The Essential Switch Ports: Rebel Galaxy Outlaw
An excellent conversion of a fun spaceship action game
The space shooter video game genre is poised for a big comeback. Last week’s release of Star Wars Squadrons marks the first time that a major publisher has paid any attention to space battle gameplay in eons, and I’m hopeful that the game will spark renewed interest in this seemingly bygone genre. I say “seemingly” because in reality several excellent indie-developed space games have hit the PC market in the last few years.
One of those awesome games is Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, from developer Double Damage Games. It’s a follow-up/prequel to their 2015 game Rebel Galaxy, and casts players as Juno Markev, a tough no-nonsense woman forced back into a life of space-faring adventure in order to avenge her dead husband. The development team’s members have a long and storied pedigree in game design, with credits ranging from Diablo to Fate to Torchlight, and this excellent acumen shines through in Outlaw in spite of its modest budget.
The game’s control scheme strikes a brilliant balance between the fiddly complexity found in classic PC space titles and modern accessibility. You can choose to fully control your ship’s engine and maneuvering systems, shunting power between shields and weapons on the fly if you so desire, or you can hold down the left trigger when targeting an enemy to engage the incredibly smart “auto-pursuit” function. This makes it easy to play with the game’s fun combat system from moment one, making the game feel more like a modern shooter than the clunky space sims of old.
Auto-pursuit is one of several entirely optional assists included to make the game as easy or difficult as you want it to be, which makes it a perfect entry point into the space genre. Like a Bethesda RPG, the game has a decently-sized main story campaign for you to follow, with different quests, characters, and dialogue sequences. There’s also a sprawling galaxy to explore at your leisure, and in common with other examples of the genre, you can be a mercenary, trader, pirate, or anything in- between. If you want to ignore the story and truck commodities around the galaxy for hours, you can do that too and amass a fortune in virtual credits while you’re at it.
Escort missions are often the bane of space games, but here they’re streamlined in a smart way just like every other aspect of the gameplay. You can use an autopilot system to link up with the ship you’re escorting, and the game also has a full tactical targeting view that pauses the action so you can see each enemy that might be attacking the ship you’re supposed to protect and target them away from the chaos of battle.
To its credit, the game never tells you explicitly how to play or how to complete a mission, giving it that classic freeform open world feeling that’s been left by the wayside in recent years in favor of explicit direction and scripted mission design. The developers wrote an excellent in-fiction playing guide you can see right here, and it’s a fun read whether you’re a newcomer to the genre or a veteran. That guide is also indicative of the excellent world building present in the game. Each space station has its own uniquely-designed look, and fun minigames you can try your hand at like slot machines, an arcade game that unlocks a bonus side quest, and a surprisingly competent simulation of 8-ball.
All of the game’s energetic combat, graphical stylings, and sprawling space environments have been converted wonderfully to the Switch platform. A few of the lighting and shading effects are dialed-back, but this doesn’t have a huge effect on the visuals. The framerate holds steady even during intense encounters, and playing the game docked gets you a slight resolution bump, though portable mode also offers a crisp display. There’s some occasional softness from the reduction in visual quality, but it’s nowhere near the blurriest Switch game. Space games have the advantage of pouring all their rendering resources into a few ships and a screen full of explosive effects, and this sort of optimization is perfect for Nintendo’s handheld platform.
Fortunately, unlike in the middling Switch port of The Outer Worlds, the vast soundtrack of Rebel Galaxy Outlaw has also survived unscathed. The game contains a huge catalog of licensed music across several different genres, assembled into a collection of fake radio stations with top-notch audio production. Audio is a true highlight of the game, with wonderful voice acting and convincing sound design helping to flesh out the world without inflating the production budget. Developer Travis Baldree is also an accomplished voice actor, and the range of characters he portrays in the game is remarkable. Voice acting legend Lani Manella plays the main character Juno, and lends her a heft and sensibility that’s refreshing in a world of samey video game protagonists.
Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is an engaging and dynamic space adventure, filled with fun combat, cool music, a robust storyline, and a number of smart modern design touches that smooth out the edges that used to make these games frustrating to play in the nineties. I loved it on PC last year, and now it’s one of my favorite Switch games. For just $30 dollars, it’ll provide you with countless hours of space blasting fun whether you’re new to the genre, or old enough to fondly remember the weird time Clive Owen was in one of these games.