This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Rebel Galaxy Outlaw.
Back before Mass Effect finished itself off with all the grace and elegance of the last season of Game of Thrones wanking into a bin, whenever I played one of those games, it always struck me how you only ever saw that universe from the top of the social heap; from the perspective of a universally famous and respected galactic savior who could swan about on the best ship ever, decking journalists with impunity and being extremely flighty about what his favorite store on the Citadel is. I always wondered what the Mass Effect universe was like to the average fuck, just about qualified to reverse their space van out of their own space driveway and deliver crates of flavorless nutrient paste to the worker cubes; how did they feel about Commander Shepard? Were they happy with the flavor of ice cream they got at the end of Mass Effect 3?
Well, I guess we'll never know now, since after Mass Effect Andromeda, more Mass Effect is about as hotly demanded as the Jeffrey Epstein Bumper Fun Activity Book for Kids. But don't pout, 'cos Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is here, a game in the tradition of Wing Commander: Privateer about being an average fuck flying a great big skiff around a sci-fi future with only two major concerns: one, staying alive, and two, not being dead. Rebel Galaxy Outlaw is set in a sci-fi universe with a frontier western vibe to it, which I preferred when it was called "Borderlands", which I preferred when it was called "Firefly", which I preferred when it was called "Cowboy Bebop", delete according to generation.
Actually, the main character, whose name stubbornly refused to endear to my memory like a Post-it Note covered in dog hair, kind of resembles the main bloke from Firefly if they'd been played by Jamie Lee Curtis. What with the game flying the sandbox space sim standard, her job and moral code depend largely on you; by profession, she's either a freelance law enforcer, pirate, bounty hunter, trader, or perplexingly heavily-armed postal worker. You can even have a go at being a pool hustler if you want, although I'd wonder why you bought an exciting space-dogfight game to do so. Pool, slot machines, dice, all these little minigames you can play when you saunter into a space saloon for a glass of pickle brine are like a water slide attendant wanting to show you how fast he can solve a Rubik's Cube; yes, it's sort of impressive that he put the effort into learning, but I only need to see it once, and then I'd really just like to focus on going down this water slide, thanks, man.
The water slide in this metaphor representing the exciting space flight sim that is the core of the game, one that I wish had indulged in a bit more player training; I was eight fucking hours in before I figured out how to stop. I was holding down the "Brake" button, you see; turns out I was supposed to press it repeatedly to bring down my target speed one chunk at a time, my target speed being the little random number buried in all the other random unlabeled readouts on the screen that could've been my fucking Cadbury's Creme Egg inventory, for all I knew. Still, this is the sort of thing that's expected of a space sim cockpit game; there's something inherently appealing about sitting in a ridiculously complicated control bank. Brings back nostalgic memories of visiting your dad at the building site and wanting to have a go on the wrecking ball, the same reason Steel Battalion used to be sold with a controller resembling the mixing desk of a very stubborn and pretentious DJ who knows full well that he could just use a laptop these days but looks down on people who do.
And Outlaw Galaxy Rebel's controls stop being intimidating very quickly when you realize that the core gameplay mostly boils down to "Point to the thing and go to the thing". You're probably wondering how I was able to get by for eight hours without knowing how to stop; surely, I would've needed to stop at outposts to trade cargo, take bounties, sell crystal meth to local high schoolers depending on the path I was trying to forge. Well, all you have to do is fly close to an outpost, or indeed, aim your nose cone squarely at the outpost's biggest and most solid-looking exterior wall, and fly full steam ahead, and you'll get auto-docked, fading out and fading up on the landing pad, which is a little disappointing. The fiddly nuts and bolts of takeoff and landing in games like Elite: Dangerous aren't exactly glamorous, but they add to the immersion, and sometimes, after I left a station, I'd drift too close to it while lining up my next navigation point and get sucked into auto-dock again for a Columbo-style "Just one more thing..." Blimey, you kids go through crystal meth fucking quick!
There's altogether a bit too much fading out and fading up in Galaxy Outlaw Rebel; it's also how the autopilot works: point to the second star on the right, click together your ruby slippers, fade out, fade up. Your playable universe is already comparatively titchy; I wouldn't be trying to make it feel even smaller, lads. But I'm assuming the intention was to cut out all the boring bits, the way you break up a long road trip by drinking from a thermos flask full of absinthe until you strategically black out.
Bubble Bollocksy Boutlaw clearly has a very specific tone in mind, judging by the way your ship's radio is constantly blaring all the young people's rock music that The Crew 2 didn't already license, and how all the pirates you dogfight do the Borderlands thing where they constantly spout jokey dialogue in overdone comedy accents like it's open mic night on the original series Enterprise, all hallmarks of what I have come to call the "Magenta Games" genre. But while Burble Burble Burblaw has a couple of magenta knickers hidden in its sock drawer, it lacks the slightly desperate air of projected self-awareness that characterizes the true "Magenta Game"; in fact, I think my main problem with it is that it fails to go all the way in any particular area.
See, a game like this is either going to be a frantic, high-energy dogfight sim or a nice, calm, meditative experience about getting crates of flavorless nutri-paste to where they need to be like Elite: Dangerous; the whole space trucking thing that I occasionally like to pair with a nice podcast for an afternoon's unwinding. And Double Bubble Bobble's attempt to balance the two falls short; for all its loud music, quirky tone, and snipped-out boring travel bits, the energy level just can't be sustained, and before long, out came the podcast menu and down came the volume sliders.
I tried to prioritize the story missions, but they very quickly started taking me into higher-threat areas than my ship could handle, so I had to stop and grind up cash for a while with repetitive random crystal meth-selling missions to buy a better ship, and that's not making it easy to stay engaged with the story. What were we doing again? Oh yeah, dedicating our lives for revenge on the evil space pirate who killed our husband or goldfish or something. Sorry, I forgot; it was a while back. I'd been clearing minefields and training and listening to true stories from American history for the last six hours. Even the battling with space pirates got dull, since I'd outright win from holding down the "Auto-Pursuit" button for long enough, or I'd get sodomized into space dust because I was foolish enough to take a mission with a threat level higher than "Mild".
So in the end, I'd say Robble Gobble Wobble lacks both the energy for short-term fun and the depth for long-term fun. Play it for precisely a middling amount of time for a middling amount of entertainment, and then go eat a bag of plain crisps while sitting on the middle part of a seesaw.
- Goldurned sidewinder: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- But is it better to be a Rebel Galaxy Outlaw or an Outlaw Galaxy Rebel
- Us Spider Nebula folk don't take kindly to rolled up newspapers boy