As soon as I started the game up and I got rock music instead of traditional spacegoing tunes, I know that Rebel Galaxy was going to be an interesting experience. This space action title drops you into a procedurally-generated galaxy, giving you the freedom to play however you want. Not only can you be a hero or a total jerk, but you can choose to be a gangster, an enforcer, a trader, a pirate, what have you. While the game doesn't have the deepest combat, it offers you a lot of things to do, and a good number of them are enjoyable.
The story starts with you traveling to a distant galaxy, possibly full of rebels, to track down your aunt, who has a proposition for you. You have to do some work to find her, but on your quest to find her, you run into a mysterious AI that takes things for a turn. The game doesn't feel very story-focused, though, as there's always a variety of things you can do in order to play however you like, and every mission is given the same precedence as the story missions. It feels like "here's some story, you can play it if you like" which I'm actually a fan of.
The meat of the game is in taking on missions. There are a fair amount of story missions, but a lot more side missions that you can take on from basically any outpost, which are essentially like small cities. They're generally single-objective affairs, where you travel to a certain location to transport certain goods, defeat enemies, or do some mining; they only take a few minutes, so it's pretty easy to take care of a bunch of them without much thought. They also come in a variety of difficulty levels, and the game does a good job of alerting you if a mission is too far above your current level.
You usually have to travel several minutes to get to your mission, and the game suffers a bit from Wind Waker syndrome: when you're traveling, you're usually just waiting. There will occasionally be a mystery signal to investigate, but I never found these particularly engaging. They're usually random battles, which I'm normally fine with, but when I'm on the way to something else they just feel like distractions, especially when the enemies are far above my level.
One other thing that comes into play with missions is your allegiances. In addition to the standard good-guy police corps organization, you have multiple space gangs (for lack of a better term) that you can ally yourself with as well. Most missions will raise your standing with one or two of these groups, while decreasing your standing with another. You can choose to be good or evil if you want, as the story missions don't really line themselves up with any faction; it'll affect who your friends and enemies are, though. On top of that, when you meet certain story-critical characters, you can choose how to interact with them; you can work with them, threaten them, attack them, what have you. If you want to be a complete jerk, this game gives you the freedom to do so without crippling you too badly.
It's good that doing extra missions is easy and fairly fun, because you'll need to do a bunch of them. You won't get far in the story without upgrading your ship at regular intervals, and in order to do that you'll need the money you get from missions. You can upgrade at any outpost, beefing up your defense, attack or speed. Upgrades are actually satisfying, since you can see a notable difference in your speed or attack after you get one; you can feel your ship getting stronger, which is great.
Combat isn't super deep, but it's decently fun. You have a couple different weapon types you can choose from, which are more effective against certain enemies. Your lighter weapons are your turrets; they have weaker shots, but they can be shot in any direction, so they're more useful against the smaller, more agile enemies that pepper a battle. For the larger enemies, though, you'll be using your broadside cannons. They're a bit harder to aim, but they're not too complicated, and they do a good deal of damage when they hit. Getting shots lined up while making sure you don't fly into debris or asteroids is tricky, and it makes battles fairly tense - and the victories quite satisfying.
One other element that comes into play is trading goods. At each outpost, there's a list of goods that the outpost is buying and selling, and their prices as well. You can drop off any salvage stuff you find for some coin, assuming your cargo isn't illegal and the corps try to seize it (and you are free to "respectfully" disagree). This stuff can be picked up after battles, or you can equip yourself with a mining laser and specifically go looking for it. But you can also get hot tips from bartenders at outposts, about which places are buying or selling for high/low prices; if you know what you're doing, you can even affect the prices of goods in certain regions by blowing up certain ships or what have you. If you want to, you can try playing the arbitrage game and make some money by buying goods for a low price and selling them for a high price. It's cool that this is an option, but it's one I never really took advantage of; it seems like a lot of planning for not much payoff, especially when you can get plenty of money just from missions.
Graphically, the game looks very nice, though not top-tier. You have plenty of graphical options presented to you when the game starts, with your standard shadow, anti-aliasing, etc., and it will push your graphics card if you want it to, as evidenced by the smell of cooking dust coming from my tower when I played the game. The art direction is pretty great as well; ships, outposts and characters are all well designed, and for a game that takes place in space, there's nice variety in the colors, which I always appreciate.
As I said before, the music has more of a rock theme to it, which I really appreciate. It really helps drive home the vision of you being a space cowboy, and that this really is a more lawless sort of place where you can be as good or evil as you want to be. The sound effects do a great job too; I especially love the sound of jumping to warp speed, where you have a buildup of energy, then a brief pause before it's unleashed. The game's voice acting is also good, and surprisingly extensive.
Overall, I got more out of Rebel Galaxy than I was expecting. This is a game with plenty of things to do, and with the exception of the arbitrage system, the tasks you undertake are enjoyable and well implemented, if not a little repetitive sometimes. And since missions are so short, it's no problem playing the game in small chunks or for long periods of time. The game didn't light my world on fire, but it's a game I undoubtedly enjoy playing, and I don't have many complaints about it. If you're looking to be a space cowboy, this is a game you should check out.
Score: 8.5 out of 10