It’s been the best part of a decade and a half since the remake of Battlestar Galactica hit our small screens. Hopelessly dark and with incredible twists right up until the finale, it was an incredible saga, one of my favourite ever series, and is generally regarded as a modern sci-fi classic.
For those not in the know, Galactica takes place in an alternate universe where twelve human dominated planets compete against each other for superiority. When the Cylons (sentient robots) come calling, the series is more specifically about one of those planet’s ships, Galactica, taking the fight to the enemy and trying to find the mythical lost world of Earth.
You may call this a long introduction, but I’m trying to start out where Battlestar Galactica Deadlock has failed. If you’re not familiar with the series, don’t expect the game to throw you a bone.
The opening few missions here act as a tutorial to Deadlock’s mechanics at least, and there’s plenty to learn. Expect a turn based strategy game for the minute to minute battles and something a little more akin to Risk (as in the board game) to provide an overview of your war against the Cylons.
The camera is zoomed out by default at the start of each sortie, giving you a broader look at your situation. There are multiple classes of ship available in each battle. From small but nimble fighter squadrons, right up to great hulking Battlestars, (get the name now?) and each ship type handles differently.
Battlestars really bring the noise in any given engagement, but they take an absolute age to get anywhere and even longer to turn and bring their guns to bear on a new target. Fighters, conversely, swarm around your enemy, providing a welcome distraction, but hit for very little effect on their own.
And therein lies Deadlock’s meat. You’ll be presented with multiple targets in almost every mission and if your own ships aren’t positioned correctly to take advantage of where weapons will hit for the most damage, you can soon find yourself overwhelmed. The 3D nature of the fights means that threats can often come from above and below. Forget this, as I did on a few occasions, and you’ll be left scratching your head as to why you’re not inflicting any damage on ships that appear to be right next to you – for a few turns at least.
As allied ships take damage in their defence of your home world, some of your turns can be spent repairing your hull or weapon systems as needed. Picking the right time to do this, and even correctly deciding whether to focus your crews on offensive or defensive drills on board keeps you busy. You’ll soon be glad of the down time you get between turns, when the action pauses and allows you to clear your head and think about the next move.
Completing missions rewards you with the game’s currency, and you’re encouraged to make choices regarding what forces you take into future battles. As time goes on, the table top based strategy map becomes available to you and it’s this element that really makes you feel responsible for the lives of the people on the ship’s you command. Available units often carry over between missions. Sacrifice too much of your Navy too early and you may find yourself short of the necessary resources to compete later on.
I can see pros and cons to this approach. One the one hand, Battlestar Galactica was always a people focused affair so it seems right that there should be some penalty for not taking care of the game’s characters. On the other, certainly early on, you’re not given much warning that what you can afford is your lot and you can easily find yourself hamstrung later on. That said, some of the best of sci-fi in video games makes great tension out of these sorts of resource based puzzles and the decisions you make around them. You only have to look to the likes of Mass Effect 2 and the X-Com series.
Deadlock gives you plenty to think about, but it isn’t all plane sailing. Even multiple hours into the game, I really struggled to grips with the camera mapping on the controller. Triggers to zoom in and out never quite seemed to give me the combination of the best view and all the information I needed at the same time. Locking to one target likewise does that funny thing where you’re either far too close or much too far away from the action with very little middle ground.
Audio, likewise, is a mixed bag. Battlestar Galactica, the series, had an absolutely incredible score. Drum tracks building up to battles were exciting and emotive and to my mind Deadlock absolutely nails this element of the show. Booming snares rip out during fights and quieten down with the action when appropriate. At its best, the audio really helps pull you into the Galactica universe.
At its worst, well, the voice acting is pretty terrible. There were some big names in the acting world to star in the series so it’s perhaps no surprise that none were available at a price suitable for a game of this budget. But those who do perform are really no better than phone ins. Your main guide throughout the campaign is, I think, meant to sound like Tricia Helfer from the TV series, but she really isn’t great. The number of times she repeats “so say we all” really grates, particularly as it’s meant to be an emotional call to arms. It’s reeled off here like you’ve just been asked whether you’d like sugar with your tea.
Likewise, the pejorative nickname for the Cylons is toasters (often with frakkin inserted in front for good measure.) Characters would almost spit this insult from their mouths, such that you could feel the hatred born for the cybernetic conquerors. In Deadlock, there is no such bile. In fact there is very little emotion in the delivery at all.
Some of this may sound like nitpicking. That’s true, to an extent. But I come at this as a big Battlestar Galactica fan. My assumption is that many of the people likely to buy this game will be in the same boat as me.