There's a realization that hits you very early on in Galak-Z: this is not a game about nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. Sure, first impressions might suggest that 17-Bit's follow-up to Skulls of the Shogun is a retro-inspired shoot-em-up in the mold of genre classics such as R-Type. And yes, the game does have you zipping around asteroid fields from a top-down perspective, blasting away at enemies with lasers and missiles.
But this is a game that takes that genre's core combat and wraps some very big, very ambitious ideas around it. The result is an incredibly promising mixture between retro action and modern shooter standards. And despite being a year away from its planned release on PlayStation 4 and Steam, it also happens to be a whole lot of fun to play.
At the heart of Galak-Z's appeal is the game's delightful sense of movement. It's a very physics-driven control system where you guide your ship with the left stick and move it with either a light thrust or heavy thrust--the latter being a finite resource that takes a bit of time to recharge. On top of this, there's also a backwards thrust mapped to L2. Combine this with the huge role that inertia plays in the game's movement, and you can pull off some pretty incredible moves.
You might be zooming through the confines of a deep space rock formation and find a group of enemies on your tail. Simply flick the left stick to do a 180, jam on the reverse thrust, and suddenly you're zooming backwards at full speed, ready to fire lasers and lock-on missiles at your foes as you glide backwards through twisting caverns and tunnels. It's remarkable just how much this control system bears a resemblance to the sense of fluidity and inertia you feel while ice-skating. It's clear that this is a game that's taking advantage of a very modern physics engine.
It's a good thing Galak-Z offers this type of control scheme, because you'll be up against some very imposing foes. 17-Bit isn't afraid to declare that Halo has been a huge inspiration in the combat design, and it shows in the way you're often pit against enemies with distinctly different AI patterns and behaviors. You've got the little bug creatures that fly headfirst into their own demise like Grunts, the hulking mech suits who need to be approached with the care and precision of an Elite, and everything in between. Hell, there's even a recharging shield system that discourages you from slowly chipping away at an enemy's health over time.
But for as much as 17-Bit wants to build a rewarding combat system, it also wants to build a game world that's rewarding to explore. That's why the development team has taken a page from the Metroid school of game design and built a collection of open worlds that players can freely navigate as they choose. But not every space is safe to visit right off the bat, so you'll need to invest some time in collecting resources and upgrading your ship before venturing off into the more imposing corners of the game world. In fact, it's in that leveling and upgrading system that 17-Bit makes reference to games like Borderlands as a key source of inspiration.
That's why 17-Bit is more eager to describe Galak-Z as an adventure game than an action game. This isn't some discrete collection of levels where you're aiming to build a collection of high scores, but a story spread across multiple worlds where you're free to explore and collect and build up your abilities as a pilot. It's an interesting exercise in blending ideas across multiple decades of shooter game design, and one that already happens to be a blast to play. Galak-Z is one game that every future PlayStation 4 and PC owner should keep an eye on.