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Galak-Z: The Dimensional (PlayStation 4) artwork

Galak-Z: The Dimensional (PlayStation 4) review

"Saving the universe one episode at a time."

Equal parts infuriating and engrossing, Galak-Z is one of the most confusing games I've ever played. You play as A-Tak, an inexperienced pilot who becomes the only hope to defeating The Baron's imperial army. What stands out immediately about the game is its structure. The game is presented like a long-lost piece of anime from the 1970s, with the story told over the course of four seasons. The story isn't especially groundbreaking, but it does well enough to give the gameplay a level of context that most games like Galak-Z don't have. Although comparing the game to arcade-style shooters quickly becomes unfair once you actually play it. Galak-Z is a wildly ambitious attempt at combining 2d side-scrolling action with a roguelike while also throwing some open-world elements. It is a game that shoots for the stars when it might've been better off with more grounded ideas. Or at least less stressful. But maybe that's the point.

Space is full of danger in Galak-Z. There are bugs, raiders, as well as the aforementioned imperial army. Your ship is pretty fragile, so brashly rushing into dogfights is not a sustainable strategy for success. Defeating these enemies often requires a level of restraint and planning. Your enemies can detect you through sight and sound, which means you have to be judicious about your movement, or using your ship's boost. The controls are pretty tight, but the slightest pull of the trigger can send you flying through the vacuum of space. It is space after all. The game does an excellent job at showing your status, subtly placing a blue ring around your ship when you make noise, and showing you the vision cones of your foes. The color of their vision cones changes if they see you. At times, it is necessary to maneuver around enemies without engaging them, and stealthily completing your mission.
There are fixtures in the environment you can use to your advantage as well. You'll notice several types of fauna inside the cave systems you go through, as well as pits of lava. Shooting these with your ship can send projectiles in various directions, or release spores that can slow down whatever is chasing you. But caution is needed with these as well: they can damage you just as much as they harm the opposition. The different factions of enemies will also attack each other if there in the same proximity, although whenever I tried to lead a group of enemies into a fight with another group, it mostly ended with them all gunning after me. It was very frustrating.

All of these factors could make a player understandably reticent to explore much, but this is imperative to success in Galak-Z. Hidden around the level are upgrades for your ship, health packs, money to buy more upgrades in the in-game shop, and blueprints. Blueprints are usually split into several pieces but become purchasable upgrades in the store once you find them all.

But the biggest upgrade to your ship isn't found in the store. In season 2, you unlock your ship's ability to transform into a mech. The mech has its own set of abilities. You have a laser sword to use when enemies get too close, and a detachable crane that can grab asteroids or anything else floating through the vacuum of space, as well as enemies. Once you've got your hold on something, you can use them as cover against the oncoming hordes, or throw them at enemies to deal damage to them both. Using these skills in tandem with each other and your normal ship mode gives a ton of options and reasons to experiment. The amount of depth in the gameplay is rarely seen in space shooters, helping to make the game become one of the most unique games of its type in recent memory.

Despite the arsenal in your possession, Galak-Z is an incredibly tense experience. The enemies are smart, powerful, and lurking everywhere. But an additional level of tension and stress comes from the specter of the game's death penalty. When you die, you lose everything. Your upgrades and money are gone in an instant. Your only reprieve is that you get one chance to retry the level you died in with the default ship you start the game with. Hidden in the level is a supply cache with all of your previous equipment, a treasure trove waiting for you to find it. If you die during this episode a second time, that cache is gone forever, and you lose all of the progress you have made in the current season. The only evidence that shows that you ever made it as far as you did are randomly dropped crash coins that are redeemed for credits in the store when you restart.

When I succeeded in finding my upgrades and got through the level that had given me so much trouble, I felt like I had scaled a small mountain. When I failed and died again, I wanted to delete the game from my Playstation 4 and never speak its name again. I am a fan of roguelikes. I am happy to see a game try to make dying carry more of a weight rather than just be a minor inconvenience. But this seems like too much weight for the game to bear, an artificial way of making the game longer to complete than it would be otherwise. Starting each episode from scratch felt like a chore at times.

For a game of Galak-Z's modest development, it attempts to succeed on a lot of levels. Many games with much bigger budgets could use an ounce of this game's ambition. It's just a shame that some of the shots the developer, 17-Bit, took don't quite hit their mark.


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Community review by sam1193 (September 03, 2015)

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