It’s been over eight years since BattleStar Galactica ended in almost the worst way imaginable, and in that time we haven’t got a single good (official) game based on the series. We now have one. Kinda.
Kinda not because the latest, Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, is not a good video game. It is! It’s kinda because this isn’t technically a video game about the 2000's series at all. Despite sharing the same visual style, uniforms and even style of soundtrack as Sci-Fi’s classic TV show, Deadlock is in fact a prequel based on the first Cylon War, the one that’s only hinted at in the main series (and which was instead the focus of web series Blood & Chrome).
Which is why Deadlock plays the way it does. Had this been a strategy game based around just the Galactica, it would have been about politics, sex, drama and toothpaste. Instead, set during a bigger, fairer fight between humanity and the Cylons, Deadlock is able to expand its scale and be a game about building fleets then sending them off to do battle with the enemy.
While Deadlock may look like a 3D space strategy game in the style of Homeworld, it’s actually turn-based. At the beginning of a turn you issue orders and movement commands to every ship under your command. When you hit a big END TURN button, those moves and orders are then carried out during a short window of real-time resolution. Like this:
It’s not the first strategy game to do this, of course, but having just come off the back of a solid six months playing Star Wars Armada, it was a comfortable and familiar way for me to be resolving battles involving giant spaceships.
Battles in Deadlock are relatively small in scale, which is for the best, because the game asks you to do a lot of fiddly little things every turn for each ship under your command. You’re responsible for speed, direction, firing orders and posture (whether offensive or defensive), with further options like setting the ship’s elevation (like Homeworld and Sins, you can adjust the “height” of your ships in space), firing off a limited supply of projectiles and, best of all, getting to click on LAUNCH VIPERS.
The game’s tactics are based around unit differentiation. Some ships are fast, some are slow, some have fighters, some don’t, some are strongest firing to the front, others from broadsides. Both Colonial and Cylon forces are pretty evenly-matched, with a lot more variety in the type of ships available to you than you ever saw on TV.
The tactical battles are pretty good, if also a bit strange to see in motion because they’re so reliant on movement when the show conditioned us to expect ships to just sit still and pound each other until one blew up. The reason for that is that ships can only be destroyed when you break through their hulls, and to do that you need to completely break through a certain part of its surface to do so. So when a ship starts taking damage from the front, it can turn around and show you its side, and you’ll be starting all over again. This makes manoeuvring and pursuit a central strategy, and also a lot of fun as ships dance through a battle trying to protect their weaknesses while exploiting their opponent’s.
Battles really come into their own, though, with the use of the license: the sound effects like whooshing missiles and the ping of DRADIS are straight from BSG, and the music is an excellent facsimile of Bear McCreary’s iconic score from the TV series. If you ever watched the show and wanted to be furrowing your brows just like Adama as everything goes to shit around you, this is as close as you can currently get.
As fun as they are, the centrepiece of Deadlock isn’t the tactical battles, it’s the surprisingly large and involved singleplayer campaign. Instead of just serving as a series of tutorials introducing you to bigger ships and better weapons, Deadlock’s campaign borrows heavily from XCOM’s, asking you to race around the 12 Colonies fighting Cylons, trying to keep each planet happy enough to stay in the fight and lend their resources to the war effort while also trying to complete story missions along the way.
It’s as tense and occasionally infuriating as XCOM’s campaign, especially since story missions sometimes require a fail, reboot and retool for a more appropriate fleet until you can complete them. But that’s what also makes it so enjoyable, since by giving you the flexibility to pick your fights and be responsible for how you fight them, it feels far more involved than a more linear campaign might have.
As much fun as I’m having with Deadlock, I wonder how much of that is down to my love of BSG and how much is thanks to the inherent quality of the game itself. As well-made as the battle system itself is, combat can sometimes feel like a drag during less chaotic moments (since you have to order each ship around individually), and most of the presentation outside of the attractive 3D battles can best be described as “budget”.
Then again, this is an official Battlestar Galactica game that doesn’t suck. It’s aimed at Battlestar Galactica fans, and being a competent strategy title that uses the license well, that’s about all you can ask for so long after the show’s resolution.
Deadlock will be out on PC (Steam and GoG) around the end of the month.