Let's talk - Cryptark

[DISCLAIMER!! This is an early access title. So for those of you completely allergic to the concept, please do what you feel is prudent with this information, be it reading on or passing along. No hard feelings! Personally, I don't like the system, but this game is one of those rare exceptions, which I will try to explain in the article proper. Please take that into consideration as well. Another issue I wish to address by creating this article is the criminally low discussion I've seen about this game. It's a great game that I feel deserve more coverage that it has gotten.]

[EDIT 28/1:  I've added some extra screenshots at the end of this article.]

So, how does on start when talking about early access? I mean, the system in itself is kind of broken. "Here, pay up front for a "near-finished" version of our game! If it's broken or non-functioning, discard it, and if it's good and polished, please get your fill of our game in this early version, so you're good and exhausted with it when it comes out!" That's usually the way I see it. It's really hard to find a good middle-ground here, and even worse, some developers seem to depend on early access to carry them home. This creates a system that screws over both parties in the long run. The developers cash in early, earning small (but sometimes crucial) revenue, and the customers get to play with a non-finished version of the game, running the risk of either leaving them with a bad taste in their mouth or exhausting their enthusiasm for the game early. With all that negativity in mind, let's talk about Cryptark, one of those "one-in-a-million"-games that transcend the early access trap and actually feels like a great game, with some polish left.

What is Cryptark? Well, it is a ship, a flag-ship, and you have to get to it, break in and salvage all the alien technology inside. So, what is Cryptark, THE GAME? 

It's a 2D shooter developed by Alien Trap Games which has the player controlling a salvage operation on long-dead alien ships. The problem here is that while the alien crew are long dead and gone, their AI-systems and self-defense systems are all well and functioning. So, in order to salvage all of these delicious ships, you have to hop into your spacesuit, get whatever guns you can buy and take care of the internal (and sometimes external) defenses "the old fashioned"-way. By old fashioned, I mean you have to break in and destroy the main AI-core of each ship, and possibly other systems as well. Each ship being a randomly generated maze with randomly generated systems and goals.

Capturing screen-shots from this game is very difficult, because when the "shit hits the fan" you'll most likely need all your faculties for "not dying".

The true beauty in this game is how it balances hectic and desperate firefights with careful planning and execution so well. See, each ship you enter (on your way to the titular Cryptark) has a cash-reward if properly disabled, and adding to that, each ship also has a couple of side-objectives that if completed will earn you bonus pay. So, you earn money for  each completed salvage op. The problem is though, that you have to pay up front for all the equipment and hull-points you bring to the op. So, for example, a ship might have a value of 110K$. If you bring equipment valued above 110K$, you will be spending more money than you earn. But, said ship might also have 3 side-objectives that have a combined value of 100K$. So, for you to earn a profit on this op, you'll have to do some, or all, of the side-objectives. These objectives might be simple as "destroy X system" or "keep X system intact" to "max 3 hull points" or "max load-out 35K$" (that last one can be quite hard).

So, the game has a "load-out"-phase where you buy stuff to bring in? Big deal, right?! Well, it get's more complicated. Each ship you salvage is large, some even huge. They're all larger than what you will have time, ammo and health for. So you have to plan ahead, make a route. You have to figure out the optimum way of dealing with each ship in order to actually win. Do you carefully dismantle all the annoying secondary systems before you go for the core? Do you just take care of the alarm-system and shielding for the core? Or do you go "all in" and just rush down the core with the heaviest ordnance you own? These are all questions you have to ask yourself at the beginning of each op. And these questions will most likely pop up during your op since the game does have a very good way of screwing with your fine and well laid plans. 

Map of a ship. The yellow line means that a system is connected to the core, the red lines are locked doors. The green line is a waypoint I set.

When said plans do go out the window and you're trapped in the middle of an alien ship with drones and turrets all bearing down on you, what do you do? Well, you reach into that reptilian-part of your brain and activate your twitch-skills. The meat and potatoes of this game is a very fast and quite difficult 2D shooter affair. You dodge and weave, shoot and strike at your opponents all the while navigating a the maze-like structure of each ship. This is where your careful selection of equipment comes into play. There are drop-pods in most ships, that for a price, will either repair your hull or refill your ammo. These pods are on the other hand few, expensive and most of the time placed in awkward spots. So you're most likely be relying on what load-out you brought with you. And believe me when I say that you do NOT want to hear your gun go "click" and be empty when you're elbow deep in enemies right by the AI-core.

Load-out screen. Note that everything you bring with you has a price.

With all this said, how is the "early access" version? Well, I'd say pretty damn good. The game-play is very solid and feels just right. The developers have implemented voice-work and movies int he game, something that I figure would come in quite late in the development of an "indie-title". So I'm going to guess that the game is quite far down the line to done. I've spent roughly 5 hours in the game, and only encountered one major bug. Said bug knocked out the sound of the game, which was fixed by a quick restart. I haven't encountered any game-breaking bugs like crashes or the like. But take whatever I say with a grain of salt, since this is both an early access game and a PC-game (PC-games are fickle beasts that work differently on different systems). But all in all, I'm very pleased with Cryptark as it is currently. The random nature of the game, and the solid game-play, makes this a title I will return to many times and probably won't grow tired of until it release.

Pro-tips!

So, you picked up the game and are having a hard time? It's OK! The game is hard and can be unforgiving. Here's some of my tips for any new player out there!

1) Go for early artifacts! You unlock new suit-types by gaining artifacts. Said artifacts are gained by completing special bonus objectives on certain ships. Going for these can be difficult, but they are easiest in the early game, since the earliest ships you encounter have the lowest difficulty rating.

2) Unlock some suits! There are a number of different suits in the game. Each one has a special skill (like a full shield or a turbo boost), each suit also a unique starting weapon load-out. So, if you hate the load-out on the standard suit, unlock another one and try that one out. Weapons are less of a numbers affair and more of an "understanding and mastering"-affair.

3) Melee all day! The Gunheads melee weapon is a powerful but quite unwieldy ram spike. While not great, it is powerful and doesn't take any ammo. Even better, the Salamander suit has a Saw arm weapon that deals heavy damage and knocks enemies back. Best of all, though, is the Rook. The Rook-ruit has a...

4) Tractor beam every day! The tractor beam is a lovely tool. It costs no ammunition and has great range. The only true downside is it's slow charge. When you "shoot" an enemy with the beam, it will attract said enemy to you, locking it in place right in front of you (weapons facing outwards). Now you can use said enemy as a shield for incoming fire. When the beam has charged up again, you can fire the enemy straight out. Shooting te enemy into a wall deals good damage. Even better, shooting the enemy into another enemy will deal great damage to both. This can be tricky, since enemies are fast and the beam charges slowly, but with enough practice you can become a god of destruction while spending almost no ammo. Just remember to bring some bombs or something, the beam is quite useless against most systems.

Salvage op completed! Clearing side-objectives can be hard, but rewarding.

EDIT!

So, in one of the captions, I moaned the fact that I'm having a rough time grabbing screenshots of this game. I got some, enjoy.

Problem: AI-Core, Solution: Mini nuke

 

The shit has indeed hit the fan.

Note the non-existent health and ammo.