With three of the year’s biggest AAA releases – Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, Fallout 4 and Starcraft 2: Legacy of the Void – landing in the hands of fans last week. It’d be easy to call it a day and consider the year pretty much over for PC gamers. This would, of course, be a mistake. After releasing exclusively on PS4 earlier in the year, Galak-Z: The Dimensional has finally made its way to PC and the roguelike arcade shooter experience still holds up as one of year’s best.
Draped in the aesthetics of saturday morning cartoons and Japanese mech anime, Galak-Z is a 2D dogfighting game sees you take on the role of A-Tak, the lone survivor of an attack that leaves the military forces of humanity scattered and on the run from aliens, space pirates and giant bug monsters. The game quickly settles into a friendly and familiar rhythm that sees your pilot fly into a sector of space and complete an objective – whether it be moving a satellite to confuse enemy forces, clearing an area of enemies or harvesting scrap metal to keep your ship in working order. Each of these objectives comes with their own unique banter between A-tak and his CO Beam that unfolds in the background of the game’s combat.
Of course, the tightly-controlled combat is where Galak-Z shines. It’s fast, challenging and skill-based in the most rewarding sense. As you play through the game you add new maneuvers to your arsenal and leaves applying these tactics in your hands. Do you want to take on enemies by rushing them, juking over their shots and responding with in kind? Do you want to play it safe and kite enemies across the expansive levels in the game, taking cover behind asteroids when necessary? There are even cool physics and contextual interaction systems in play that open up even more possibilities.
Galak-Z’s brilliant throughline of challenging players to learn how to make the mechanics of combat work in their favor. This only improves once you unlock the mecha-mode for your ship. Once you unlock this feature, your ships gains the ability to transform into a robotic warrior capable of flying through space and slicing enemies apart with an energy sword. It’s exactly as awesome as it sounds and just as rewarding and nuanced as the games dogfights.
There are just so many little touches that elevate the experience of playing Galak-Z. Things like the VHS-inspired pause screen, animations on your pilot and the episode titles that appear at the start of each level. It all comes together with a wicked soundtrack (by C. Andrew Rohrmann) to create a space faring adventure that while a throwback, can definitely keep up with today’s company.
Such touches also manifests in the Galak-Z’s structure. The game is broken into sets of levels called ‘Seasons’. Each season takes maybe an hour to run through – but later levels are certain to take you multiple attempts. While the PC version includes the original (and more hardcore) ‘Rogue’ mode also adds an ‘Arcade’ mode that lets you tackle the game with more-forgiving checkpoints between each level.
In a holiday season dominated by big releases, Galak-Z is a rare game that delivers and excels so well on both an aesthetic and mechanics level that it deserves to be noticed. It’s like the best arcade shoot-em-up and saturday morning cartoon you’ve ever seen rolled into one and one of the best indie titles of the year.