Rogues… In… Spaaaaaaaace….
HIGH Wiping the Cryptark out by firing my super-weapon over and over…
LOW …after having the game crash the first time I tried to do that.
WTF Enemies can fly through walls now? That seems fair.
Cryptark misses something important in its tutorial. While it’s busy running through in-world diagnostics designed to get the player comfortable with their ship, it mentions – so quickly that it’s easy to miss – that players can press a button to boost.
I didn’t notice it at the time, and the casual way the dialogue lets the information slip by means that for my first two hours with the game, I didn’t realize that every one of the ships the player can select had a special ability that could be activated by tapping a button.
I bring this up because if I’d known about these super-useful powers, I would have found the game considerably less daunting, and it wouldn’t have had to work so hard to charm me. That said, it did charm me completely, and I was more than willing to grind my way through the rough opening until I got my space legs. I’m happy I did, too, since it allowed me to appreciate the nuances that this deep and complex action-roguelike had to offer.
Cryptark puts players in the role of Privateers tasked with boarding a series of space hulks in a nearly-infinite flotilla, shutting down security systems and looking for clues that will lead them to the game’s namesake – the Cryptark itself.
Each megaship the player must tackle along the way to the Cryptark must be disabled by shutting down a shield generator and destroying a computer core. However, each hulk plays completely differently because every one has a random set of defensive subsystems and drones protecting the core, creating an ever-evolving challenge for players to navigate in this 2D strategic shooter.
The developers have come up with a crafty array of obstacles – drone factories need to be shut down to prevent the enemy threat from constantly growing, repair stations regenerate destroyed subsystems, minefields and buzzsaws operate from central locations – there’s even a ‘shuffle’ module that randomizes the placement of targets within the ship every sixty seconds. In a nice touch, each one of the subsystems is designed to look like the thing it controls – the sentry cannon is an actual giant cannon that blasts anything attempting to destroy it, the nuclear tripwire system detonates in a huge blast radius when it’s destroyed, and so on.
All of the game’s visual design elements are top-notch. There are a huge variety of enemy drones and hulk types, but they’re all built around a central design style made to appear as the obvious work of an ancient galactic empire. Turrets feel like natural extensions of the walls they’re affixed to, and all of the drones — from simple knives-with-engines all the way up to huge leviathans — have a distinct feel that’s entirely different from the shiplike suits of power armor that the player can equip.
Cryptark‘s roguelike elements are incredibly well thought-out. Every complete run takes the player through six increasingly challenging hulks. The Privateers begin with 500K in the bank, and must spend cash for every loadout element they bring along with them. There’s a standard base ship to start, and there are randomized tech upgrades found on the hulks which allow players to unlock new and possibly better weapons as they go. Each hulk has a cash value associated with shutting down the main defense grid, but that payout can be supplemented – or even dwarfed – by payments for meeting a set of conditions. Tiny bonuses are awarded based on things like destroying specific components, but huge payouts can be earned for feats like defeating the central computer without shutting down the repair systems — the kind of task only masochists need attempt.
While Cryptark is a fundamentally fair game and players will quickly learn strategies to deal with most of its threats, it has a high potential to frustrate, as most roguelikes do. For example, success or failure will often come down to which tech upgrades randomly spawn. Getting the right weapon can make the entire game a breeze, while getting the wrong one can make winning a virtual impossibility. This is even more true in the ‘rogue’ mode which runs players through five random hulks with no break between, forcing them to use whatever weapons they find along the way. I think the developers would have done well to include an ‘easy’ mode with fewer subsystems and drones in each hulk. They could have locked away certain weapons and ships for the normal difficulty level, while massively increasing the game’s accessibility to a wider audience.
Other than a punishing difficulty level and a camera that feels a little too close to the action, the only real problem with Cryptark is that, at the time of publication, it’s still fairly buggy.
In my twenty hours playing the game it crashed nearly ten times – both while loading new levels and also while simply playing through them. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the devs didn’t take such a hard line against potential cheaters. Failing or quitting a level means players will lose all the money they’ve spent on a run, so obviously the temptation exists to simply shut the game down and resume from the last save point. Possibly anticipating this, the developers have made any game shutdown count as a failed mission. The result is that victims of the game crashing will find themselves not only out the money they spent on the mission they were playing, but an extra hundred thousand as punishment triggered by the game’s lack of stability. That’s the kind of hit that can end a successful run, and it’s deeply unfair in a way that simply playing isn’t.
Cryptark is a wholly satisfying action-roguelike. The developers have offered an embarrassment of riches when it comes to weapons and equipment, and pilots can figure out their playstyle in settings that reward exploration and experimentation. There’s a huge amount to see and do, and tight combat mechanics support it all. Cryptark is a perfect example of how well-implemented randomness can elevate a great action game into an endlessly replayable work of art.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Alientrap. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 20 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 1 hour of play was spent in multiplayer modes
Parents: The game is rated T by the ESRB and contains Violence and Blood. There isn’t too much intense content – the action is about a robot suit shooting biomechanical aliens with little graphic content on display. The edgiest things in the game are the descriptions of the various artifacts that industrious players will spot, filled with tales of destroyed civilizations and horrific bio-modifications.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All instructions and plot are presented in text, and there are no audio cues that don’t have visual counterparts. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.