There’s a big key to playing Galak-Z going into it that everyone needs to know before playing it. It is sort of like how some people have to chew spearmint gum before a test, because if someone accidentally gives them peppermint gum instead then they’ll fail that test harder Robocop trying to get on a plane post 9/11. Don’t think about Galak-Z as a video game. Don’t do it. I see you, trying to do that. I can see the wheels turning. “How can you not? It’s a PS4-exclusive sci-fi indie video…” and that’s where I have to cut you off.
Sure, it plays like a video game, but you can’t go in with that mindset. If you do, you’ll find an unforgiving game with some interesting mechanics and a half-baked story. Treat it as an interactive TV show. The plot is split up into 5 seasons, each with their own consistencies. The first season, for example, is focused on getting the U.S.S. Axelios into working order after a huge battle with the Imperials, an alien race more focused on human domination than world leaders of the 20th century. Each season is divvied up into five “episodes,” sort of like old Dr. Who episodes. And like old Dr. Who episodes, they all have extremely varying levels of quality.
Some of these levels are procedurally generated while others are major plot episodes that stay constant no matter how many times you play the season. What definitely hurts Galak-Z is the wall it places in front of players. You collect equipment during missions and can buy more in between missions with scrap that you collect by killing enemies. But dying once will send you back to episode one without passing go or collecting 200 scrap. And you also lose every upgrade you’ve bought and earned, unless, that is, you have 5 crash coins, which allows you to restart a botched mission. But you still lose some of the upgrades, which can make restarting higher-level missions a bit trickier.
Moving your ship feels like ice skating after a 55 gallon lube drum spilled on the skating rink. It allows for interesting mobility, but takes a bit of getting used to. I would tend to move the left stick in a direction hoping it would move me in the direction without realizing it only turned me in that direction. You use R2 and L2 to use your forward and backwards thrusters. As well, you can side-strafe and use boosters for extra speed for a small time. Halfway through one of my runs through the last episode of Season 1, I had an epiphany, and the hundred hours of Kerbal Space Program kicked in. From there on I was a Galak-Z pro, zipping and sliding by quicker than a Norwegian curling champion.
The first season feels kinda generic for a 2D space shooter. Fly around, shoot the baddies, complete the objects. Then season 2 pops up, where the main protagonist discovers a hidden lever in his ship that allows his ship to turn into a Gundam-style robot that also pulls somewhat from Transformers. In a generation where we hear most of the E3 announcements weeks before E3, the mech feature was only announced two weeks before the game was released. It honestly really helps sell the game and adds a whole slew of mechanics. The mech can grab objects or enemies, pull up a shield to block shots, and fling enemies at each other or use them as a human shield. Flipping between one form and another can change the way players view the battlefield.
Say there’s three enemies patrolling an area. You could be a boring sod and just try shooting them in your ship. You could be a stealthy guy and sneak around them. You could be an even sneakier guy by going into mech mode, grabbing an asteroid, and flying right by them. You could grab an enemy, beat them almost to death, then fling them at another ship while boosting in and firing with all guns a-blazin’.
The problem with Galak-Z is the level design. Missions all start off with warping into a zone of space, going into a cavern inside an asteroid or a derelict ship, shooting or grabbing an objective, and then leaving the cave or ship. It reminds me of the caves in Dragon Age 2, and by caves I meant the two caves that were copy/pasted for almost every mission. They get more repetitive than Morse code sent by a man with tourette syndrome. If the levels were procedurally generated, then they don’t show it at all. You could create better levels by drugging up David Lee Roth, having him drive around a cornfield, and use his tracks as the route the player has to go around to reach the objective.
Galak-Z definitely has a few issues, like a lackluster plot as engaging as a moist sponge, limited level design, and more references to sci-fi films and TV shows than you can shake a sarlacc at. But while it might smell bad on the outside, Galak-Z’s engaging fighting mechanics, an upgrade system that pushes you to gather what resources you can to better your ship, and a difficulty curve that constantly challenges players, will leave most players wanting to play it over again just to try to beat missions in different ways while bopping their heads to the 80’s synth music and rewinding a VHS of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Disclaimer: This review was completed with a PS4 version of the game that the author of the article paid for.