My laptop specs:
Chassis: Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming Series (7567) w/ 15.6″ 1920×1080 LED display
Processor: 7th Generation Intel Quad Core i7-7700HQ at 2.8GHz
Graphics Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti w/ 4gb GDDR5
RAM: 16gb, DDR4, 2400MHz
Hard Drive: 1TB 5400 rpm + 128gb SSD
OS: Windows 10 Home 64-bit
As a lifelong geek, I’m embarrassed to say I never really watched Battlestar Galactica – neither the original 1970s show nor the 2004 reboot. I never had anything against it but I just never got around to it. So my review of last August’s Battlestar Galactica Deadlock comes with the embarrassment that I’m a complete n00b when it comes to Cylons, the Colonies, skinjobs and everything else. However, you also have my word that my unfamiliarity with the BSG universe won’t negatively affect my review score – it isn’t (developer) Black Lab Games’s fault I haven’t seen the show. So let’s get started.
A long time ago, in a star system far, far away, man invented Cylons, a subservient android race. Then they rebelled and we’re at war with them amidst the threat of civil war between our own 12 colony planets. In an attempt to unify the colonies, each one (named loosely after a Zodiac sign) has been promised a big badass ship called a battlestar in exchange for entering a peace accord with the other colonies. One such ship, the Galactica, disappears shortly after deployment. At the same time, major upheavals in the staffing of the Colonial Fleet (read: space navy) leave a high-ranking vacancy to be filled by you. Operating from a mobile shipyard called the Daidalos, you command several classes of ships and encounter plenty of familiar names and faces from the series as well as new characters in an effort to gain the upper hand against the Cylons in increasingly difficult turn-based strategy scenarios in the middle of outer frickin’ space.
Okay, so, Captain’s Log, Stardate December 6, 2018. Generally speaking, this type of game is not my bag. I was born and raised on NES and SNES platformers and other classics, graduated to ps1 horror and stealth titles, I try regularly to get into turn-based RPG’s and I play open-world titles and racers and first-person shooters and adventure games and action RPG’s and stuff like that. I also dig more straightforward turn-based strategy games like X-Com and Space Hulk. However, I virtually never play driving sims, roguelikes, sports games nor that very specific type of strategy game where you have to plot your ships’ fluid course of movement in anticipation of outmaneuvering bad dudes. I had a game like that on my phone and I tried making sense of it for weeks but I just couldn’t. Call me impatient or just too dumb, but I always end up with my ships’ asses hanging out somewhere with space jerks flying circles around me and mercilessly blowing holes in my fleet. And Deadlock is that very specific type of strategy game.
And yet I really enjoyed the time I spent with it. So let me set the movement mechanics aside – because I have every reason to believe my difficulty with them is on my end, not the game’s – and talk about this game.
A beginning is a very delicate time. The first hour spent with a game can tell you a lot about it. In fact, in a good way, most of what you need to know about this title is discovered in that first hour or two. Deadlock runs like a dream. It’s beautiful from the outset, somehow giving a real sense of scale to the battlefields from the get-go – even the largest classes of ships filling your screen seem like a speck in an ocean compared to the stars and planets in the distant background. The game gives a semi-detailed tutorial in your first skirmish, providing the basics of every play aspect but never fully detailing how best to keep up with your opponents’ ever-changing routes. Anyway, before long, you’ll be commanding large ships and even larger ships that can deploy squadrons of very small ships (which you also manage) in tactical battles against enemy fleets that play out in two phases. First, you analyze the battlefield and pick units to defend or scout your surroundings depending on each scenario, which of course will change and require that you adapt. Once you’ve come to a decision, you pick your ships’ speeds, paths, elevation and yaw for that turn. Next, if any of your fleet are close enough to the enemy to engage in combat, you choose who to target and with which weapons as well as how to modify the ship’s energy to be focused on stronger attacks or bulkier shields for that turn. You can also tell your battlestars and other big-ass cruisers to deploy their aforementioned squadrons, which will take one turn before you can command them to do whatever needs doing. To a limited extent, you can even assign instructions to your home base to slightly alter how things play out. That’s phase one. In phase two, you watch it all play out for a set amount of time before beginning the cycle over again. Steadily creep the ships outwards into the unknown, focus turret fire that makes pinpoints of light flicker against the deep black, send salvos of missiles at your prey, burn their ships out of existence.
