Cryptark is an interesting beast. It’s part shmup [Shoot ‘em up], part Roguelike, part Twin-Stick Shooter. You play as a gun-for-hire, and your goal is to head into these dead ships and salvage anything useful inside – while equipped with a little mobile-suit/mecha thanks to your employers. Now you don’t do the actual salvaging, you just have to murder everything in those ships. I know I said it was “dead,” but they really aren’t. The security systems and a variety of murderous robots still lurk, and they still hate you a lot. I’m sure they’d hate anyone who came to play, but you happen to be the lucky fella.
So what do you do? Your ultimate goal is to destroy the “Core” of the ship, but you can’t just fly straight in and blow it up. That’d be easy, and nobody wants that, right? Just me? Damn. You can play this with a friend and that would surely make it equal parts more challenging/fun, and possibly even easier if you’re both solid at this kind of game, but it’s couch co-op only. I saw no way to play it online, which is unfortunate – for me, anyway. Cryptark is also another game in a series of titles that do not hold your hand at all. This is not an easy game in the least. It’s not because of the weapons or controls, it’s just genuinely challenging.
The bottom line in Cryptark is money. Money talks, it rules the universe, and it rules your life in this game. After all, you’re supposed to be a professional mercenary, but you buy all your new weapons/guns/repair kits from your new employers. This is one of the things that makes the game so incredibly challenging. It’s a whole “new” challenge. But why? If you crash/are destroyed, you have to get the mobile suit repaired. They don’t just give you a new one. So the money you make from succeeding can evaporate in an instant if you aren’t careful. How the hell are you careful in a roguelike/twin-stick game? It’s very difficult just in general. So say you die on the first stage, or hell, you die five or six ships in, and then die a few more times. What happens if you go into the negative in your account? Well, that’s simple: Game Over. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, you start over. That can really turn some people off, so it’s important to know in advance.
What this means is that you can’t just go in guns blazin’, shooting the crap out of everything with reckless abandon. You know, what I did at first. When that didn’t work, I’d go at it with a different approach, being patient, figuring out where the important security systems are, how they work, and how to kill them. You can spend money on better mobile suits as you go, but that’s another huge risk. What if it doesn’t work well for you? What if it isn’t so great? What if you die as soon as you get it? Not only did you buy it, outfit it, and now you have to pay the repair costs? That can be enough to cause someone to have apoplexy, so you have to be even more careful than before! Whew, that’s frustrating. Couple that with a crosshair that can be kind of hard to see, and having to even aim your melee weapons? I do wish those would fire in whatever direction you’ve moved into, but that’s not a big deal. Twin-Sticks in general simply require solid hand-eye coordination in addition to having good aim. I’m not wild about the controls, but I don’t think they’re bad. I’m just bad with them. Though if this is too frustrating for you, the notion of losing everything in a crash, having to save up for new suits, there’s also the Roguelike Mode.
It’s called “Rogue” Mode, and it takes the frustration out of having to buy your mecha. However, you cannot choose any of the other Mecha until you acquire some Artifacts. That’s a big part of the Campaign, acquiring Artifacts as you go. You can use them in your Rogue mode to use more than just the standard mecha. However, you don’t have to spend money on them! So that’s a positive, right? You can’t get more guns though. You acquire all of your weapons in these ships that you’re exploring, but it is arguably harder for this reason. Sure, you don’t have to do all the annoying, tedious setup before campaign missions, but the game is the same, and not being able to buy more guns beforehand can make the game even harder. There is also the Co-Op Campaign, which can only be performed if you have two controllers plugged in/synced to your system. With that in mind, it’s probably easier to do on a PS4 instead of on the PC. I do wish it had online co-op, but that’s not a big deal. This is a game I’d probably rather play alone. Having to worry about someone else triggering stuff in addition to me? Yeah, that’s a headache I’ll take a hard pass on.
The major selling point of this game is the strategy aspect. It’s like a bank heist coupled with giant robots and lots of insane explosions. You have to figure out where the few major security systems are, what they are, how to stop them. Some require you to dodge a laser that calls enemy units to you, some require you to hit a series of directional buttons in a row. However, if you have to stop and shoot, or get hit, you can come back and start it over, within a certain time frame I imagine. So you really can’t just run and gun, this just isn’t recommended. That’s how I approached the game at first, and I got a game over within three ships. I got through the first two just fine, but then that’s the end. The first go-round on a map’s going to be incredibly fun, figuring out their puzzle, and deciding the best way to go about it. However I don’t believe they change in the campaign, so it’s not going to have a lot of replay value. And getting game over after game over is incredibly frustrating, and I don’t really have the drive to do some of the stages repeatedly. The game is fun, it’s visually appealing, the controls are pretty good [though this is a rare moment where I kind of prefer to use keyboard and mouse].
How to Make Money and Alienate Artifacts: 3/5 [Good]
Cryptark is a lot of fun, all things said. It’s very good, it’s mechanically sound, and it’s an interesting take on being a privateer. In addition to being a fantastic tactical twin-stick shooter, it’s also very much a Bullet Hell! You really have to be quick on the draw, whether it’s dodging or unleashing bullets of your own. I do wish there were more than the two main modes, that won’t be so frustrating when you get a game over, though. That’s not really a style of game that I enjoy, to be honest. They’re good for a few plays, but then when I get to almost the end and get a game over? This isn’t the 80s anymore, and that’s going to vex me. But for people into that kind of incredible challenge? They’ll enjoy it, that’s for sure. It’s got what they want.
One of the things that can be very frustrating is in a lot of shoot ‘em ups, you learn about the enemies one at a time. You find the basic one, then a few rooms down the line, you see a new one, maybe two new enemies, so you can learn their patterns and how to handle them. In Cryptark, I feel like they just throw foes at you with reckless abandon, which is a lot of why I wound up dying a lot. I didn’t have the time to really learn things. But there are so many great combinations of weapons and mecha to choose from! Though it’s not “quite” a roguelike. Roguelikes are more random and have a sense of progression you don’t really get here. This is a fun game, it offers a lot of challenge, but it’s certainly not for everyone. Cryptark’s Artifact Collection is definitely for people who relish insane amounts of challenge. They do have it in spades.