An incredible modern take on classic space sims.
I first encountered Rebel Galaxy Outlaw while browsing Twitter for space games years ago. What I saw was a game that clearly took inspiration from one of my favorite series growing up. Following the game’s development and seeing posts from its developers confirmed this initial suspicion. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a modern take on Wing Commander, in particular the more open ended Wing Commander Privateer spinoffs. It exudes the rustic charm of those 90’s classics while feeling totally its own in its modernization of these mechanics. That being said the history of Wing Commander and Nintendo was always more ambitious than it was successful, with the systems never quite being able to hold up to the scope of those games. So how will Rebel Galaxy Outlaw convert its complex space-sim gameplay, onto Nintendo’s latest system?
In Rebel Galaxy Outlaw you play as Juno Markev, a woman on a quest to hunt down her husband's killer. At the start of the game your ship has been destroyed and you find yourself flying what is essentially a space dump truck. It is pretty bare bones at first, but by taking on jobs and exploring the vastness of space, you’ll slowly earn credits to upgrade it. The story unfolds slowly, as you’ll likely spend much of your time doing side quests. The difficulty of the primary quest line increases very quickly, and it won’t take long before you’re completely outclassed by the objectives thrown at you. It took me a moment to realize just how much side questing I needed to be doing. Luckily there is plenty of variety, but it's important to go into Rebel Galaxy Outlaw understanding that it is much more interested in being a space-sim than it is in telling a story. But if you’re the type like me who enjoys slowly upgrading and eventually swapping out ships as you take on harder and harder challenges, there is a lot to like here.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is completely open almost from the start. You’ll need to save up to buy a jump drive, but once you do space is open to you. The map is broken up into systems connected by jump gates. Each system will have a combination of stations, planets, and outposts, each with their own alliance. While on stations or planets you can buy weapons, defenses, and other gear for your ship, trade out your ship entirely, trade goods, or just go to the bar and play pool. In fact, the pool minigame is remarkably full featured and incredibly distracting. Once you pull yourself away from the tables you can also accept missions. The types of missions you take on will affect how you’re perceived in regards to lawfulness. This perception affects how NPCs react to your presence. A lawful player who avoids hauling stolen goods will be able to move freely through jump gates and stations but won’t have access to pirate controlled stations and jump gates. It isn’t just quests either, how you react to distress signals and other events you encounter will factor into this as well. In general, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw offers the player a lot of freedom. You can join merchant or mercenary guilds to get higher paying jobs of specific types. Want to go after bounties and play this as a straight up shooter, go for it. Prefer to be a space trucker hauling goods across the sector, have at it.
Like any good space-sim, your ship controls are robust. The challenge for any console port is getting a keyboard’s worth of controls onto a traditional controller. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw manages this quite well. Most actions are mapped to a single button with only a few more advanced techniques requiring button combos to pull off. Much of this is thanks to a radial menu that can be brought up to manage several non-flight related functionalities. Here you’ll find basic things like maps and a scanner, along with power distribution. At any time you can divert power between shields, engines, and weapons to prioritize recharges to specific systems. Whenever using any function from the radial menu or your coms, the game slows down to a crawl allowing you to navigate the menus even during intense combat.
The Switch holds up surprisingly well under some substantial demands. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a beautiful game with bright contrasting colors and stylized explosions. I was surprised to see just how visually complete the Switch version was. Yes the resolution is lower, though not to a disabling degree, and some textures are a little blurry, but it is still gorgeous. I did notice some slowdown when I wound up engaged in combat in heavily populated areas such as the space around planets and near stations. It was never debilitating however, and cleared up quickly. Early on I worried that loading times seemed a bit lengthy, but they cleared up as I preceded. I’m not sure if this was simply more of an issue in early areas, or if perhaps elements were being cached in some way to speed up future loading. Either way it ultimately seemed to have resolved itself after my first half hour or so of gameplay. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is undoubtedly one of the prettier games of this type on the system. Likewise the soundtrack is excellent featuring a combination of original music which skews towards southern rock and country, along with a huge library of licensed music. The licensed music is spread across several radio stations, each with their own genre. Stations also have DJs and commercials. Juno will even comment if you change the station as soon as a commercial comes on. It is an incredibly complete package and I’ve even found myself making note of some of the bands featured to go listen to later.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is a game that knows its audience very well. It is unapologetic in its targeting of a specific and abandoned fanbase. If the idea of hitting the autopilot button and watching your ship fly past the camera dramatically, or opening up a com to tell your wingmates to break and attack sounds nostalgic, congratulations you’re it. Surprisingly this doesn’t make it unapproachable to the inexperienced. Despite its complexity its systems are laid out clearly. Its controls, while deep, are easy to manage. This is a sprawling space-sim RPG that builds excellently on the path tread by its predecessors. The Switch version, while not without some hiccups, is highly impressive. While yes the sharp uptick in difficulty found in the primary questline is a bit jarring, so long as you’re willing to put in the time it can be overcome.