And it’s a pleasure to burn them – for the most part. Quick caveat: some of the missions feel a bit long as they peter out to you stopping your final targets. They don’t entirely drag, but occasionally I wanted to be done three turns or so before I was. Anyway. More than anything there is to say about the game is that every battle, every turn for the first 90%, watching projectiles scream across the cosmos towards their targets…it puts you on edge like games rarely do. Since Deadlock isn’t a real-time action game or an FPS, all you can do during the action phase is to sit and watch how your strategies have played out. It’s already too late; the only remaining action is to bite your nails and clench your teeth. Primarily, this comes from the game’s main mechanics – the delicate planning, the scale of the fights, the length of each turn, the removal of controls (besides camera movement) during the action phases – but is also aided by its tremendous sound. During the planning phase, the intense music is reduced in volume and several instrument tracks are removed entirely, leaving you with tense strings. Push the fateful “End Turn” button and the music is all systems go – drums pound, horns blare, the volume is raised. It isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this tool in gaming, but it’s terrific. The voice acting of your subordinates and superiors is authentic and immersive as is every sound effect I encountered. You wouldn’t think that a game whose play consists almost entirely of giving you an infinite amount of time to plan your next move would be as intense as Deadlock, but it absolutely is every step of the way. The tension ratchets up as well whenever a Cylon ship hacks into one of yours and disables your weapons systems or navigation and you find yourself drifting aimlessly through a firefight.
I’m pretty much screwed, you think. Yet with Deadlock, relief comes in the strangest places. With Lucinda Cain barking orders down your neck, being outmaneuvered by the enemy, one of your ships powerless, you’ll frequently find yourself rallying to win a skirmish even by the skin of your teeth. And often enough to stay addicting, something just falls into place. Your busted navigation system is repaired just in time to 180 and blow someone out of the sky. The tiny ships with the seemingly ineffective turrets somehow take down an enemy hacking your mid-size assault ship. Imperceptibly, the tides turn in your favor and you pull out a victory. Of course doing so brings you back to your war room, where you get a recap of the mission, the opportunity to commission new ships into your fleet with money you’ve earned from the battle, the story that sets up the next mission, etc. And as hard as it is to put into words, you just want to keep going. As your fleet gets more points to spend equipping itself into a bigger force, as you choose which ships to send on the next mission, as you realize there are several game modes to enjoy, you just don’t want to stop playing.
So what’s it going to be then, eh? Will you start in the campaign, piecing together the first Cylon War that predates the series? Go online and fight against your friends? Try the DLC story Operation Anabasis that introduces an entire new game mode into the experience? Mess around in a non-story skirmish to familiarize yourself with the title? Whichever route you decide, there’s plenty to explore.
So here at the end, the bottom, the worst of it is that Battlestar Galactica Deadlock isn’t for everyone. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to any game with constant ship route planning since I have horrible intuition for AI decision-making. And occasionally I’m reminded of that because as the battles wind up, I feel a painful certainty that I could’ve wrapped them up sooner instead of going through the motions of chasing down that one ship that got away or circling below it in an upward spiral because it’s sailing too high out of my range at speeds I can never seem to match. Despite that, overall, the title gets big points from me on its final presentation – the look, the sounds, the play, the intuitive everything and great voice work. I’m happy to give Battlestar Galactica Deadlock an 8 out of 10. So say we all.
Disclaimer: AIR Entertainment was provided a free review copy of Battlestar Galactica Deadlock by publisher Slitherine Ltd.