CRYPTARK is a 2D roguelike made by Alientrap Games, which was released for early access on October 7th, 2015 for PC. In it, you play as a hired privateer to infiltrate and disable long-abandoned alien vessels full of valuable technology. Your success (and payment) depends on your strategy, loadout, and combat prowess. The ultimate goal is a ship named the CRYPTARK, the most dangerous and valuable of them all.
Keengamer has put out a review for CRYPTARK already, but the game has received numerous updates since then, and deserves a second pass.
You can buy CRYPTARK on Steam for $14.99 during Early Access. The game will also be fully released on June 20th, 2017 with a 25% launch discount.
In standard campaign mode, to find the CRYPTARK, you have to take down four other ships along the way. Your captain explains that this helps obtain coordinates for the ship in question, but from a gameplay perspective, each ship is an opportunity to accrue funds for the final offensive, as well as technology and practice. Furthermore, your total funds by the end of the campaign count towards your final score.
There are many long-term decisions to be made. Weapons, ammo, gear, and the hull strength of your suit all cost money, so the cheaper you can run, the better. On the other hand, if you bring insufficient gear or run out of ammo, your odds of failure increase significantly. Failures cost an extra hundred-thousand dollars on top of the money you invested in gear. In that sense, your money also represents the number of opportunities you get to retry if you fail a ship raid.
Each ship has a core you must take out to complete the raid. Each core has a shield that must be taken out before it can be harmed. Usually, but not always, the core will also have an alarm system that alerts the ship’s drones when it’s under attack. Other systems can include drone factories (produces drones and teleports them to your location), sentry systems (responsible for turrets throughout the ship), failsafes (assumes the role of the last destroyed system), repair systems (repairs the last destroyed system), nuclear destruct systems (destroyed systems produce a nuclear explosion), shuffle systems (periodically shuffles around all systems to different locations), and many more. Some ships can have two of the same system, and sometimes a shield or alarm system can guard systems that aren’t the core. There may even be two cores.
As you can see, your plan of attack is not always going to be straightforward. You can view a map of the ship you’re invading both before and during the raid, which helps you determine your loadout and optimal path. Fortunately the timer doesn’t run while viewing the map, which is a big help for new players (read: me) trying to get the hang of things. The map shows the layout, enemies, doors, and systems, but it also shows technology pickups and other goodies. However, if the ship has a sensor jammer system, the layout of the ship and its enemies will be hidden.
Ultimately, CRYPTARK is a time trial. Faster times equals more bonus money for clearing the ship sooner, and on top of that, drone factories have less time to spawn drones, repair systems have less time to repair, and so on. Speed is key for profit and score, but it also makes each run a lot easier.
But there are definitely some reasons to take extra time to complete the mission. Firstly, every ship before the CRYPTARK will have bonus objectives, like clearing extra systems, limiting the cost of your loadout, not using a particular set of weapons, and so on. The majority of the time, these bonus objectives are worth more money than any bonus you receive from destroying the core(s) early. Secondly, some additional technologies that you can find are very useful, and can help you complete future runs faster.
Artifacts are another reason to take extra time during your campaign. Although they don’t award you any bonuses during your current campaign, they can be exchanged before future playthroughs for a variety of suits. Other suits may have different starting loadouts, passive bonuses, special abilities, and a varying amount of weapon or utility slots. Every suit has its advantages and disadvantages, so the one you choose to unlock should depend on your playstyle. If you’re in love with a particular suit, you can also purchase cosmetics for any given suit, as well.
The combat itself is a separate challenge entirely. Even the most common of drones can move evasively, fire a variety of projectiles, or just charge at you and try to melee you. Larger enemies can have personal shields, aggressively push you into walls or traps, or fire corrosive goo at you. Leviathons, heavily armored mini-bosses, will spawn periodically to stalk you no matter what part of the ship you’re in. The sheer number of enemies and variety of projectiles will distract you and divide your attention.
