Harking back to the days of 1990s space shooters like Wing Commander and X-Wing, Rebel Galaxy Outlaw came out on PC last month from Double Damage games. I like it a lot.
Set in a Firefly-esque “Wild West” universe, Outlaw is a game where you fly a spaceship around, shoot at other spaceships, buy goods, sell goods, meet people and perform all kinds of missions across the galaxy.
Simlar to Elite, then, but unlike that much bigger (and more sterile) affair, this is much more intimate, packing a proper story to drive you along (complete with cutscenes and dialogue) and some genuinely enjoyable space combat. I actually found the tone and overall experience very close to that found in 1993's Privateer, which as one of my favourite games of all time is a very good thing.
Surprisingly – and I never played this game’s predecessor, so series fans will have to bear with me – the actual fighting and flying here is great. Moving around with a controller felt smooth and natural (not always a given in this genre), and the use of space debris and lighting effects really gives everything a nice sense of movement.
What I really liked, though, were the advances this game makes to what have become decades-old genre standards. Outlaw has a sort of soft auto-targeting system where you can lock onto an enemy ship and you’ll just generally follow it, with your speed matched to theirs. It’s a great idea; it’s generous enough to take one of the hassles out of space combat on a 2D screen (knowing where your opponent is while outside your direct view), but doesn’t go too far, as the shooting and missile firing is still up to you.
Where it’s not advancing, it simply knows to copy the best parts, like lifting X-Wing’s shields/engine/firepower balancing act wholesale, which means combat in Outlaw is as strategic and frantic as you’ll find in Lucasarts’ old games.
Another nice touch: you can paint your ships, like an interstellar Forza.
I even like Outlaws outside of the cockpit. The bars and taverns you can visit across the galaxy have games you can play, and one of them is pool. It’s not some cheap approximation of the game, it’s a full 3D simulation, right down to physics and shot predictions, and it’s so good that I’m not ashamed to say I’ve spent almost as much time hustling the locals for spare change as I’ve spent blasting pirates from my ships.
Sure, there are limitations. This isn’t a modern blockbuster release, so the whole thing can feel a little thin and stretched out around the margins, with everything barring the combat itself feeling under-cooked. It’s also lacking in some of the scale and complicated scripting of its 1990s inspiration.
But then.. .combat is the whole point here, and the combat is great, so that’s fine by me. If Outlaws was going to get smart with its allocation of time and money, I’m glad Double Damage chose to make the starfighter-blasting the focus, because really, that’s why we’re here.
That and the pool.