At first glance, GALAK-Z looks like an updated version of a classic arcade space shooter. It's an initial impression that is both fitting and wholly misleading.
The game is built around a series of fairly short missions in environments that are generated fresh as soon as you start the game. Theoretically, this means that no two levels should be the same, offering a new experience every time. The objectives I faced in an early version seemed fairly simple, but to dwell on them misses the point of the game. The objectives simply exist to bring you in conflict with enemies. And that's where the fun really begins.
GALAK-Z's dogfights are the true star of the show. Enemies will hunt you, they'll flank you, and they'll surprise you with intelligent reactions to your tactics.
What makes it really special are the options you have. You can fire back with an array of weaponry, you can use the environment to your advantage, you can lure the local wildlife into inadvertently fighting for you... or you can simply sneak past enemies. Stealth is a perfectly viable option in GALAK-Z. It does take a little while to get used to the controls, but I soon found myself flinging through rocky caverns at high speeds trying to outrun enemy patrols.
The focus on combat is a nod to one of Kazdal's favourite games, the original Halo (which was subtitled "Combat Evolved"). But as you start to pick apart the individual parts of the game, you start to see how personal this project is for its creative director.
Kazdal spent a significant part of his career working for Sega in Japan, a job he described as a "dream come true". That influence can be seen in the anime style of GALAK-Z, which even includes a little animated view of your pilot in a corner of the screen.
Similarly, GALAK-Z's arcade framing shouldn't be a surprise given that much of Kazdal's youth was spent playing games in his father's pizza parlours. Even the fact that Kazdal is now a father himself is a factor; it makes sense that a man with less time to play games would make one that lends itself to short bursts of play, while generating fresh new levels every time ensures that the game shouldn't get old.
"I'm a busy father, and a lead artist and creative director, so I don't a lot of time to play other games, so the games that I make have to be awesome," Kazdal said. "I've always wanted to make this game."