Thursday, June 29, 2017

Cryptark (PS4)

Alien Trap Games' "Cryptark" on the PS4 is an interesting science fiction space shooter with rogue-like elements. At least that's what it's being played off as. I find it to be a somewhat annoying blend of Metroidvania, and shoot 'em up features with a sort of H.R.Giger and actual Metroid based inspiration. Of course rouge-like elements do play a part in all of that though. The game itself features four modes of play, and familiar mechanics that are setup in a way which adheres to a salvaging crew's logic. The four modes include a story driven "Campaign," an action oriented "Rogue Mode", "A Co-op Campaign", and an unlockable mode known as "Cryptark Excavation" ...

In the campaign, which can also be played locally in two player co-op fashion, you'll find that you're in motley crew of space pirates which was selected for a xeno-technology scouting expedition with promised pay for proper looting. The prized loot, and aim of your six wave journey through randomly routed rust buckets of the dark abyss is for an artifact known as a "Cryptark". Something a group of suited reptilians are desperate to get their claws on. Along the way, and with some pay you'll gear up as a paid crew member under a devilish lady commander's guide within your gun suit which has a blend of three attack options and one defense function as well as four item slots for repair kits, and other useful tools. All of which is meant to get you into derelict space vessels in order to destroy key security devices, and fight off the patrolling aliens therein, ultimately making it to a core that mirrors Metroid's own Mother Brain in some regards. All for the sake of destroying it in a timely manner, and making bank afterwards.

Your missions within the single player, or multiplayer campaign include timed outings into various types of space vessels such as factories, dreadnoughts, and ark colonies with designated difficulty rankings, lucrative bonus objectives, specified payouts, specific technological treasures, paid for refills, and different types of defenses in focus. Each outing includes the main goal of reaching, and destroying the core after having dealt with the map marked security threats. Things like shields, alarms, and weapon defenses must be dealt with before dealing the fatal blow to the core, lest the alarm sounds and the aliens invade your safety bubble. Also don't forget to loot the place while making your way through the threat burdened maze as it will help you survive the progressively more difficult areas with better gear. You'll not only find hidden necessities between the many locked gates (key cards required), and obstructed pathways, but also technology upgrades that can be bought, and used prior to mission outings for a price after having been found. Through a careful navigation via laid out mini-map complete with icons, and marked paths to objectives you'll need to micro-manage your gun suit's hull health as well as mind your ammunition, and your items in order to make it to the end goal, and earn enough bank to suit up with a new loadout, and do it all again until you reach wave six, and finally loot the Cryptark.

Beyond the campaign you'll gain access to the 'Rogue Mode' which is a bare bones version of the campaign. In it the access to the loadout ship will not be made available, but you will have a choice of gun suit at the beginning. This comes with options for unlocked cosmetic skins that can be obtained by finding hidden artifacts as well as different types of gun suits with completely different loadouts. As with the campaign you'll be moving wave to wave selecting one ship to loot out of several. Each with their own defense theme, difficulty rating, and included items/objects. Gone is the need to pay for tech upgrades, items, or refills prior to, or once aboard the derelict spacecraft. The goal is less about the money proposition, and more about killing the aliens while surviving to a final fifth wave. Something I forgot to mention is that in 'Rogue Mode' you have one less wave to deal with.

About the controls ...

Controls in "Cryptark" are simple, and easy to use on the fly. Your gun suit features including the shield, spike, gun, and grenades are all tied respectively to an assigned top shoulder button for ease of access. To move around you'll use the left thumbstick, and to aim you'll use the right thumbstick. The items, on the other hand are activated according to their location on the HUD's DPad display. By pressing the proper corresponding DPad directional button you'll use the assigned item. All features, and items can be swapped out with different things via the loadout ship in the campaign mode, but not in Rogue Mode. Purchasing, and equipping gear from the loadout ship comes at a price that is subtracted from your bank upon leaving the loadout ship for the derelict spacecraft. One thing that needs to be made clear is that when playing through the campaign you are initially given $500K to spend. By clearing missions on time, and completing bonus mission objectives as described you'll be awarded more currency to work with. Once your bank is void of currency though you'll have to start over from wave one. It's the equivalent of a "Game Over". If you need to stop for a breather during your playthrough, and haven't exhausted your funds you can save the game, and quit out to the main menu through the "Options" menu.

About the presentation ...

While the game plays smoothly, and functions fairly soundly for the most part I found a few issues that were so annoying I wanted throw my controller at the screen. In my initial Twitch broadcast playthrough of the campaign I found the tutorial to be lacking. I could not figure out how to set the waypoint, and start the game. It did not prompt me, or inform me that I had to press "Options" to begin. This in itself was a huge oversight, and was extremely frustrating. Furthermore, the rogue mode's purpose was not explained. Upon starting it you are practically dumped into a gun suit selection menu, and then dropped into a game with little direction given. Your goal in rogue mode isn't made clear, and neither is the reasoning behind the gun suit selection. The developer hands you the tools, and basics, and expects you to figure the rest of it out. Without a proper introduction it makes the game seem more complicated than it should be.

As far as the soundtrack, and graphic presentation goes it's a top notch indie. You'll find heavy hitting techno, and 2.5D Metroidvania style layouts with a sort of H.R.Giger meets Metroid flair. It's a decent presentation with the only oddball factor being the accompanying cartoon character art. It kind of clashes with the gameplay elements, but not to severely so.

The verdict ...

My thoughts were conflicting throughout my playthrough. At times I hated "Cryptark" with a passion, and at other times I thought it was good enough to recommend. Regardless of the struggle to come to a conclusion with a solid opinion there was one thought that stuck with me. I could not ignore the game's lacking introductory features. It is so glaringly obvious that Cryptark could have been better explained in-game. For this reason I have to give it a skeptical, and iffy verdict. If you understand the game well enough with what I've said and shown, and can look beyond it's shortcomings you might like the game. If it's lacking features bother you though you might want to pass on it. Either way I feel what's wrong with the game could be fixed with a patch or two. That, of course would be up to the developer.

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