Galak-Z: The Dimensional Review

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Posted November 13, 2015 by John Clark in Video Games

Developed By: 17-BIT

Published By: 17-BIT

Release Date: October 29th [PC], August 4th [PS4]

Platforms: PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4

Price: $20

 

Galak-Z is a trap. Underneath the veneer of cartoony visuals and upbeat music is one of the most intense, challenging games that I’ve ever played, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Quietly released on Steam after some months of PS4 exclusivity, this unique space shooter roguelike slipped under my radar for quite some time, and now that I’ve gotten a chance to play it extensively, I’m surprised, but pleased to say that it stands with the likes of The Witcher 3 and Pillars of Eternity as one of my favorite games of 2015.

Clearly inspired by the likes of 80’s mecha anime such as Voltron, Galak-Z puts players in the pilot’s seat of young hotshot A-Tak as he takes on an oppressive empire attempting to overwhelm the galaxy. The game’s simplistic plot is mostly portrayed through decent voice-acting and between-mission conversations whose animation work looks better-suited to a cheap Flash game, but the majority of the time spent is inside the Galak-Z [it’s also the name of the ship], taking part in missions split across a TV-style structure of five seasons of five episodes apiece.

The beginning of Galak-Z [the game, not the ship; this is going to get confusing, isn’t it?] is surprisingly peaceful, but this is for the best. The first couple of episodes are dedicated mostly to mastering the complex controls of A-Tak’s ship, which take awhile to get used to, but allow for incredible precision once practiced. Independent triggers or buttons exist for forward and backward thrusting, strafing, and juking, each generate a different amount of noise – a critical aspect of combat, which I’ll get to in a moment – and that’s just movement. The control scheme is one of the most unique aspects of Galak-Z, and the steep learning curve pays off in the form of unrivaled responsiveness. In addition to navigating the battlefield, A-Tak can fire his main gun, missiles, and additional, more interesting abilities [such as a rare mecha transformation] that can be found and upgraded through the randomly generated levels.

The procedural design is only one aspect of what makes Galak-Z so unpredictable and difficult. While small groups of enemies can be dispatched with relative ease, the game’s combat becomes incredibly challenge in short order as soon as more than three foes are firing at A-Tak. In most space shooters, it would simply be a matter of out-fighting them, but Galak-Z offers alternatives in the form of stealth and employing the environment to the player’s advantage. A generous radar system means that I was able to see most enemies long before they were aware of me. By gaining speed from a distance and then releasing the triggers, I more than once skated silently right past a dangerous pack of foes when I was short on health or missiles by sheer inertia. This, combined with the fact that those looking to destroy the Galak-Z ship are often part of many different factions and can be turned against each other, adds an element of depth to conflict resolution that was another pleasant surprise.

That isn’t to say that big fights are always to be avoided – wiping out an entire group of adversaries is the best way to gather scrap, the game’s currency, quickly. Scrap not only can be used to purchase playstyle-changing upgrades to the ship, such as different kinds of blasters – it’s also the most reliable way to refill health and missiles, which is invaluable, as you aren’t healed and restocked between missions. This risk-reward factor warrants constant consideration, and always had me trying to ask myself if I should engage a nasty-looking group, especially since death, unless on the easiest difficulty, warrants restarting the entire season.

Galak-Z has its problems; the random levels can sometimes make the pacing a little inconsistent, and any visuals outside of piloting the ship (which themselves are colorful and vibrant, with no lack of detail) are extremely rough around the edges. None of its issues, however, prevent it from being a must-play for fans of roguelikes, space shooters, or just those looking for a serious challenge. Hopefully, 17-Bit gets a chance to make a sequel, because I’d love to see such an innovative game spawn its own franchise.


About the Author

John Clark