PAX Prime 2014: Galak-Z is Epic, Awesome Escapism

I had high hopes sitting down to play Galak-Z. I’d heard nothing but praise for 17-Bit’s unique anime-inspired space roguelike, but riding the hype train hasn’t always led to personal satisfaction in the past. And so I proceeded with some trepidation, afraid of being burnt by a concept I’d perhaps unfairly built up in my head. What I was met with, however, surpassed my wildest expectations and completely blew me away.

To the uninformed passerby, Galak-Z may appear to be nothing but a beautiful 2D space shooter. While pieces of that description are correct, it barely scratches the surface of its depth and complexity. Galak-Z is a procedurally generated roguelike adventure through space, a game focused more on exploration and expert piloting than senseless shooting. Players will navigate hand-drawn caverns full of alien life, cleverly turn enemies against each other, and take on hulking bosses.  But beyond all that, playing Galak-Z just made me feel so dang cool.

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Anyone who has ever imagined what it would be like to step into their favorite space-faring anime will feel instantly at home playing the heavily stylized Galak-Z. Its art, instantly familiar yet inherently unique, sets the scene for an epic experience inspired by adored 80s anime like Macross, Robotech, and Gundam. The plot even plays out in seasons, and each mission comprises an episode with a procedurally generated title and writer. While that’s all well and good, and 17-bit’s immersive anime-like package is stronger for it, the real glue that brings everything together is its gameplay.

My first few moments in the cockpit were a bit shaky. Acclimating to the controls took time, but when I finally wrangled my ship and started swinging around asteroids and avoiding obstacles something long dormant inside me sprung to life and I felt a sense of elation I hadn’t experienced since childhood. Galak-Z let me live the dangerous and exciting life of an intergalactic space fighter, complete with all the mystique, tension, and explosions I’d always imagined. It felt amazing.

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But it was hard, too. Aside from the skill-based piloting, Galak-Z also pits you against two separate factions of enemies, both intent on blowing you to pieces. The Space Pirates and Imperials each roam the game’s luminous caverns, and you’ll quickly learn not to engage them the moment they come into view. Instead, a carefully placed laser blast or manipulation of the environment will draw their attention either away from you or even towards each other, leaving you free to move along undetected. That’s all easier said than done, though, I’m afraid.

Your ship has four different boost controls, mapped to each shoulder button respectively, and whenever you ignite one you risk an enemy hearing your engines and rushing to the scene. Players can see this in motion thanks to a translucent blue sphere that surrounds your ship upon ignition, and anything with ears within its circumference will know exactly where you are. It’s an ingenious mechanic that adds real tension and strategy to the player’s every move, and brings a hefty dose of realism to Galak-Z.

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But even with those heavily prevalent stealth elements, the game’s combat is an irreplaceable highlight. Each duel feels like a high-stakes dogfight, and it’s in these moments that the game’s immersion becomes apparent. I felt tangible tension as my shields were compromised and I desperately dodged incoming fire, and that’s all thanks to Galak-Z‘s impeccable atmosphere and design precision. Without the amazing flight physics, intelligent enemies and interactive environments, Galak-Z would be nothing but a generic space shooter. But when all of those amazingly tuned elements are combined with the heavily stylized aesthetics, the result is a package that exudes greatness in nearly every avenue. Galak-Z is shaping up to be an amazing experience, and I absolutely can’t wait to¬†explore the stars for hours on end later this year.