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Early Access Impressions - Cryptark


(Don't like video? There's a full written transcript below!)

Being the cautious sort, I'd never entertain the idea of buying an Early Access title on Steam; not, at least, without a final release date confirmed. But when Cryptark appeared on my Steam queue, promising the rogue-like, bullet-hell shooter game I'd been fantasising about ever since Nuclear Throne, a few sly YouTube peeks and some glowing reviews  soon convinced me to throw caution to the wind and money to its indie developers, Alien Trap. 

Naturally, the abundance of rogue-like games on Steam means it's harder to truly get excited about another one these days; we've had hits such as The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, and Rogue Legacy but very few of them live up to that pedigree. Yet, a few minutes into Cryptark, it becomes clear that it wants to do things differently and, in fact, builds a remarkably convincing case for its setup. 

Taking place over a series of derelict space hulks, your crew has a limited supply of funds and tools with which to scour them all, in search of alien technology. Outfitting the various weapons and ammo throughout the campaign will cost money, whilst your employers - a race of shady, Lizard like aliens - will detail bonus objectives which you can conquer for cash bonuses. The end goal of each mission, however, is always the same; shut down the shield protecting the core, and then destroy it to power down the hostile robots within. 

What's immediatrly interesting is how much more liberating Cryptark is than other rogue-likes. Each new mission actually gives you a choice of 4 ghost ships to plunder, and each has different bonus objectives. These can be anything from finishing the level with limited health, to destroying a set number of drone factories, or disabling alarm systems. Meanwhile, a checklist of every enemy type, defense and security system is detailed extensively. Naturally, harder missions will net you bigger rewards, but whether or not you choose to tackle these can often mean the difference between a hefty payout and a shrapnel-laden disaster. Once you enter the stage, a map screen details entry points, defense systems and enemies with precision and detail, allowing you to set waypoints for a tactical infiltration. Whilst later stages hide their maps behind cloaking devices, you'll otherwise know exactly what you're up against.  

Even with this in mid, however, every encounter feels uncertain. Is it worth saving money on an underpowered mech, or will you just be torn to ribbons by a patrolling Juggernaut? Is it worth destroying that laser defense system if that repair unit will just fix it again moments later? Is it worth frittering funds on extra ammo if the contract forbids you from looting any from the ship you're exploring? Even when the game lays its cards on the table, knowing just how to tackle them is only half the battle.

I say half because, even knowing what threats lay ahead, the rest of the game is an insanely frantic, twin-stick shooter where bullets tear across the screen like confetti in the wind. No matter how competent your management skills, they'll count for nothing if your trigger finger isn't up to the task.
Get destroyed - and you will, frequently - and you not only lose the contract but have to pay a failure fee. Cash is essentially your life bar, and if you run out of funding then the operation will be cancelled and you'll need to start a whole new campaign. When weapons, health kits, and tools all cost money, alongside a pretty hefty deployent cost for each mission, you'll find the restrictions only get tighter the further into the game you go.
Currently in version 0.5, Cryptark is scheduled for a release this October, though the Early Access version is in a remarkably solid state. However, there are some issues with balance that may well need ironing out before release. Make no mistake, this game is relentless, but when a single deathcan cost you thousands of credits, its sometimes easier just to quit the game and start from scratch than to persevere with barely any money left. The combat itself is also relentless, occasionally turning the game into something resembling a Japanese bullet hell; definitely not a complaint, but something that may turn off players who just want to enjoy themselves.

Regardless, this slice of early access proves that Cryptark's foundations are rock solid, and the game has nowhere to go from here but up. The £9.99 asking price is perfectly reasonable, and that value looks set to increase once the full game lands later this year.   

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About Brazen Headone of us since 7:24 AM on 01.26.2014

Howdy Destructoid!

I'm Brazen Head and my love for games borders on the fetishistic. As I type, my Dreamcast, Gamecube, PS2, 360, Wii, WiiU and gaming PC trail wires happily to the back of my TV screen.

Most of all, though, I'm a creative guy. I write, I compose music and I make video projects as well - many of which might make an appearance on this very site. Scratch that - they WILL make an appearance.

You can check out my pilot episode for a little video game video project I have going, too. It's right here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjMaVB9VJvE

See you on the forums!