Cryptark (11)

If space is the final frontier, then everything in it is a bastard. That’s the lesson that I took home from Cryptark, a game of many parts that mesh together to create a salvage-stealing machine. On first glance, Cryptark takes the form of a 2D twin-stick shooter in space that has you exploring the husky remains of derelict spacecraft in pursuit of some of that sweet sweet loot.

That’s just the surface. Scratch beneath the veneer, and you’ll find a game that hides a surprising amount of depth. Cryptark isn’t a game about firing on hostile automated security forces with wild abandon, but rather ditching the usual schmup attack pattern in favour of discretion and conservation. You’re not just hitting a mission when you exit your hangar: You’re interacting with an investment and all the costs associated with it.

If space is the final frontier, then everything in it is a bastard

Cryptark (1)

There may be a ton of valuable loot worth the salvage expedition, but bullets don’t grow on trees. Outfitting your mech suit, stocking up on ammo and bolting all of that plate armour on top of it doesn’t come cheap, making that journey to the center of a dead spaceship feel even more perilous. I haven’t even gotten to the ships themselves yet, which are the real meat and potatoes of Cryptark.

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They’re not just abandoned husks of interstellar travel, they’re complex dungeons of the sci-fi variety that are filled with corridors, traps and various other bots that want to evict your tin-plated ass out as quickly as possible. Want to clear one of these ships? You’ll need to pump a few hundred rounds into the primary brains behind the technology inside, a literal collection of pulsing pink grey matter that is more defensive than Apple fanboys reacting to a flippant tweet.

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Throw in connected security sub-systems, drone dispensing defense machines and alarm networks, and Cryptrak suddenly becomes a far more tactical project than you’d imagine it to be. There’s an extra spanner in the works, in the form of mission bonuses that are attributed to you not unleashing magnetic grenades on every threat you see and disabling the brains ahead of schedule.

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That’s where Cryptark really finds its groove: In plotting a course of action and executing it. Do it well, earn a healthy paycheck. Mess up, and your books will be in the red that financial quarter. Each ship is a puzzle box, organised through six difficulty levels as you find yourself weighing the costs with the potential profit of each cosmic corpse.

It’s up to you to decide if the risk is worth it

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It’s up to you to decide if the risk is worth it, if the sub-system mini-bosses can be disassembled quickly enough and the various minions dealt with as you balance resources with survival and finding your way outside into the cold dark vacuum of space. That makes for a tense game, with a difficulty curve that’s possibly a tad too much for some players.

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Cryptark is a game of escalation, with danger following the usual route of the Roguelike genre. It’s not hard to see why this decision was made, as a breakneck pace and constant sense of danger results in a persistent threat no matter how much you’ve upgraded your mech-suit. That’s a facet of Cryptark that’ll be enticing to those people who want a challenge, who don’t mind several restarts in pursuit of the perfect run through a graveyard of space hulks.

Cryptark (9)

Behold the new king of the iron fiscus.

Last Updated: July 4, 2017

Cryptark is unforgiving and merciless in its approach to balancing roguelike elements with a deeper sense of exploration and survival. It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but anyone looking to salvage a lengthy dungeon-crawler in space that is heavy on action and challenge will find plenty to love here. And scream about, when a perfect run is cocked up by the ship teleporting in a few heavy reinforcements right on top of you.
Cryptark was reviewed on PlayStation 4
75 / 100

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