Rocket development sim Next Space Rebels takes place in a strange parallel universe. But you needn’t worry, the Nazis haven’t won World War II.
Rather, the difference is that, instead of endless vitriolic videos about the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot, rocket building is YouTube’s hot button topic. Also, it’s called StarTube, which might also have something to do with its space-centrism. As an up-and-coming YouTuber – er, StarTuber – you’re setting out to become the site’s biggest and best rocket builder.
Yes, it sounds a little odd and I won’t deny that there are moments when Next Space Rebels had me cringing. The game presents StarTube as a real video streaming platform, complete with comments and videos from other rocket builders. However, the comments and messages you receive never quite sound like things a real human being would say. “I bet rocket videos get a lot of views,” may be grammatically correct but it’s just a little bit… off.
But once you push through that, Next Space Rebels becomes a compelling rocket-building adventure. It’s not as wide in scope as, say, Kerbal Space Program, but it’s still a lot of fun, whether your rocket soars or smashes into a wall. And, even though they were utterly virtual, seeing my StarTube subscriber count rocket gave me a real buzz.
On top of that, the more subscribers you get, the more rocket components you unlock, including some wonderfully absurd ones. Fancy launching a horrifying child’s doll into the lower atmosphere? Next Space Rebels has you covered. The rocket design interface is simple enough to use, but what’s especially cool is seeing your creations take to the air, superimposed over either a video background or a convincingly fuzzy landscape.
There are several FMV sequences and the acting’s convincing enough. It’s true that, a few years ago, it’d have been hard to convince people that rocket building is such a real-world, hot topic. But now with Jeff Bezos and so on hurling themselves into the cosmos it’s become more of an attention grabber to the point where you could well imagine protests and the like.
I didn’t manage to clear Earth’s orbit (this is a more grounded rocket-sim) but Next Space Rebels left me wanting more – and I’ll keep coming back until I’ve put Elon Musk to shame. Failure is rarely disheartening and something as theoretically small as your rocket soaring to fifty metres feels like a grand accomplishment. Even the awkward dialogue started to grow on me after a while. Next Space Rebels is sometimes challenging, often cringe-inducing but always a blast.