Not to put too fine a point on it, but Rebels: Prison Escape is a poor man's Commandos. Like the Commandos series and its imitators (games such as Desperados and Star Trek Away Team), Rebels is a real-time game where you control a handful of specialist characters who have to outwit guards with a lot of stealth and a little action. If you can live with the fact that Rebels is derivative and often laughably illogical, it can be good fun because it does a number of things right. Nevertheless, the game is almost impossible to recommend because it's hamstrung by massive technical problems.
Rebels includes a story, but it's really just a throwaway. In some unspecified land and time, the evil dictator Friedrich has taken power. A resistance movement known as A.R.M., the Alliance of Rebel Movements, is preparing to fight back against Friedrich and his thugs, but five of A.R.M.'s chief operatives are caught while making their plans. If this all sounds simplistic and silly, that's because it is; none of it is fleshed out in any detail, and it's really only a way to tack a story onto a game about prison breaks.
Over the course of six levels, you lead the five A.R.M. leaders singly or in groups as they try to escape various prisons scattered across the land. Each character has his or her own special abilities that you'll need to master to beat the game. Blake is the strongman who can knock out guards, drag their bodies away, feign death, and force doors open with a crowbar. He's also the marksman of the group. Jeffrey is the engineer who can pick locks, set traps, and wield various firearms. Alicia is the obligatory seductress who can move quickly, hide in shadows, and strangle enemies. Jonah is a shaman who hypnotizes enemies with voodoo or shoots them with poison darts from his blowgun. Alexandro is an illusionist who can disguise himself, imitate sounds, and create blinding flashes to disorient guards. Like almost everything in Rebels, you'll just have to take these abilities on faith. Why, for example, can Alicia strangle enemies, but the other characters can't?
Nonsense in the service of gameplay is one of the defining traits of Rebels. As in other games of this type, you can toggle line-of-sight cones on and off for all the enemies. This is a necessary feature since a major part of the game is timing precisely when and where to move while avoiding the roving guards. Oddly, though, some of the guards' view cones are so short that they seem to suffer from massive myopia; eyeglasses apparently aren't part of Friedrich's health plan for henchmen. To keep the gameplay going, guards have other built-in oddities. If one guard sees another one knocked out, he'll sound the alarm, but you can literally knock out the same lone guard repeatedly throughout the course of a mission, and he won't get the least bit suspicious but will just resume his duties each time he regains consciousness. For that matter, strongman Blake can kill guards who fall for his feigned death trick, but he can't simply break the necks of guards he knocks out with a punch, nor can he grab their weapons while they're unconscious.
The various tasks you perform during each mission tend to be equally arbitrary or contrived. A lot of them are "FedEx" tasks where you have to talk to prisoner X, who tells you to go find item Y and give it to prisoner Z, and so on down the line. If you can take all this at face value, it can be entertaining. Rebels rewards careful study of the detailed environments and guards' behavior, and it's entertaining to plan the perfect route past a bunch of henchmen and see it pay off. While many games of this genre are brutally difficult, Rebels tends to be challenging without overdoing it, and you can freely rotate and zoom the camera and issue commands while paused to make your life easier. That said, you'll still need to engage in lots of trail and error, but the game lets you quick-save and load whenever you want, so if you're patient, it's not much of a problem.
The maps are pretty well laid out and pleasant looking, though from a technical standpoint, the graphics are merely serviceable, and the in-mission cutscenes look downright nasty, with characters that appear blocky and cartoony in the worst sense. The audio also gets the job done but without being anything memorable. Most all the voice-overs could have been done better. Some sound effects and music tracks draw you into the action, but just as many are merely humdrum.
Still, the presentation works overall, and the gameplay can be challenging and rewarding if you can live with its many quirks. Unfortunately, Rebels suffers from some huge problems, some of which can make the game literally unplayable. Replay value is limited since the game includes only six levels that essentially play the same way each time, and there are no optional difficulty settings. Worse still, major technical problems badly mar Rebels. The camera tends to jerk wildly when you rotate it, making it hard to align it where you want it. The interface is extremely sluggish: You often have to issue commands multiple times for them to register. That frustrating sluggishness is a major drawback in a game about careful timing. The biggest problem is that, along with suffering from a variety of bugs, Rebels has a tendency to crash to the desktop, requiring you to reboot the game and sit through long load times to pick up where you left off--assuming you had saved recently. You'll end up fearing crashes far more than the game's guards. Sometimes the game can lock your system up entirely. It's really a shame that Rebels: Prison Escape is so buggy. When it's working, it isn't half bad, but you should never have to say "when it's working" about a game you've paid good money for.