Searching the back row of booths at last weekend’s Playstation Experience here in Las Vegas, you see Sony’s commitment to getting every game on their system. One game in particular stood out everytime I passed their booth, notably because there was always a line of people waiting to play. With two demos set up, the upcoming Rebel Galaxy shined at the Experience, and definitely showcased what industry vets with a vision can do in a short amount of time as well.
When I played the game on Sunday, Double Damage founders Erich Schaefer and Travis Baldree were being interviewed by another media source, but I was lucky enough to have my demo guided by Runic Games (Torchlight and Torchlight 2) CEO Max Schaefer, brother of Erich. Rebel Galaxy is being built literally by two people, who were also co-founders of Runic when it opened in 2008. Erich and Travis bring an incredible gaming pedigree to the table, with both Torchlight games under the belts. In addition, Travis created the 2005 game Fate as well as Mythos, while Erich co-created and lead the Diablo and Diablo II games. After working at Runic for years, the two decided, according to Max, to break out on their own and create their own studio where they could call the shots.
Enter Rebel Galaxy, a randomly generated game with all the best elements of the games the two have worked on in the past. RPG elements, Sandbox galaxies and branching storylines keep you busy as you hunt for loot and ship upgrades through the solar systems that populate the game.
As Max started the demo, I took control of my vessel and was instantly hailed by the space station in front of me. As I held down the “X” button, I was faced with a massive alien asking for…whiskey? Apparently Greel Whiskey is popular, but hard to get your hands on. I was asked to dock and meet the alien in the station’s bar, so I did as I was bade. Through this alien I found out that I was piloting my aunt’s old ship, and while I might think I have some guns, they pale in comparison to my rivals I might meet out there. He asked me to meet a dealer friend of his and acquire some of this Greel Whiskey, and in exchange I was going to get some information on the whereabouts of my aunt. I figured this was a good deal, and I also picked up a few more missions before going to the vessel upgrade screen.
In this screen you have multiple different upgrade options, though for the time being I was just interested in upgrading my “pop-guns” as the alien called them. I quickly spent a little cash and upgraded my turrets and set out from the station. The surrounding nebulae and star systems were beautiful. When I asked about release, Max told me that the game has only been in development since April, and they wouldn’t be releasing until later in 2015. From what I was seeing, I wasn’t expecting the game to be in development in under a year.
I exited the station and turned my ship toward the horizon ahead of me. Controlling your ship with the Dualshock 4 gamepad is actually very easy to do. You control the ship with the left thumbstick while you control the camera with the right stick. Your ship is beautifully detailed, and the subtle rumble as you press “X” to start accelerating forward makes your feel the weight of the vessel, lurching towards your destination. I had about four different objectives, with all of the waypoints indicated by yellow diamonds on my hud, though the story mission for the Greel Whiskey was distinct enough to know the difference. I chose a way point and started accelerating towards it, and once I was a sufficient distance from the slowly disappearing station behind me, Max recommended I kick it into hyper drive.
I would be lying if I didn’t hope that eventually I would “go plaid.”
Hyper drive gets you quickly from point A to point B, and as the engines of my vessel roared to life it felt great to see the stars and nebulae speeding past me. As I came out of hyper drive, I was greeted by a few pirate vessels: three fighters and a large frigate looking ship much like my own. My turrets can take out the smaller fighters with ease, but the frigate requires not only some positioning but also precise aiming. Much like naval vessels have had to attack using broadside cannons during much of their history, your vessel does the same with it’s broadside. It’s this distinction in simple positioning that make it feel so good, and different than other spaceship action combat games I’ve played.
Oftentimes I would play a game that is either a strategy RTS, and I would simply click my enemy and the turrets would auto attack. Other times, the only laser cannons would be mounted in the front, not allowing for subtle positioning or maneuvering. You simply line up the front of the ship and fire. With this, it reminds me of the footage of old battleships riding alongside each other exchanging cannon volleys. This makes combat more interesting, as the closer you get, while you run the risk of colliding with the enemy, you also have to aim less and can simply pepper your target with cannon fire. As I pulled alongside the frigate facing me, I set up a broadside volley and blasted away when I was in range. Rebel Galaxy also makes it so that as you attack a certain side of the vessel, you weaken its hull in that area. Your ship operates in much the same way, so if you notice you’re getting peppered on one side, it’s best to move and position yourself accordingly.
After taking apart the frigate next to me, I was awarded with some credits for destroying the pirates in the area. I then turned my attention to the matter of the Greel Whiskey. I set off (again, wishing I would go plaid) towards the waypoint with the story indicator and quickly found a frigate hailing me. I answered and realized it was who the alien sent me to find. I asked for the whiskey and was given a few different choices on how to obtain the drink: I could buy it from him at 500 credits, I could do a mission from him to earn the drink, or I could simply engage in battle and take it from him.
Of course, we took it by force.
A few well placed blasts by my broadside cannons had the frigate commander hailing me, asking to stop. He sent me the Greel Whiskey and I was on my way. I ran into an issue with moving into hyper drive, as there was another group of pirates nearby that, according to Max, were too powerful for me. I was able to take out the fighters with my turrets and once I put some distance between me and the frigates was able to book it back to the space station where my journey began.
The demo went on longer, but unfortunately I had a lunch date with my wife at the Venetian, so I had to leave earlier than intended (or face the wrath of my wife on our anniversary weekend), but I was left with the impression of wanting more. I wanted to explore more of the solar system, which I’m told had about 4-6 hours worth of content, and was only one of 8-12 randomly generated systems in the world. While the game does have a story, the galaxies can be viewed more as sandboxes, ones that will allow you to explore to your hearts content.
All in all, as I left the booth to seek out the over priced Strip restaurant I was going to attend, I kept thinking the rest of the day how I wanted to go back and check out what happens next. I wanted to know more about this galaxy that I barely had scratched the surface of, and will knowingly be different each time I start a new game. Look for more coverage of Rebel Galaxy as they near their release, tentatively next year, on both PC and PS4.