaving nothing in their wake. Not even junk or cargo or some tiny bounty. What a waste of life. What a waste of time.

I feel sorry for them, because I wouldn't fight me. My ship, a lithe and leaping frigate, boasts reinforced shields, thick armour and four turrets that mount missile launchers, cannons and a mining laser. These, combined with a single broadside from my hull-mounted armament, can make short work of foes even larger than I. I'm proud of this vessel that I assembled, piece by piece, taking job after job. Mind you, I can't say I remember any of those jobs now. None of them stand out as memorable or exciting, much like most of the battles I fought. It's all just work, you know? Still, it's at least briefly exciting to try out every new upgrade, to see some new feature in action.

Any passing ship can be scanned to check out its cargo. Don't get caught smuggling.

That's my main issue with Rebel Galaxy. Too often it feels like work. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the foundations that it's based upon, the idea of earning ever-more impressive and ever more customised ships through a career of blasting and/or bartering, but the execution falls short. Ship to ship combat isn't particularly exciting, being two-dimensional turning affairs that are often just about wearing your opponents down, and there's too much room to exploit poor AI by using careful manoeuvring or hit-and-run tactics. Although it's possible to pick jobs (and thus fights) where you know you'll be outmatched, these aren't any smarter. They just tend to be longer.

Nor is there a great deal of variety to the great tracts of space you're journeying through: one nebula looks like the next; one space station pays a little more for gold or booze than another; this distress beacon was actually an ambush all along. Just like the one before last. It turns out that, as well as being empty, space is repetitive.

Rebel Galaxy certainly isn't bad, not by any stretch, and hidden amongst its repetition there are pockets of excitement just waiting to be found. It's satisfying the first time you pummel a new and powerful class of ship into space dust, or exciting when the game's plodding plot finally puts you in a new place with new things to try, but these moments are not only too few and too far between, they also make everything else feel like a diversion. Another routine Space Duel is a diversion. Warping into another asteroid field, which you have to tediously navigate your way back out of, is a diversion. While it's great that there are emergent events happening out in space, most of these are also just another diversion.

I'm quite sure there's more to see out there. I know Rebel Galaxy has other Space Surprises waiting for me just behind the next planet, in the next system or somewhere along what I think is otherwise going to be another featureless journey. There'll be a new type of ship or a cool Space Weapon to try, I bet. It's just going to be so damn long before I see it, such a trek to get there, that I'd rather spend all those hours doing something else.