By Josh Speer / July 31st, 2017
|Release Date||June 20th, 2017|
|Genre||Twin-stick, Roguelike, Action|
|Platform||PS4 and PC|
I like to think of myself as pretty proficient at twin-stick shooters and roguelikes, so when I got the opportunity to play Cryptark I was pretty excited. A mixture of both genres complemented with atmospheric sound and amazing art, it had the potential to be something truly special.
The game starts out by going easy on you, running through the basics of how it plays. In Campaign mode, you take missions from clients and have several stages to proceed through. At the start of each, you need to pick one of 4 derelict space wrecks to venture through. Each has a different difficulty, style, and financial reward. That reward is important, because if your finances ever go into the black, it’s game over. Generally I would start out picking levels with a difficulty of 1, just to ease myself into things. That turned out to be a wise decision, as Cryptark is pretty ridiculously challenging.
Just for context, the farthest I ever got in my two hour playthrough was the 3rd stage. Note that I wasn’t able to beat the 3rd stage, as that was when the available levels with a difficulty of 1 are replaced with a difficulty of 2 or higher. Which doesn’t sound so bad, until you consider that even comparing two different level 1 levels, the difficulty can vary wildly. Sometimes you might go through a stage and face only a skeleton crew of monsters, other times you’ll be overwhelmed from the get go. Which meant that the prospect of a difficulty of 2 or higher was quite daunting (and turned out to be as hard as I expected).
But let’s spend some more time on the mechanics of the game before I render further judgment. As it’s a twin-stick shooter, Cryptark controls well with an XBox 360 controller. You use one joystick to maneuver around, the other to aim your reticle, and the shoulder buttons to shoot, dash, fire grenades, and activate your shield. Your goal is to find and dismantle the alien core in any ship in order to be victorious, collecting stray alien technology along the way. First you’ll need to find and take out shield generators and any other threats you feel will slow you down, such as alarm bots. Once you do, you head to the core and wipe out the Mother Brain looking foe.
It all sounds fine in theory, and it is fun when it works, but in execution a couple of factors hurt the experience. For one thing, enemies can see you before you see them. That means that oftentimes, they’ll hit you before you even know where they are. Another problem is that the most prolific enemy in the game, a sort of serpentine beast with a neon blade for a head, is far more maneuverable than you are. As you float around, moving your reticle to lock onto their position, you will get hit repeatedly. Since your healing items are in short supply (you can only carry two at a time), this was problematic. More annoying was when portals would appear out of nowhere, introducing enemies out of the blue. This always seemed to occur at the worst possible time, too, which was frustrating.
Since the game is a roguelike, every level is different every time, and that random nature only aggravates the already high difficulty. You’ll never know if you’ll be facing standard foes, or wall mounted guns, buzz saw drones, or robotic hives that generate endless annoyances and more. The random aspect also applies to the area hazards, such as floating shield generators which deflect your fire, but the worst are the mounted missiles. Though docked in place, one stray bullet will activate them, causing them to burst forth and chase you. Once they reach critical mass, a truly massive explosion will erupt, and you’ll need to run far and fast to avoid it.
I know I said how challenging Cryptark is, but to better illustrate this fact, the longest I lasted in any of my multiple playthroughs was a whole 16 minutes. Most stages can be beaten relatively quickly, with the downside that you’ll die fast when things inevitably spiral out of control. Worst was when I tried Rogue mode, and died in less than a minute. It just shows that the game lacks balance, even in the “easier” campaign mode. Though Cryptark is a fun game when things go your way, the rapid difficulty spikes and random enemy placement makes it nearly unplayable, except for the most hardcore of fans.
While I have my fair share of complaints about difficulty in the game, one thing Cryptark does incredibly well is the art and sound design. Put simply, the aesthetic design of the monsters in the game is creepy, terrifying and fantastic. Many foes look like cybernetic Cthulhu, with the exception of purely mechanical weapons which exude menace. The art design paints a dark and menacing picture of the dangers of space, while the accompanying music does an admirable job of making you paranoid while searching spacecraft. Together, they both do a great job of immersing you in the dark world of Cryptark, and that was the best thing about the game by far.
Overall, while I enjoyed aspects of Cryptark, the unbalanced nature of the game and perplexing difficulty spikes made it a unfortunately frustrating experience. Though I did spend a couple hours with the game, I was unable to beat Campaign mode once, and had zero chance in Rogue mode. While I admire Alientrap Games for their art and sound design, the gameplay needs much more balancing before I can recommend it to any other than the most hardcore of fans, at least without massive future updates. Here’s hoping Alientrap learns some lessons from Cryptark and manages to make a more enjoyable and approachable roguelike game in the future.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
Alien Trap GamesCryptarkPCReviewRoguelikeSteamTwin stick