Outer space is a vast and infinite collection of stars and suns and rocks, and surrounding all of them is a harsh vacuum of silence. There have always been people nitpicking every sci-fi story involving action in the cosmos because of that fact. How can lasers go pew-pew and Death Stars go kaboom if space is silent? Plenty of people have argued the validity of hearing gunfire in space, but Rebel Galaxy Outlaw poses a new hypothesis: in space, everybody can hear you listening to country rock.
There’s an instantly unique and incomparable charm to Rebel Galaxy Outlaw from the second you boot up the game and see the title screen. A tough and torn-up woman sitting in a space-bar knocking back drinks while twangy mid-2000s trucker music plays tells you everything you need to know about this universe.
That badass on the main menu is your protagonist, Juno, and the story of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw starts with her narrowly avoiding death after tracking down the bounty hunter who killed her husband. The dangerous criminal gave her a bit more fight than she was prepared for, leaving her ship destroyed and her blood boiling. Now, Juno needs to start from scratch and navigate a star system full of regions named after American states like Texas and Nevada to get a new ship and get revenge on the man who almost ended her life.
The tale of revenge, as well as the character of Juno, seem enticing at first, but quickly end up fizzling out. Despite being a breath of fresh air as an older married woman who takes on the mantle of a swashbuckling anti-hero, she has all of the charisma and wit of a porn parody Han Solo. Her dialogue and animations are painfully cheesy, making it hard to embrace her as the anchor of the story. Thankfully, the rest of the world is richly developed and more than makes up for the shortcomings of Juno.
2015’s Rebel Galaxy, which this new title serves as a prequel to, shared the same kind of trucker-space-cowboy universe, but there’s something about being so much more intimately involved with the world, between full-character models in cutscenes and a variety of visible space station interiors, that make the galaxy feel so much more tangible and lived in.
The gameplay of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is equally as tactile and well-realized. While the first game was all about slow and lumbering space freighters doing battle, Double Damage Games have mixed things up with Rebel Galaxy Outlaw by focusing squarely on quick and speedy dogfighting. While you initially start out driving a literal galactic garbage truck, there are 8 other space-cruising vessels for you to obtain. Each one has a totally different design, along with with unique cockpits, handling, and energy output to help fuel your engine, weapons and shield.
No matter which spacecraft you commandeer, you’ll be sailing through the starry seas effortlessly thanks to the silky smooth controls of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. Movement with your left stick and ship-rolling with the right are instantly accessible, helping even novice space-sim players feel like a badass as they weave through asteroid belts.
Getting into combat, you’re met with some great quality-of-life tools that make it easy for anyone to blast some space pirates. Once you’ve targeted an enemy, you can hold down the left trigger to automatically tail them, leaving you with the simpler task of modifying your trajectory for aiming and unleashing wild spaceship firepower on them.
Plenty of battles involve an overwhelming amount of ships and obstacles, but a tap of a button lets you either pause combat and enter a top-down tactical view to get your bearings, or call in various buddy characters you enlist during the game to help you out in especially thick battles. There’s frantic and instantly chaotic energy to fights in Rebel Galaxy Outlaw that always had me on the edge of my seat. Early in the game, Juno would often make comments on how she was in over her head or wouldn’t make it out alive any time I approached a battle or a group of pirates, and my victories in those moments felt even sweeter because of how I ended up defying the odds that were set before me.
Not every second of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a palm-drenching battle to the death, though. There’s a steady and sometimes monotonous grind to the game as you progress and require further upgrades or repairs. Mining asteroid belts and making deliveries can help you earn some cash, and so can playing some of the bar minigames like pool or slots. Unfortunately, there were inevitably moments where I felt like my time was being padded out or wasted by the amount of travel I was forced to endure.
Rather than having a handful of large space systems, the world of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is made up of nearly 40 much smaller systems that you’ll constantly be using Jump-stations to pop in and out of for missions. A delivery that was 5 Jumps away meant a torturously repetitive journey involving auto-piloting to the nearest Jump Station, using the Jump Station, arriving in a new star system, then auto-piloting again until you reach your destination. Each auto-pilot journey can be interrupted multiple times by incoming enemies or distress beacons, causing time-consuming frustrations that seemed to be at odds with the point of a fast-travel mechanic.