Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock
For all the high profile games we hear about whether we like it or not, there are legions of titles which release to little or no fanfare. We can’t be everywhere nor expect to know about everything that hits the streets, but it concerns me that had I not randomly come across a blurb on Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock a few weeks ago, I’d never have known it existed.
I am a massive BSG fan; it is to me what Firefly is to everyone else. It’s a human drama with spaceships, not the other way around. Naturally, this focus makes things difficult should someone want to make a BSG video game, although I’m sure TellTale might be the best crew to take a stab at it. Of course, we can’t completely ignore the fact that the remnants of humanity featured in the series are able to persist because of their ability to take to the stars, so it’s legitimate to have a game that focuses on the ships of the series.
Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock doesn’t actually have much to do with the events of the series; rather, it takes place in the oft-mentioned First Cylon War. The 12 Colonies are being the traditionally jerky selves, but the sudden reappearance of their old servants, heavily armed and spoiling for revenge, force the colonies to band together and approve the Jupiter Project: 12 massive Battlestars, one representing each of the Colonies. When BSG:D starts, we only have one Battlestar: the Athena, helmed by Admiral Cain. Oddly, the Galactica is mentioned, but a BSG wiki states that the Galactica was the last Battlestar built before or during the war. I don’t actually remember what the cut scene said, honestly, but will revisit it and see if I can reconcile the difference later on.
So far, the first question people have asked me about the game is “what kind of game is it?” I suspect a lot of folks would like it to be a Wing Commander-esque sim which puts you in the cockpit of a Viper, but BSG:D is more true to the spirit of the series. The best analogue I can come up with is a mix of XCOM‘s meta-game, and the table top X-Wing miniature wargame.
You play the role of Cain’s XO and have been put in charge of defending the Helios systems from rampaging Cylons. You start off in the war room which is represented by a table depicting the 4 stars, 12 colonial planets, and their assorted moons and neighboring bodies. Initially, you receive missions which have you trying to accomplish specific goals, but you very quickly find that your secondary goals include deciding whether or not to respond to randomized Cylon incursions that pop up around the map. Naturally, your decision to respond or ignore is going to affect your supply chain sourced from the affected colony, which is where the XCOM influence is felt. Each colony supplies tylium, the materials used to keep your fleet operational and which allows you to build new ships; piss off the colonies and they’ll pull their support from the fleet and cost you income. They also provide you with requisition points which allow you to gain new blueprints and recruit officers for your ships. Unlike XCOM, however, it doesn’t seem that losing the support of the colonies is a final straw; you can increase their support from zero by helping them out again.
You can field several fleets and can move ships between them after they meet up in the same sector. When entering into an engagement, you have a limited area in which you can arrange your ships, although you’re not given a specific attack vector, making placement a kind of guessing game. You can also select the loadout for some ships, whether it’s missiles, a compliment of Vipers, a squad of Raptors, or something else. An engagement plays out in rounds: select your ship, give movement orders and/or special attack and/or repair orders, and repeat for all ships in your fleet. When ready, end the turn and all maneuvers play out.
Movement is handled by dragging a “ghost” of a particular ship within a movement arc. A ship has a range per turn limit, so it can’t go shooting across the battlefield. It also has a turning radius. The Manticor corvette can make tighter turns than a Battlestar, for example. Once you have clicked to place the ghost within the distance and turning arc, you can adjust the height and yaw of the ship. Because all ships have front, rear, top, bottom, left, and right strike zones, you might find that certain ships are weaker when attacked from above or below. Yawing allows a ship to fine tune its firing arcs, but putting too much yaw on a ship can cause internal stress which handicaps the ship’s movement during the next turn.
Each ship auto-attacks with its turrets when a target is in range. Smaller ships have a limited strike ability, while larger ships might have more guns to fire. The firing arcs differ for each ship; the corvette has front and rear firing arcs, while the first frigate you build has port and starboard firing arcs. A ship can designate a focus fire target which behaves as advertised: all guns will fire at that target regardless of other targets in range. If a ship is equipped with missiles, those can be fired regardless of facing because they’re homing, and generally have a much larger range. If you’re fielding Vipers or Raptors, you don’t have too many options, as each squad is essentially a “swarm”. They can be used to take out Raiders or harass larger ships or go after less hardened objectives or can be set to defend a friendly ship against anything enemies that might get too close.
As you can imagine, because you’re essentially guessing about where your ships need to be and what they need to do, the game can get pretty tricky. One iconic but potentially difficult feature of the Battlestar is the ability to launch flak to protect the broadsides against small ships (both enemy and friendly) and incoming missiles. In order to use this effectively, you need to activate before anything reaches the ship, meaning you either have to luck out and have a 2-turn salvo headed your way, or you have to anticipate that someone is going to start raining missiles down on your position this next turn. A big part of the strategy of the game is movement, anticipation, and future planning. Because each ship has a limited movement range and arc, you need to consider where everyone is going to end up at the end of this turn as well as where you want them to be at the end of the next turn. Don’t let your ships get too close together: During the very first scenario, I accidentally rammed one of my Manticore into a Cylon ship because I moved it into the path of the enemy. It destroyed both, which helped but was not optimal for the one remaining ship I had.
Fans of the X-Wing tabletop game will instantly grasp the concept and mechanics. Strategy gamers will also find a lot to love because of the need for thinking several rounds ahead. BSG fans will probably get the most out of it, though, because while it does provide a lot of fan service, it’s not a lot of winking and nodding. We meet Admiral Cain and the Athena right out of the gate, and fans know that not much changes in that respect between now and the intra-show miniseries where Cain runs into the Galactica again. The game features a soundtrack that’s very reminiscent of the show’s score provided by Bear McCreary which helps a lot, because the BSG soundtrack is distinct and relevant to the feel of the show. There are also some mechanics from the show that have made it into the game, such as the aforementioned flak cannons, but also the Cylon ability to “hack” a ship. When a hack is in progress, ship systems such as fire control start to degrade, making ships far less effective. In addition to all of the armor and hull values, each ship has a firewall rating that is the defense against these kinds of attacks.
Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock is not a drop in, drop out kind of game. I spent at least a half hour on one round in part because of the micro-movements involved, but also because there are no one-shot-kills going on here. Even a Battlestar, with its cannons and missiles and Viper squads, isn’t enough to fully dismember a heavily armed yet smaller Cylon Talon. Watching your fleet having to deal with a persistent hack that you just can’t shake while simultaneously having to manage movement and position, make decisions on how best to deploy your support craft, whether or not to split the fleet, and who — if anyone — to sacrifice in order to achieve the goal…well, that’s all the fun of strategy games, isn’t it? There are also two other modes: multiplayer and skirmish, but I have yet to try either. Word on the street is that in either of these modes you can opt to play for the other team, should you have warm bread in place of a heart.
Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock should be a good buy for hardcore strategy gamers and people who have wanted a digital version of the X-Wing table top game. It is a slam-dunk for BSG fans who are also strategy gamers, because there’s so much awesome in just positioning the camera to get those quintessential BSG cinematic shots of missiles slamming into the bulkhead of a ship. Sadly, for those who were hoping for a more action-packed Battlestar game, this will do absolutely nothing. We can only hope that someone, somewhere is working on a licensed dogfighting sim set in the same universe.
If you want to view the manual (Yes! A manual!), you can find it right here.