Boomdragons! No, not a swearword, but a group of marauding space bandits causing trouble on a number of worlds. You're a member of the Galactic Justice squad, and your task is to put a stop to their misdeeds. So hop in your car, check your weapons and get blasting!
Galactic Justice is a top-down shooter in the vein of Larva Mortus, the RIP series, etc - with cars. You operate your vehicle from a top-down view, moving with the keyboard and aiming your weapons with the mouse. Like real world cars, vehicles in Galactic Justice cannot turn "on a sixpence" - you need to go forward or backwards as you turn. Your vehicle is also fitted with two or more weapon mounts and three or more orb slots to enhance it, allowing you to customise your loadout.
There's a fair amount of freedom to the game. You start with access to just one of five planets, with another unlocked when you defeat that world's boss, and in order to challenge the boss you must first earn twelve badges - obtain these by completing missions. While missions must be played in order, there are three sets of five missions on each planet, so you can switch between them. Complete all the missions on a planet and you can collect a bonus orb. Missions also net you cash, as does destroying enemies. Not all missions involve blasting boomdragons - some involve collecting parts, activating key points (such as turrets, or rescuing people) and destroying key objects. Most fun is being custom fitted with a temporary mega-weapon and trying it out on the enemy!
There's a role-playing feel to the game story (the missions link together to form campaigns of five) as well as the upgrade system. Earn cash to buy new weapons and orbs - a fixed selection of both is available on each world. You can also take on the challenge of each world (you'll need eight badges first) to try to win a new vehicle, one that is bigger and has more weapon and orb mountings than your previous car. If you fail a mission or challenge you can retry as often as you like, and your vehicle's armour is restored after every mission regardless of success or failure.
Galactic Justice also features a somewhat unusual aspect to weaponry known as "stacking". Weapons come in four flavours, and can either strike one of these flavours or stack a weakness of that flavour onto an enemy. You can stack up to five weaknesses (of only one type at a time) to an enemy vehicle and, if you then target it with a weapon that strikes that weakness, you'll deal a massive amount of damage. A good strategy is thus to balance your weapons to take advantage of this feature.
Graphics and sound are both high quality, with the square feel of the buildings, roads and such made less obvious by such unusual actions as angling them at 45 degrees. There are lots of smaller items such as tyres and crates littering the area, and these can operate as both shielding and obstacles. You can even push these around with your car! The overall style is fairly cartoon, especially the explosions made by your weapons (big, brightly coloured "splats" with various comic book onomatopaeisms). As all characters are vehicular, there is no blood. Music and effects are varied and high quality too.
Somehow, though, there's something about Galactic Justice that just didn't spark for me. The graphics and sound feel a little soulless - I don't feel as immersed as I did for many other games. Part of this may be a lack of character involvement - there is no real sense of working for any organisation or having any need to defeat the boomdragons. I'm just battling to complete missions and get to the next planet - the different campaigns don't feel connected. There's also a fair amount of tweaking needed for the playability - the second boss, for instance, was an utter pushover and barely fired a shot at me. Having experienced this in other missions I suspect "enemies not firing" is actually a bug. This doesn't, however, forgive the challenge modes - the reward for which is a very useful new vehicle with more firepower and, more importantly, more armour. I managed to complete the first challenge on around the twentieth attempt, and the second challenge proved even more difficult - the time limit for these seems rather tight and surely they should not be harder than the boss levels? Even more strangely, the challenge on world three was actually easier.
Other issues include the occasionally awkward game text (the fate of each world on completion should be amusing, but the delivery of humour was often clumsy), the way enemies go off the map when you cannot, the occasional getting stuck - especially when surrounded by enemies and obstacles - and the way missions are not always explained well. My first attempt at using the Gravatron weapon in combat was hopeless as I didn't know how to work it. Weapons too are tricky - you cannot sell weapons or orbs and the only way to figure out how they actually work is to buy them. One can spend a long time earning cash to buy a weapon and then discover it doesn't work the way you expect. Fortunately you can replay missions as often as you like, and score cash for destroying enemies, so you can always earn more if you're willing to make the effort. And dying is never serious - you can replay a mission as many times as you wish until you crack it, with no penalty.
Galactic Justice is an infuriating game to review as it's very well put together, but just *slightly* off balance. Almost every aspect of the game is well constructed and I must congratulate the developers for their hard work, but somehow the experience didn't quite gel for me and I'm not entirely sure why. In the end, it simply doesn't hook me in the way that many smaller (and some lower-quality) games have done. Perhaps a sense of direction, of plot and character development, is all Galactic Justice needs to push it into the gold star range.
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