Galak-Z is a game of tense moments and heavy decisions. Its first expansion The Void, to its detriment, is one long adrenaline rush from start to finish. Galak-Z’s frenetic core mechanics are intact, but The Void has sacrificed much of what makes the game so great in the first place.
The Void’s main focus is its score attack mode. It thrusts you into the titular abyss as you fight through familiar enemies such as space bugs, pirates, and mercenaries, all in the interest of increasing your standing in online leaderboards. There is no actual end–as long as you survive, you continue.
Galak-Z’s Newtonian physics-based combat is still very much at play here. You can strafe, reverse, boost, and leap around groups of enemies within zero-gravity environments, and as is the case with the base game, these mechanics feel fantastic. There’s a rough learning curve, but once you master your ship’s weapons and thrusters–as well as its alternate mech form–the nuance of each skirmish creates an intricate kind of chaos. It combines tension and dynamism to form something exhilarating.
The expansion’s arenas are much more confined than those of the original Galak-Z, which encourage exploration through the innards of asteroids and abandoned space vessels. The Void’s new linear locales are bordered on either side by a torrent of purple energy that’s damaging to the touch–they create a more cramped feeling, and another layer of danger in this already uninviting world. They increase the need for spatial awareness in more ways than one, however. Not only do you want to avoid them–you can push unsuspecting enemies into the flames along the way.
To further deviate from the base game’s design, The Void offers a daily challenge with a specific set of ship upgrades and a preset level layout. By dictating which enhancements you’ll have access to, and creating a level playing field for anyone attempting the mission, The Void lures you out of your comfort zone. One of these events focused on mech upgrades. As someone who usually focuses on ship combat, I felt more exposed, and more vulnerable, than ever before.
And Galak-Z’s structure is its defining trait. While many modern roguelikes always return you to the beginning upon death, Galak-Z allows for checkpoints at the end of each “season.” That is, if you complete five missions in a row, you complete that season and unlock the next one. But die before you finish that chain of victories and you’ll lose everything except your ship’s upgrade blueprints.
The Void delivers a fun new take on Galak-Z’s formula, but relinquishes its exceptional structure.
The Void, on the other hand, fails to deliver the same thrills its base game does. It offers a fun new take on the Galak-Z formula, but relinquishes its exceptional structure, and the engaging risk/reward system it creates.
With the increased focus on score there’s less of a compelling emphasis on survival. In its original form, Galak-Z isn’t afraid to confront you with tough choices: should you venture off the beaten path in search of ship upgrades, or boost for the exit just to reach a checkpoint? Should you sneak by this group of enemies to maintain your health, or destroy them for currency, and increased survivability down the road? Galak-Z is exciting in the way it uses survival to drive its every aspect. The Void, though, is driven by leaderboard ranks.
Strategic long term thinking isn’t completely absent in the expansion–more upgrades means better combat abilities in later chapters, and therefore, more points. But in basing The Void largely on score-chasing, it removes the weight of my decisions, which used to be the main thing between me and permanent defeat. I stop to consider my options much less frequently now.
Despite my complaints, it’s hard to deny the sheer thrill of The Void: careening through space, leaping over a giant bug, and firing my last missile into a group of pirates before I speed toward the mission’s evacuation point. The expansion may take a less engaging approach to survival, but it’s still a frantic, intricate display of movement and reaction. The Void attempts to break ground of its own, and in some ways, it has. But the end result is weaker than the foundation it’s built upon.