Disclaimer – A review code for Galaxy Squad was provided by Big Way Games.
Galaxy Squad barges into the room with a big ‘ol sticky note on its chest with nothing more than ‘FTL x XCOM’ hastily scrawled upon its manilla form. It wears its inspirations like a badge of honour, and damn, as a concept it had me rather giddy. The premise itself isn’t necessarily unique, but it’s uncommon enough to get tingles. Tummy woobles or not, however, Galaxy Squad is all ambition with very little dedication to execution.
An Interesting Concept
Galaxy Squad opens up with a visually appealing, yet unfortunately basic character creation screen. You have three characters to customise, and three classes to choose from. There are enough options here to make a pretty cool band of cats, but I was unable to figure out how to change names. Whilst undeniably an attachment barrier, one of my squaddies was named Kathy Smack-o. Not going to lie, Kathy Smack-o is one of the greatest video game protagonist names of all time. I fully expect her to star in a mid-nineties 3D Realms Build Engine FPS.
Honestly, the biggest issue with Galaxy Squad’s character creation is the fact the game seems to use this same system to generate the majority of its NPC’s. In the opening cutscene of the game, I could have sworn I saw at least two of my formerly unique characters just chilling in the background – one of them even died. It’s rather difficult to grow attached to your band of misfits when every misfit looks like your band, you know?
I’m jumping ahead a tad though. Before you even get to see 13 Kathy Smack-o’s running around a futuristic metropolis, you need to do some more pregame stuff. Most notably picking your ship and your starting bonus. Ships have clearly defined strengths and weaknesses and bonuses range from starting with a fist full of dollars or being hardened veterans. Once you’ve done all that and picked your difficulty, the game begins.
Surprisingly Story Driven
It may not seem like it at first, but Galaxy Squad has a focus on story that few games in the Roguelike genre have. The plot is split across roughly six missions and takes about two hours to complete. Many missions offer branching story paths, and this leads to a handful of potential endings. Galaxy Squad also has near-endless sidequests, such as finding space gubbins to fix a robot prostitute’s previously dented fleshlight, if you catch my drift. Whilst the act of doing quests is a bit bland mechanically – most being fetch related – there is some real charm put into the writing. It’s just so damn rough. It’s clear the developers aren’t native English speakers, and there are grammatical and structural errors in just about every sentence.
The main story has you, a band of criminals, trying to escape the Federation – essentially the galactic government who also just so happen to be a band of legally sound criminals. Gameplay-wise this manifests as an ever-expanding danger zone that will eventually cover the whole galactic map you are trying to explore. This aura of death, similar to FTL, is what drives you forward. You can’t linger in any one corner of the galaxy for long, so picking and choosing your route, and what quests you want to complete, becomes increasingly important.
The map is split into all manner of randomly generated nodes and galactic pathways that lead to randomly generated encounters. These could be narratively clunky moral decisions that have little impact, but a bunch of head-canon implications. Do you rescue slaves from their traders, or do you take the bribe? Do you murder some nobody floating around minding their own business, or do you give him a hand? Sometimes there is no narrative, sometimes you just bump into a resource sink or space station. Most of the time, however, you get thrown into combat.
Here Comes The Jank
Combat is where Galaxy Squad truly lost me. Before this, the game had a fair amount of janky charm. Combat goes beyond jank and into the realm of generally pretty rubbish. This is budget XCOM through and through. Each character has two actions, and these can be used to move, reload, shoot, move some more or do a variety of actions. If you’ve played any TBS in the last decade or so, you know the score.
Unlike its AAA cousin, Galaxy Squad feels awful. At all times. Without fail. Basic things that have existed since the dawn of time are excluded. You can’t see how far an enemy can move and you can’t check their threat radius. Line of sight is completely broken to the point where taking cover often means you can’t see anything. This alone is enough to shatter the game’s potential into a thousand tiny shards of disappointment, but it gets worse. Actually controlling the game, at least on PS5, was a chore. Input lag, bugs and an awful camera just hammer home how unfinished the game feels.
Even when it works – even when the controls settle down – Galaxy Squad’s combat is lacking any and all oomf. The combat feels limp and lifeless. Hitting an enemy with a shotgun at point-blank range looks, sounds and feels too similar to somebody rubbing a pot noodle on a space zombie. Even critical hits and special abilities have limited fanfare.
Finally, the game’s difficulty is all over the place. It ranges from way too easy, to punishingly difficult in the drop of a hat. Galaxy Squad is a Roguelike – and a long one at that. Jumping into a random encounter, on a random map, of random size, seemingly with a random number of enemies, can just end a run. There are ways to circumvent this, such as game-breaking weapon combos, as well as save-scumming and simply resetting combat till you win, but none of those options felt rewarding.
Your reward for playing Galaxy Squad is Glory. Glory can be spent after a run to unlock new things. These include ships, weapons and even modes – of which Galaxy Squad has a fair few. Unfortunately, none of these unlockables fixes anything Galaxy Squad does wrong. As a result, I was far from compelled to experience its janky nonsense a second time, let alone a third or fourth.
When it comes to presentation, Galaxy Squad goes for a very appealing low-poly look that I loved – at first. Low-poly, colourful visuals give Galaxy Squad’s inhabitants and environments a striking aesthetic filled to the brim with charm. There’s even a fair amount of particle effects to spice it all up. The game has a tendency to focus on the grey spectrum a bit too much though. Instead of following Sting and rolling around in chunky fields of barley, Galaxy Squad far too often forces you into large, empty spaceships. Oh, and the animations are a bit naff and the UI is a nightmare to navigate on consoles.
The sound design isn’t much better. Sound effects seem stock, missing, or weak. This makes cutscenes seem unfinished and combat feel even blander than it already was. Music is fine, and feels appropriately futuristic, but was looped awfully. It cuts out so abruptly I thought, on multiple occasions, my game had crashed. It hadn’t, the game just decided to go silent for five seconds before resuming the tunes.
Despite all of its flaws, Galaxy Squad is clearly made by a band of developers who tried to make something ambitious and awesome. You can see faint glimmers of promise sparkling through the blackness of space, but it’s not enough. Galaxy Squad feels unfinished on almost every level, and because of that, I can’t recommend it – even at its budget price. Give this one a miss.
For notifications when the latest article drops, follow me on Twitter @gameswithtoasty. Alternatively, you can join the Games With Toasty Facebook page or follow my Podcast. I even have a YouTube channel and Stream on Twitch! Happy gaming.