Galak-Z on PlayStation 4
At a glance 17-BIT’s Galak-Z looks like nothing more than an arcade space shooter. You fly in between asteroids and down tight corridors, all while shooting lasers and avoiding fire from enemy ships. There are bright flashes of light and bombastic sounds punctuating every explosion, and the game feels as smooth as all the great arcade classics that came before it. But Galak-Z is not something you can just take a quick glance at. When you do you see something in the corner of your eye, something that hides beneath the surface and takes this modest indie game into a whole other level.
Galak-Z puts players into the pilot suit of A-Tak. A cocky fighter pilot who is the last of his unit after a deadly ambush from imperial forces. It is now up to you to take the fight to the imperials all while juggling threats from two other factions as well. Going on missions and upgrading your ship is the name of the game, and it is a game that plays to each of its strengths very well.
Under the pretty to look at dogfights that are illuminated by the starry expanse of space, lies a number of systems that take this beautifully simple looking game and makes it into something more. The first system is the way in which levels work. Galak-Z is set up like an anime series. There are five seasons, and each season has five episodes that you must complete in order to unlock the next season. To some that will mean there are simply 25 levels, but that isn’t the case and is the first layer of Galak-Z‘s glorious complexity.
Galak-Z is a roguelike through and through. When you start the game you are taught the ropes and then are thrust into the game’s story. Between episodes the player carries A-Tak’s health, weapons, and stats across levels. Finish a mission with only one bar of health left and you’ll start the next one in that condition if you don’t remember to (or can’t afford to) repair. Missiles must be restocked unless you want to take your chances on finding some out in the wild, and upgrades must be applied. Die, and you lose it all. You can restart if you have enough of the game’s special currency, Crash Coins, but even then you loose everything and will have to find it all within the level you died on.
You may think that you can just memorize everything and come back to the season fresh and knowing where everything is, but you’d be wrong. Each episode is now laid out differently, and you may not even be given the same task as you were before. The randomness makes each encounter exciting and mysterious. Enemies and environmental threats could be lurking around any corner. But, as scary as that may be, you can often use it to your advantage.
Galak-Z utilizes some impressive AI and world structure, and both can be used to your favor. You can lure one faction into another and let them blow one another into tiny bits of space debris. Or you can even push them into one of the many deadly obstacles located in space and laugh maniacally as they succumb to the cold, cruel nature of space’s endless expanse.
Combat in Galak-Z is some of the tightest in its genre. Instead of just shooting and avoiding errant laser blasts from enemies, A-Tak instead engages in a sort of dance for survival. Dodging, strafing, shooting, and using your surroundings are pivotal mechanics that make every single encounter a harrowing experience. You can never become too comfortable even after learning the ins and outs because you never truly know when some random enemy faction member will stumble across your ongoing battle. You also have the option of stealth which often leads to difficult choices. Do you go after that patrol in the hopes of obtaining Crash Coins, missiles and much needed salvage? Or do you sneak by to your next advantage and hope to live another episode?
Then, just when you think you’ve finally gotten the hang of dogfights in Galak-Z, the developers go and throw mech transformations at you. Your space fighter doubles as a badass mech, beam sword and all. The transformation does more than change your method of attack, it changes how you approach situations adding another level of depth to the whole affair. There is no juking, that has been replaced by a shield that can reflect projectiles. You can grapple enemies and debris to use them as throwing weapons against other threats. You can even switch between modes on the fly, something that is used in certain objectives.
Every aspect of Galak-Z feeds into the next to build the challenge and fun with each successive season. Then, when you return to previous seasons after unlocking blueprints for the shop and more permanent abilities, the game ups the ante again by always delivering a fitting challenge. New enemy formations are introduced, new environmental hazards, and more. The game essentially levels up as you do so it always remains a fresh, rewarding experience throughout.
The way a game communicates with a player is just as important as the gameplay. Clues, instructions, threats and all of that important stuff need to be unobtrusive, yet accessible. Galak-Z leverages its anime motif and delivers info by way of conversation throughout the game. These conversations are often one of your teammates back at base telling you what to do, but the addition of enemy radio and banter during combat is a nice touch that really helps to solidifies Galak-Z great feel. There’s nothing like hearing an enemy imperial talking smack to then see his ship explode and hear his transmitter burst into static.
Galak-Z took the simple, addictive gameplay of an arcade space shooter and built something wonderful out of it. A simple game to get into with an underlying complexity that never gets in the way of the fun of the game. Galak-Z is a must play for absolutely everyone. Although nothing here is necessarily new to video games, 17-BIT marries every element in an amazing way. Whether you’re a fan of space shooters, roguelikes, or just something new, this game is sure to please.