Platform(s): PC [REVIEWED], Mac, Linux, PS4
Release Date: October 29th, 2015
Space-shooters hold a very special position in gaming’s history. Titles like Space Invaders and Asteroids are some of the most popular games in history, and are recognized by thousands of gamers all over the world. The studio of 17-BIT decided to tap into this special part of history and re-imagine it in a modern light. The result is a title that’s blood-pumping, gorgeous and frustratingly fun. This is GALAK-Z.
GALAK-Z follows the story of A-Tak, a young and arrogant pilot. The Alliance is the organization he’s a part of that protects the galaxy. The Imperials are a large empire that consists of dastardly villains who seek to wipe out the Alliance and everything else for their own gain. When A-Tak finds himself being the only remaining pilot of his group, he comes in contact with Beam, an officer for the Alliance. She too is also alone, and so the two team up and set off on their journey to reconnect with the rest of the organization and take down the Imperials.
GALAK-Z drops you into the middle of this high-stakes tale, as you take control of A-Tak. Since the title is inspired by retro anime, the story is played out in ‘episodes’ which represent the missions. There are ‘seasons’, which would be chapters, and each season consists of 5 missions. This style is actually really nice and is reflected with the animated cutscenes which all look great; we’ll get more into that a little later on.
Of course, GALAK-Z’s main attraction is none other than its gameplay. It does an amazing job at recreating a similar feeling to the retro space shooters that it’s inspired from, but the experience is different enough so that it feels like a true breath of fresh air. The game makes great use of modern-day amenities, such as a highly advanced physics and AI system, which heighten the game’s overall level of complexity.
With the advanced AI system, enemies act like highly trained human pilots. They observe your movements and look for opportunities to counter-attack. This means that you shouldn’t treat enemy encounters as just simple obstacles, but rather, as real threats that could potentially take you out. And that’s a very important thing here in GALAK-Z — dying isn’t just an annoyance. It really matters.
GALAK-Z doesn’t hold back when it comes down to difficulty. Even from the beginning of the game, you’re going to find yourself making this harsh realization. The game features procedural-generated levels, so things will constantly change as you progress. This means that it isn’t the easiest thing to work out a direct strategy. Every mission you go on, you need to think like the character that you are: a fighter pilot in a dangerous area where the only thing that separates you from the grave is your weapons and reflexes.
Mastering control over your ship is essential to being able to dominate each battle. That doesn’t come easy either. You can boost and brake, but with the advanced physics system, you’ll also float and turns take a little longer since you’re suspended in zero-gravity environments. That means that out-maneuvering enemies deals with being able to move your ship with enough speed and you’ll need to time your reactions carefully. Since your enemy is watching you just as hard as you’re watching him, that means that every move you make is critical to your survival.
But at the end of the day, you will die. No matter how much dedication you put into learning the system, the game will find one way or another to send you packing. While it’s very easy to get frustrated by this, that doesn’t stop the game from being fun. As you progress, you’ll unlock various upgrades which will make your ship even more powerful and durable, which will make things slightly easier. But of course this comes at the expense of the increasing difficulty, so don’t think you’re going to catch a break from any sort of challenge.
While the gameplay may make you want to pull your hair out, the presentation will leave you in awe. The game makes great use of rich, vibrant color, which is fitting for its anime-like artstyle. The aforementioned cutscenes are beautifully animated, so much so that it will make you think you were watching an actual show. This fact is further proven by the great voice acting. Each character’s voice actor really matches their appearance and personality, which is something that some games don’t always get right. Speaking of great sound-work, the game’s music is also top-notch. Each track enhances the atmosphere dramatically. From intense battles to stealthily maneuvering your way around in enemy territory, each track brings out the current situation beautifully, making it just another great addition to the already amazing package.
— THE BOTTOM LINE —
With GALAK-Z, 17-BIT has taken one of gaming’s greatest pieces of history and have transformed it into a modern-day marvel. Many indie games try to recreate the same feeling that the retro titles they’re inspired from had. Most of the time there’s just something that makes the experience feel more like a cheap attempt than an actual recreation; but there are a few exceptions — and GALAK-Z is definitely one of them.
No doubt this game is going to want to make you throw your face down on your desk more than a few times, but that isn’t because it’s bad. That’s because it genuinely challenges you. It tries to make you feel exactly like how A-Tac feels; you’re this one little soldier trying to take on a legion of enemies. Thankfully, since it is a game, so you have the freedom to retry if you fail. But you’re not going to want to do that. Each mission is lengthy, meaning that when you find yourself getting to the end after all the madness it took you to even get that far, only to make one mistake and get blown to pieces thus having to start from the beginning — you’re going to want a throw a word or two out. But that’s just the fun of it.
GALAX-Z will keep reeling you back in with its amazing level of visual and audio quality, and regardless of how challenging it is, your pride probably just won’t let you not complete that one mission you can’t seem to pass. That’s the beauty of this epic retro-revival and 17-BIT can happily sit back and bask in their much deserved glory because of it.