Bullets rush past my cockpit window, just grazing my ships wing as I thrust onward at an intense speed. The sound of plasma weapons ring out as I lay down fire on area ahead of me, desperately hoping to hit one of the six enemy craft. Wanted to sneak past you see, but things didn’t quite go to plan. I approach them with increasing speed and just death seems almost inevitable a few precise flick of the analogue stick enable me to weave right through them and onto the other side. The AI scramble to relocate me, but it’s too late, my missiles already have their targets locked. Boom! The screen is littered with gorgeously rendered, cell shaded explosions.
This is Galak Z, where every combat encounter keeps you on the edge of your seat and your skill on the controller as the only factor determining your outcome. It’s a sense of control that facilitates this experience, as you pilot a craft that feels only limited by your own dexterity and accuracy. Time your rolls correctly, and you can dodge every bullet sent your way, but just a few mistakes and you find yourself paying a very prompt visit to the main menu.
Unlike other isometric shooters of its type, Galak Z is not a twin stick shooter. Instead, more akin to games like asteroids or luftrausers you direct your ship with only one stick, and maneuver by using this direction in conjunction with a boost button. There’s more flexibility to this system than you might think however, as Galak Z offers various inputs for forward, reverse and side to side maneuverability. Of course there’s an inherent learning curve, but it comes as a pleasant change, making the games combat feel much more rewarding, and diverse as a direct result.
Galak Z isn’t all twitchy fingers and reaction times however, one of the games more compelling elements is choice. Choice whether to engage head on, or sneak past the enemy, if you do chose to engage, how will you do so? Perhaps by throwing some explosive debris at your foe, funneling them a section of fiery larva, or merely getting a full lock with your missiles in order to give you an initial advantage. Avoiding enemies all together makes the game easier, but as each enemy drops valuable salvage – used for upgrading and repairing your ship – there’s a strong sense of risk versus reward in every decision Galak Z forces you to make.
This gameplay is complimented by Galak Z’s artificial intelligence. The games AI have a remarkable sense of self preservation, avoiding certain areas of the map if they suspect you to be luring them into a trap, and shifting combat styles depending on your own, and their current health status. Some enemies will attempt to flee when their shields are low, while drones will never attempt to engage, and always seek help from allied forces. All of this is communicated too, as you get to hear the enemy communications channels, as they complain about their shield status, or struggling to locate you when you flee.
All of this is encapsulated within Galak Z’s rogue-like elements, where each stage is randomly generated, altering its terrain configuration as well as the placement of enemies, hazards and loot. However, which games like Spelunky and The Binding of Issac drastically change with one playthrough to the next, demanding new playstyles to overcome different bosses and accommodate different weapon upgrades, Galak Z offers very little of this variability. While the configuration of the internal structures of the dungeon-like areas you enter change between sessions, its very common for the same patterns of enemies or hazards to appear. It’s also very rare that the upgrades you possess will drastically change the way you play the game, and there are no additional ships to unlock that tweak the games playstyle.
Making matters worse, Galak Z does not feel complete yet. Galak Z finishes on season 4, with season 5 simply listed as ‘coming soon’ I had to search to find out that this was to be updated into the game at a later stage. While if this felt like a bonus season, it might be taken as a bonus rather than content withheld, however season 4 finishes on a rather dramatic cliffhanger, offering no conclusion to the core narrative. As a result, the games ending feels terribly unsatisfying.
A saving grace however is the games dialogue, the main character – A-Tack – and supporting cast all offer a unique personality, with a set of amusing one-liners to accompany it. Enemies are the same, spouting dialogue as you pumell them with plasma fire, and cursing you as their lives come to an end. It gives the game and its characters a tremendous sense of personality, leaving me invested in the narrative experience. However this of course only added to the sense of disappointment when realising the game isn’t yet complete.
In all, Galak Z is a brilliant space ship shooter with truly adrenaline pumping, fast paced gameplay. The lack of variability can cause things to get stale sooner than comparable roguelikes but the tight controls and adaptive AI make for an intensely engaging experience where mastery offers a great sense of reward. Dodging bullets, boosting around and switching between your ships abilities provides a tremendously flexible combat system, where every encounter you scrape your ship through provides a substantial sense of satisfaction as a result of the skill or strategy that allowed you to prevail. Unfortunately, it’s the games seemingly unfinished status which comes as its biggest disappointment. Not being able to conclude the core narrative without waiting for a patch results in a truly anti-climatic finale. Despite this, Galak Z’s unique and rewarding gameplay mechanics should be enough to entice anyone with even a mild interest roguelikes or isometric shooters and overall Galak Z comes as highly recommended.