Puzzle Quest: Galactrix
Developer: Infinite Interactive | Publisher: D3Publisher of America, Inc. | Release Date: 2009 | Genre: Puzzle / Casual / Match 3 | Website: N/A | Purchase: Steam
These days virtually every game has got RPG mechanics shoehorned in, but when the original Puzzle Quest combined the gameplay of Bejeweled with high fantasy it was a huge hit. The game was extremely addictive and managed to draw in both casual players as well as RPG fans. With the phenomenal success of Puzzle Quest, a sequel was pretty much a given, but it was always going to be a tall order to improve on that simple yet effective formula. The end result is Puzzle Quest: Galactrix, which takes the series from the realm of fantasy all the way to deep space science fiction.
Puzzle Quest: Galactrix opens with a sinister narrator explaining how humanity first almost managed to wipe itself out before spreading out into the stars thanks to the mega-corporations that are formed. Players step into the role of a star pilot after selecting one of four character portraits to represent themselves. As an employee of MRI, players are initially tasked with menial tasks such as hunting down pirates, but as new missions open up a more sinister tale is revealed. To be honest, the story element is extremely forgettable and even the inclusion of different alien races isn’t enough to save it.
An interesting storyline could have improved the experience, but unfortunately, the puzzle elements are also not up to the level of the original game either. Whereas the first game is pretty much Bejeweled with mana, Galactrix has tried to incorporate some elements of Hexic into the mix as well. Your goal is still to line up three or more gems of the same color by swapping around adjacent gems, but now the playing field is circular and set in zero gravity. Gems also have six sides, instead of four, which means that they can be aligned vertically and horizontally too. Additionally, new gems are not just added to the top of the playing field when old ones are removed but come from the direction in which the last match was made. This makes to game a little more unpredictable than the first, which is something that some players will love and others hate.
Galactrix embraces the science fiction theme by tying all the gem-matching to activities that you have to perform. Players have to mine asteroids for resources, haggle with traders for better prices, fight against enemy ships, and hack into leapgates all via the match-three gameplay. The whole game is set in a universe with more than 70 solar systems that have to be traversed while you complete your missions and side missions. Unfortunately, you won’t be spending most of your time fighting enemies as expected, but instead, the leapgate hacking takes center stage.
These gates are the only way to travel between systems but have been infected with a virus that requires you to hack them to make them operational again. Each system usually has two or three leapgates to hack if you want to get around, which wouldn’t have been a problem if the hacking wasn’t so tedious. Instead of normal combat, which is turn-based, the hacking has to be done under strict timed conditions. You also have to make very specific matches to complete the hack. The problem is that the gems on the board are random, so you might get into a situation where the colors that you need to match are nowhere in sight. Even worse, each time a match is made you lose control until the match is complete. In the case of combos, this can take a few seconds as new gems appear on the playing field and are automatically matched. Watching the timer tick down as you get a string of random combos is quite frustrating and usually means having to redo the entire process again.
Combat fares a little better as you face off against enemies who can use all kinds of weapons and abilities against you, but at least there is no timer in sight. Instead, you have to match bombs to launch attacks. These bombs have different attack values, that range from one to ten, so ideally you want to match the ones with the highest values to perform the most devastating attacks. Other colored gems can also be matched to fill up gauges that are then used to perform special attacks or abilities, depending on the loadout of your ship. You’ll also want to match blue gems to replenish your ship’s shields, purple gems PSI energy, and grey gems that reward you with experience points if you are victorious. Getting your hands on a better ship and upgrades can help a lot but all too often we encountered enemies that could decimate our shields in one turn. Enemies also have the uncanny ability to make miraculous comebacks thanks to extremely “lucky” combos that appear just in the nick of time to save them. This can be extremely frustrating and often victory just game with a sense of relief instead of satisfaction.
The visuals look decent enough and the game actually features 3D models for the ships. The backgrounds are also nice and we really like the visual design of the puzzle board. Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be any concession to color blind players, which is a bit of an oversight given the nature of the game. The music in Galactrix isn’t too bad either and all of the tunes fit the science fiction theme. There is no voice acting for any of the characters in the game, but every now and then you get a static picture of the main villain along with some narration to move the story along. The battle scenes feature a couple of speech snippets to inform you if your shields are down or if you receive critical hull damage, but the frequency at which this happens makes it annoying.
Overall, Puzzle Quest: Galactrix feels like a game that has squandered a lot of its potential. Flying around Star Control II style while exploring the galaxy and interacting with alien races could have been a blast, but instead, we get tedious leapgates and tons of boring systems that all look the same. The writing for the aliens is also so generic that even after hours of playing it’s hard to remember the names of the different factions. The fact that your quest log can only hold four quests at a time also results in a lot of tedious back and forth, which becomes even worse when you realize that those annoying leapgates can actually close again after a while, which means you have to hack them again. This could have been more bearable if you could trade commodities between systems for a profit, but instead, you can only sell and not buy, which limits your options to mining and fighting.
Puzzle Quest: Galactrix is still very addictive and initially it is a lot of fun to play, but it doesn’t take long for the cracks to appear. Some players might enjoy the leapgate hacking and suspicious enemy AI, but to us, it just felt like the game relied a little too much on luck. The story mode also failed to hold our attention, but there is a quick battle mode as well as multiplayer mode included in the game as well. The last thing that we should mention is that the game has also become a lot more unstable on modern operating systems. We couldn’t even launch it until we enabled DirectPlay from the Windows legacy components and even then it would frequently crash. Overall, many other games have incorporated the Puzzle Quest gameplay, which makes Galactrix a title that can be skipped without missing much.
- Operating System:Microsoft® Windows® XP/Vista
- Processor:Intel® Core 2 @ 1.8 Ghz / AMD Athlon 64 X2 2.0 Ghz
- Memory:1 GB RAM
- Hard Disk Space:300 MB Available HDD Space
- Video Card:256 Mb (GeForce® 7 / Radeon® X800)
- Sound Card:DirectX® 9 Compatible Sound Card
- DirectX® Version:DirectX® 9.0c