A combination of mechanical aiming skill and good positioning will get you far, and items like repair kits or shields will get you even farther. Some suits have unique abilities, dodging a short distance or dispersing all enemies and projectiles around you. Then, of course, there are advanced weapons like nuke missiles or cluster bombs that will clear out an entire room or destroy a system with a single shot.
The result is engaging, addictive gameplay, which of course changes with every runthrough. Failures can be stressful, being chased by Leviathons gives me anxiety, but the satisfaction of having completed a campaign is a huge payoff in terms of satisfaction. Planning everything is half the fun, and the other half is running in guns blazing.
ACCLIMATES NEW PLAYERS, BUT PLENTY OF ROOM FOR EXPERIENCED PLAYERS TO PUSH THE LIMIT
CRYPTARK is a difficult game, particularly for those who have never played it – let alone never played a roguelike before. However, it’s designed to acclimate newer players during the first runthrough, providing a tutorial that explains most of what newbies need to know. Level one is fairly easy, and some of the more troublesome systems are omitted entirely, as well as leviathans.
Sometimes, there will be a ship that is significantly easier than the others (with perhaps less profit to be made), but the closer to the CRYPTARK you get, the fewer ships you will encounter that qualify as an “easy way out”. There is no difficulty slider, and there is no “easy” mode or otherwise – every campaign is the same difficulty.
For more experienced players, or perhaps those who adore roguelikes in general, the difficulty can go as high as you want it to. As I’ve mentioned before, sparse loadouts will reward you with lower costs and higher scores. Faster clears for each ship increase your funds and final score even further. There are plenty of opportunities to test your skill and challenge your situational awareness, and oftentimes the more risks you take, the better your score in the long run.
Besides Campaign mode, there are two additional modes. Rogue mode denies you repairs and resupplies between ships, and new weapons are found in the field, and in CRYPTARK Excavation, you face a final boss, only playable after you have finished the other two modes.
Although the roguelike genre hails from a time when most games were 8-bit, CRYPTARK is anything but pixelated. The game is 2D through and through, but that didn’t stop the developers from carefully decorating the background and walls of every room. Complicated machinery and paneling, spinning fans, and layered metal walls surround you. Long-decomposed cybernetic corpses are detailed with love; turrets vibrate, unfold, and track your movement smoothly; guns flash and explosions light up the dark interior of each ship. Each ship you enter has been abandoned for thousands of years, if not millions – and the decor matches that feeling. You are the first one to enter in quite some time, and you are not welcome.
CRYPTARK has it’s own soundtrack, composed by Ryan Roth and Ryan Henwood. In general, the instrumentation is dark, electronic, and heavy on the electric guitar, which I feel gives the perfect vibe while dungeon crawling in space. There’s nothing more satisfying than opening fire on an army of drones to a background of heavy metal. My only complaint is that there isn’t more of it to listen to.
I really can’t give enough credit here – I love how hardcore the soundtrack is, and I feel it matches the gameplay really well. I listen to it even when not playing the game now. Props to both Ryans.
It’s difficult to treat CRYPTARK as if it’s not a fully-fleshed, complete game, because it pretty much is. The game has been in development for about two and a half years since Early Access release, so it doesn’t really come as a surprise that the game feels well-developed. Everything from the gameplay, to graphics, to soundtrack has been a delight.
IS THIS THE GAME FOR YOU?
For true roguelike fans, you can’t go wrong with this game. The challenge and adrenaline of this game is exceptional, and at a mere fifteen dollars, it almost feels like stealing. Personally, I’ve never played many roguelikes before, but I fell in love with this game just by looking at it. The more I get used to the dynamic, the faster I proceed through the level, and the more I enjoy the challenge. If you’ve never played a roguelike like me, you should expect that this game is not casual and relaxing, but still very rewarding – and if that’s the kind of game you like to play, give it a shot. If you’re still unsure, check out some gameplay videos on youtube, or watch the original trailer.
Thanks for reading, and I sincerely hope you enjoy CRYPTARK.