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Cryptark
Game Reviews

Cryptark

A roguelike space adventure that’s all about dealing with your problems one piece at a time.

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It’s not easy being a space privateer. You’ve got the Space Bends to worry about, of course, and nobody’s interested in the gruesome details of a bad case of Space Scurvy. Sometimes, though, things start to look up a bit, like when you’re contracted to salvage a derelict alien vessel found at the center of a massive abandoned fleet. You can’t just fly over to the Cryptark and get to work, though, for two reasons: first, you’ll need to find your way there by salvaging other, smaller vessels first. Second, and more importantly, alien vessels are known for their automated defenses and, well, these guys built their tech to last.

Cryptark is a roguelike (or “rogue-lite,” if you’re awful) along the lines of The Binding of Isaac. You’ll choose from several ships to infiltrate and salvage, gear up by choosing from a variety of weapons and utility items, and fly over to get to work. There’s a lot to consider before each run; first off, those weapons and utility items aren’t free. In fact, they’re not even cheap. You’ll have to pay for whatever you use and you’ll need to weigh the importance of being well-equipped against the potential rewards you’ll get from your salvage work.

Once you’ve decided on a loadout it’s time to head over to your target. As mentioned, alien ships are heavily defended with a variety of drones and internal systems. You can’t successfully salvage a ship until you’ve taken out its AI core (or cores, in later ships), which in turn is defended by an energy shield, so the most basic run consists of going in, finding and destroying the shield generator, then finding and destroying the core. It’s rarely so easy, though. Even before you get in, you’ll have to find an open door on the outside of the ship (which could potentially lead you to a disadvantageous area) or pay a little more of your hard-earned cash for keys to open a locked entrance. From there, you’ll have to use the weapons you bought earlier to deal with hordes of drones, turrets and other baddies.

Early on, surviving the onslaught of nasties and finding the systems is enough to score you a win, even if said systems are able to fight back in their own unique ways; the shield generator, for instance, can reflect your own missed shots at you. Later ships become much more complex, though, with many additional systems with new and varied capabilities to contend with. A personal nemesis was the Shuffle device, which randomly mixes up the location of ship systems every minute or so; this is particularly painful when you’re trying to work on some of the optional cash-granting bonuses for each ship, which might reward you for blowing up a superfluous system or purposefully leaving some other system alone.

The difficulty ratchets higher and higher as you keep going, and while death isn’t the end as is the case in many roguelikes, you do lose whatever you paid for your suit and gear; running out of money is the real lose condition, so you want to be careful with your stuff. Even when you do manage to finish the game, you’ll almost certainly want to go back to see new ships, collect new weaponry and finish collecting the game’s list of flavor-text-loaded artifacts.

Cryptark’s presentation is on point as well, going for a sort of comic-book style that lends some charm to the soulless machines you’ll spend the game fighting. As for the sound design, the most memorable aspect would be the game’s solid voice acting; there’s plenty of this to go around between tutorials and the flavor text descriptions for artifacts. When it comes to controls, you’ll want to use a controller as it suits the game’s twin-stick style particularly nicely.

Thanks to the success of games like Isaac, there’s no shortage of this kind of game. it takes a lot for a newcomer to stand out. In this case, Cryptark manages to do so with flying colors; the unique take on dismantling a “dungeon” one system at a time is unlike pretty much anything else out there. It works, there’s plenty of gameplay and I’m sure this one’s going to be streamer bait before long. Give salvage work a shot – it just might be to your liking.

About the Author: Cory Galliher