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Galak-Z: The Dimensional (PC) artwork

Galak-Z: The Dimensional (PC) review

"It's hard and stressful but fun and frantic. It feels really unique."

When you boil it all down, Galak-Z is a lot like Asteroids. You play as a little ship free-floating in space. You spin in place and use thrusters to push yourself forward. But in Galak-Z, instead of spinning around and shooting space rocks, you are engaging in intense dogfights, exploring large interior levels, and completing missions in a rogue-like setup of randomly generated levels, objectives, upgrades, and enemies, and, of course, permadeath.

Galak-Z is stylized like an '80s tv anime, right down to fake vcr effects on the pause screen. You play as A-Tak, a fighter pilot who has accidentally inherited the most powerful space fighter in the galaxy, the Galak-Z. It is highly maneuverable and upgradable and... transformable. With the touch of a button it transforms into a mech a la Robotech with a whole different set of abilities and weapons. As a fighter ship, you can shoot giant clouds of lock-on missiles and custom crafted laser weapons, as well as dodge roll over incoming fire. As a mech, you can swing a laser sword, pull up a laser shield, and use a grappling hook to grab enemies and objects.

The game plays out in seasons. Each season consists of five missions, which are randomly generated. If you die in any of the missions, it's game over and you must restart the season (unless you are playing on the newly added easy mode that lets you restart the level infinitely instead of the whole season. I wouldn't recommend this, as the whole game was designed around permadeath and a lot of its mechanics don't make sense if you don't play it that way). Beat all five missions and you unlock the next season. Missions typically consist of entering an interior area, such as a hollowed out asteroid or a derelict space cruiser, locating an objective of some kind and completing it (whether that is killing a certain enemy, destroying an object, or moving an object around to a new spot), then getting to the warp point that let's you exit the level.

Along the way on each mission you'll encounter a lot of tough enemies. They can be very hard to kill and good at killing you, especially once you get a few seasons in. You have regenerating shield points and non-regenerating health, and so do many of the enemies. This means if your shields get taken down, you can try to retreat and let them recharge to protect you HP, but enemies can do the same. The controls take some getting used to. You have forward and backward thrusters, and the game does an incredible job of really making you feel like you are in a zero-g environment. You float with your momentum basically infinitely carrying you in the direction you last thrusted, and it takes awhile to get used to the concept of rotating in place and using both forward and reverse thrusters to maneuver. You have to get used to the idea that your forward and reverse thrusters are always relative to your facing, which can be in any direction at any given time. You can pull off great maneuvers such as flying backward while firing, jetting forward and letting your momentum take you through a strafing run of an enemy, or holding both forward and reverse at the same to hold perfectly still.

Your main weapon in fighter mode is the laser, which has unlimited ammo. There are a ton of upgrades for the laser which you can either find in a level or purchase from the shop that appears between missions (and hidden within missions) with salvage you get from killing enemies. There are 5 categories of upgrades, such as elemental properties (like freezing on catching enemies on fire), muzzles (which change the firing spread), and bullet shape (which can give you expanding or double shots). Since you can have up to five mods going at once, you end up with some wacky upgrades that really feel custom made, such as triple fire shots that bounce around corners or freezing rapid fire shots that pierce through multiple enemies.

The fighter also has missiles, which you must either buy or find in levels. You hold down the missile button to open an aiming wedge that extends out from your ship. Any enemy in the wedge starts getting locked onto, up to 3 times, and when you let go... out comes the giant mass of missiles, complete with smoke trails! These are powerful but limited, and are a lot of fun to use and subject to a few specialized upgrades themselves.

Defensively, the fighter can dodge. It basically rolls into the 3rd dimension, out toward the screen, over top of enemy fire or obstacles. Getting hit is a big deal in Galak-Z (you generally start with 4 hp and 2 shields, so you can be dead in just a few hits) and many fights will have you dodging over and over as you try to get a few laser shots in or line up some missile fire. There is a small cooldown on the dodge button, but you can spam it pretty good, and it's crazy how using it just before an enemy shot would connect with you starts to become second nature in the middle of very chaotic and deadly fights. This defensive move contrasts with the mech's shield. Holding down the dodge button in mech mode summons an energy shield right in front of you, allowing you to charge right at enemies. The shield can be broken by multiple shots, but it's pretty dependable as long as you don't try to use it constantly.

The mech's sword is a little hard to use. It's great for one-shotting little enemies and there's something to be said for running headlong at enemies with your shield up and sword flailing, but in general it was one of the weapons I used the least (although youtube has shown me some people can use it to crazy-great effect). The mech's grappling hook is where it's at though. Using it to grab explosive canisters and throw them at enemies that haven't seen you yet is a great way to start a fight with an advantage, and learning how to grab enemies right out of the air and then wail on them with the attack button while you are holding them is key to getting through some areas of the game when you don't have the lasers you need to win fire fights. The grappling hook has a wind up animation before it actually launches out, and the feeling of pressing the button and then swinging around to the right angle to grab an enemy as the hook fires out is really smooth and satisfying. Accessing the full suite of the Galak-Z's weapons and abilities requires frequent transformation between its two forms, and switching back and forth wildly while maneuvering all over at high speeds is really smooth and gratifying.

