Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Galak-Z (PS4) Review

I first saw Galak-Z at PAX Prime two years ago.  It is a space action game that is a cross between the ship movement of Asteroids, a power-up system like a shmup and the perma-death of a rogue-like game.  The setting is a 70s or 80s space anime.  Can all of this work together in any kind of coherent whole?

Actually, yes, it blends really well together.  The game is separated into five seasons that have five episodes in them.  Each season must be completed in one life, and unfortunately your life does not automatically replenish between each episode.  This is one of the rogue-like elements in the game.  You can purchase health from the store, but only 1 bar each time, so it is best to conserve it when you can.  Therefore, running in to every encounter with guns-a-blazin' isn't an advisable strategy.

A lot of what you do has to be somewhat deliberate,  The space controls make this more difficult, since you will drift in whatever direction you have momentum.  Thankfully you won't take damage if you make contact with the terrain, so it is manageable.  As a ship, you can fly and shoot in any of 360 degrees, boost for a time, and juke to avoid enemy fire.  It controls well as long as you keep your cool.  I would sometimes stumble with the controls when firefight chases would get tense.  It didn't really get me killed, but I would end up taking unnecessary damage.

Oh, and in some episodes your ship can transform into a mech.  The mech looks cool, but trades the gun for a laser sword (of course).  It also gets a shield to guard from attacks, and a grapple to grab space debris to use as a shield or throw at enemies.  While this in and of itself is cool, and some of the moves really useful, I found the ship to be much better, simply for the attack range.  Yes, that sounds strange coming from me, the robot fan, but I prefer the ship.  The sword is very strong, but I tended to take a lot of damage when trying to use it versus the gun.  The super brave tactic of running backwards while shooting left me alive more often than not.  I'm sure that using the mech in certain situations is far better, as big enough debris makes an effective shield or cover to sneak by opposing forces.

All stages are randomized, but the goals are similar: get to the target(s) and then escape.  You usually start in an open area of space and then have to make your way through a cavernous asteroid or derelict ship.  Enemies are either one of the space insects, soldiers from the Empire, or Void Raiders, which seem like a type of scavenger.  There are a few different types of each to mix it up a bit.  Further stages have stronger variants as well.  Thankfully, the groups are not allies, and will fight each other if they are close enough and don't notice you.  Also, enemies will predictably spawn near the exit point once you have to leave the level.  You are stuck killing them, since using the warp point takes a long time.  You don't want to be sitting still with some Empire goons looming near!

Dying in an episode isn't always the end.  It is possible to continue in exchange for some Crash Coins, which are sometimes dropped by enemies or chests.  If you do, you still need to find your stuff in a crate that is randomly placed in the level.  You also unlock blueprints that are randomly strewn around the various stages, which lead to ship power-ups that can be purchased from the store.  Unfortunately, if you die, your money is not carried forward.  Couple that with the fact that blueprints must be purchased after unlocking, and you can easily be screwed if you do die.  Yuck.  Either keeping your money or letting the blueprints be actual unlocks (my preference) would alleviate those problems, but it is not to be.

I like the inspiration of Galak-Z.  It is a fun combination of retro sci-fi anime, rogue-like gameplay and Asteroids.  Each episode even has a "written by" and the seasons have their own ending credit sequences.  There is some funny dialogue, too.  The game can be fun, but the pretty unforgiving nature of death is of course present.  It does get really tense when you are fighting an enemy patrol while riding next to no health.  The random levels and unlockable blueprints gives a decent replay value.  Fans of rogue-like games should check it out.

[Update: 11/13/15]
I tried out the PC version, and the levels ran fine on my i7-4790 3.60GHz w/ 16GB RAM.  The cutscenes seemed a tiny bit choppy, just enough for me to notice but not to disrupt the experience.  It also controlled fine with the Xbox 360 controller, and I vastly preferred that to the keyboard and mouse.  The K&M worked... but the positioning of the keys was awkward.  Thrust is W, S is reverse and Shift is boost.  Since braking is both W and S together, I couldn't find a finger position that let me do all of it as comfortably as just using a controller.

The biggest addition to this... edition... is the Arcade mode.  Whereas normally when you die you go back to the beginning of the season, in Arcade mode you can restart the episode.  It's a good change, and thankfully the game doesn't make fun of you for it, and in fact, acknowledges how mean Hardcore is.  Also, the stages load much faster than the PS4 version, but that is likely because of the increased memory in my PC versus the PS4.

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