Puzzle Quest: Galactrix

For fans of the first Puzzle Quest on Playstation 3, Challenge of the Warlords, Galactrix needs no introduction, other than to say that it contains more of the same excellent standard of gameplay, but set in a Science Fiction universe. Galactrix is a game that involves some of the best elements of the RPG-Puzzler hybrid genre, including an excellent story, classic RPG stats building, Bejeweled-style puzzling and numerous mini games. Choosing from a selection of characters, players are unleashed upon the universe, where they can immediately start charging between solar systems, making new friends, meeting troublesome enemies and ultimately bringing order to a galaxy in serious trouble.

Crucial to the game's success is the expansion formula. Making progress in the game, unlocking new missions, reaching new locations and increasing your ship's powers are core RPG elements that continuously reward players. There is a continuous stream of new areas to explore and new missions to tackle, with a carefully balanced difficulty curve that adapts to player strength, aimed at preventing any impossible or insulting encounters. By hacking leap gates (involving a puzzing mini game), players can travel to new solar systems. Once there, new missions are unlocked at local planets, usually revolving around recovering items, aiding diplomatic relations or, inevitably, attacks on enemy civilizations. When preparing for battle, players can purchase ship upgrades (or new ships even) by selling cargo collected from mining operations conducted on local asteroids, again via a rather addictive mini game. There are numerous other avenues to explore too, a trademark feature of RPGs, allowing you to explore the game in your own way, carving an individual experience for you to enjoy.

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The core of the game lies with the puzzling though. Featuring one-on-one battles against a wide variety of opponents (of different species in a variety of ships), Puzzle Quest: Galactrix uses an array of hexagons that can be manipulated by players moving just once piece at a time, one step in any direction. The idea is to connect a line of three or more, with bonuses for longer lines, including an extra turn for five or more in a row. The different colour gems allow players to charge weapons, recharge shields, collect supplies or, in the case of the mines, cause damage to opposing ships. The tactical element of the gameplay is a major selling point, with players always needing to take care to avoid leaving obvious counter moves, while also hoping to set off effective chain reactions. A balance must always be sought between aggression and a more passive approach. The downside, unfortunately, is something that affected Challenge of the Warlords in a similar way: when you connect a line, those elements disappear, causing more to fall into the grid, and there's no way to predict what might happen. The most skilled player might still end up leaving a perfect chain reaction for the AI opponent that could completely reverse the tide of battle. Frequently, a long-slog fight going in favour of the player can be entirely thrown away thanks to a single unfortunate move. If battles were shorter, the occasional unfortunate loss wouldn't be a problem, but when you face opponents that continually recharge their shields, it can be a real nightmare when things suddenly get reversed after a ten-minute barrage of fire.

Despite the occasional unexpected and annoying losses, the battles are still quite good, especially on a tactical level. The mini games all use the same board, but in new and inventive ways, which provides a welcome relief from the usual formula. For example, mining operations set players a target to make a certain number of matches, but with limited useful pieces on the board, necessitating a more considered approach. The disappointments largely stop with the battles completely, since other elements of the game are of a very decent standard. The anime-style cut scenes might not be particularly dynamic, but are superbly drawn, while the board game itself is simple, but satisfying, clear and bright. There's nothing that stands out as being particularly extravagant or clever, but it performs as well as it should. Similarly, there is a decent musical score (though perhaps lacking in range), and above-average effects deliver a decent sound package, that helps to complete the game. Again, it can be argued that nothing done is particularly spectacular, but these elements exist only to service the core RPG and puzzle elements. Considering Galactrix is a store title, some allowance has to be given for such things, and it's good to see the developers putting the focus on gameplay, which is so close to perfection in Galactrix, were it not for the unavoidable randomness.

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The story is reasonably interesting, helped by an extremely diverse array of characters. For those with a natural preference for sci-fi settings though, it may come as a disappointment that the story in Challenge of the warlords is arguably more interesting and involved. Some sections of Galactrix can leave the player feeling cold and devoid of motivation. However, given time to really get stuck into the story, there's plenty to become invested in, and even the less-interesting characters will become familiar enough that you begin to care. A little more variety in the activities would perhaps have helped, not just in the puzzling, but in the type of mission being tackled. As well as rescuing an item, beating up a ship, and delivering food, it would have been good to see Star-Trek- inspired missions like "find a way to confuse the mystical blue cloud orbiting Yaga Minor" or something. Still, you can't have everything in a store title.

With trophies to collect and a hefty story to work through, there's plenty for players to do. There is a vast galaxy to explore, featuring many solar systems that will take many hours to reach. Adding to lastability is an online mode with persistent stats, allowing players to compete one-on-one against other players over the network. It's remarkable, really, that a store title manages to deliver a more complete gaming package, with working online mode, than some full disc-based releases in the current generation. Despite the small niggles with the battles, which are arguably slightly worse than those experienced in Challenge of the Warlords, Galactrix is an excellent store title and worthy of a look. It's more expensive than most downloads, but for RPG and puzzle game enthusiasts, and especially fans of the series, it's a very worthy game.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

D3 Publisher

Developer:

Infinite Interactive

Players:

1-2

Online:

2

Release:

2009-06-11

Trophies:

12

Review summary

Gameplay:

Occasionally annoying battles but a great RPG puzzler

Graphics:

Quite basic, but with decent art style

Sound:

Some very decent tunes, but no voicework

Lastability:

Huge, with lots of missions, but not enough variety

8.2

Pulsar

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Garrus Vakarian

Me and my recon officer were always at each other's throats. So we settled it in the ring. I had the reach, she had the flexibility. After 9 rounds the judges said it was a tie. A lot of pissed off betters in the other room. After that we had a tie breaker in her room. Lets just say I had the reach, and she had the flexibility...