The game is quite difficult though, and you will die a lot and be restarting the set of five missions you were on. The first time this happens you learn why this isn't as painful as it sounds. First, the missions are randomly generated, so you won't be facing the same level layout, enemies, or even objectives over and over; they change up on you and keep you always facing a fresh challenge. Second, some things do carry over between deaths... sort of. You can find blueprints that make newer upgrades appear in the store, and those never go away (although the contents of the store at any given time is a random assortment of what you have unlocked, not everything at once). You can also find crash coins during your adventures. If you are holding five of these, you can cash them in when you die to retry the mission. However, you go into the mission naked and have to find a crate containing all your upgrades, which can be very nerve wracking as you probably died in a later level that generates with high level enemies in it. If you have less than five coins when you die, then when you restart they get converted into salvage you can use to buy upgrades before the first mission starts, so you can start the season at a big advantage. This system works well for easing the sting of replaying missions, but there also isn't enough randomization that I had any desire to replay the game at all once I beat the entire thing, which is kind of weird for a rogue-like game. Usually you are just getting started when you beat a rogue-like, but here I felt that I was done. It would have been interesting to have new ships to pilot or something to extend replayability, but the game is long and satisfying despite this.

The enemies come in three flavors: space bugs, which are mindless insects, the empire, which are the alien enemies of humanity, and the void raiders, mutant pirates that raid everyone. Most levels feature a mix of all three types of enemies, and the crazy thing about them is that they will fight each other if given the chance. Often the key to getting an edge in later levels and surviving overwhelming odds is to lead one enemy patrol into another and let them duke it out while you watch. Then you just sweep in to clean up the weakened winner, or grappling hook a stray who wanders too far from the battle and fly off with him to have a one on one fight nearby, or line up some pot shots on the guy you want to die the most.

The game also features an interesting stealth systems. Enemies aren't aware of you unless you pass through their cone of vision or make too much noise. You generate noise by how hard you press your thrusters, and a blue circle around your ship shows you how big a radius of noise you are generating as you fly about. Press lightly on that analog trigger on your Steam controller and you'll glide along slowly but barely making a sound. Open up your limited high-speed boosters and your noise circle will come close to filling the screen.

Galak-Z's sound design is really nice, especially in the voice-acting department. The music is good too, but the writing and delivery of the constant quips between A-Tak and Beam, who gives you your missions and advice while you are flying around, is really great. You don't see many performances, even in movies or on tv, where the characters have great chemistry and are joking around with each other the playing off what each other say like A-Tak and Beam do, and it really enhances the experience. There is also constant chatter during fights, as enemy pilots threaten you or yell in horror as things go bad for them. You can tell from what A-Tak and the enemies are saying some of the details that are going on in the battle. A-Tak says different stuff if his shields are just damaged or if they are gone and based on what type of enemy is attacking him, so you don't have to look at all the HUD elements to perceive what is going on in the middle of the chaos of trying to dodge and fire, and you can also tell what enemies are being damaged and what is going on with them based on what they are saying. The admiral you eventually have giving you missions and stuff is also very entertaining, as he constantly mispronounces A-Tak's name and says weird stuff. The music is enjoyable and deftly switches around based on whether you are exploring in the clear or approaching certain enemy types, with the imposing viking drums that grow as you approach certain enemies being a really cool touch.

Galak-Z has four seasons for you to play through, and there has been a bit of a controversy about the long-promised fifth season. The developer has said from the beginning that there would be a free fifth season, and just recently it was released... sort of. Instead of a fifth season following the normal formula, an endless score-attack mode was added, and the developers have stated that there will not be a regular fifth season; this mode is the replacement for that. It's strange as the story ends in a bit of a cliffhanger in season 4, and the endless mode has an intro that addresses the story, but not in any kind of satisfying way. The mode itself is ok, but I only spent about an hour with it before quitting. That's partially because I'm not a big fan of endless modes to begin with, but it's also partially because the season model of trying to beat five missions in a row without dying was really motivating and fun. I'd love to have another proper season instead of this mode, but it is fun to play around with a bit. You start out with a random but usually pretty strong load out and head into a level that is constantly rotating in a giant space storm, which is disorienting and weird but still very playable, which is pretty neat, and there is a boss-type character that shows up, and fighting him is fun. The developer said this mode was made instead of a normal season due to player feed back and budget concerns, so it is what it is.

Despite the weird ending situation, Galak-Z is a fantastically fun game. It's hard and stressful but fun and frantic. It feels really unique. I haven't played many games with the zero-g momentum thing going on, and this one does it with grace and makes it all feel smooth and fun. The combat is the same and really makes you feel like you're in a crazy anime action scene as you transform, grapple, shoot, and dodge your way to victory... or defeat. There are a lot of little touches I didn't really mention that make everything run smoothly, such as a very basic map and radar system (with little arrows that point to where enemies are) and radar pings that help you find secret stashes of loot. The emergent gameplay of the multiple factions fighting each other and you and the random level layouts and hazards that can either hurt you or be used to your advantage (such as pools of lava, spiky plants, and explosives you can grab and throw around) and the customized lasers you can modify in many different combinations mean there is always something cool going on as Beam and A-Tak and the Admiral and the enemy pilots cleverly quip and converse. Galak-Z is a 4 out of 5.


Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (May 28, 2016)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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