With its focus equally split between combat and more existential, human drama, it's no wonder that Battlestar Galactica scratched the itch of so many sci-fi fans. With its stellar production values and top-drawer writing and acting, the 2004 reboot seems like a natural foundation for some sort of video game adaptation. Surprisingly, the efforts have been few and far between, a half dozen or so, generally mediocre products. This made the prospect of Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock so appealing for this fan of the show.
Neatly bypassing some of the scrutiny that no doubt would have accompanied a game set during the series itself, Deadlock instead is a prequel set during the First Cylon War, an event alluded to often in the show as it was instrumental in creating the uneasy relationship between humans and Cylons. The game is pretty short on narrative, with fairly rote voiceovers providing context for the next battle or advancing the campaign.
Deadlock is a squadron-focused, turn-based strategy game that alternates between RPG/sim elements (juggling the economics of ship and squad building and their various complications and upgrades) and small-scale battles in deep, three-dimensional space. Between encounters, players must decide on how to spend their limited resources, whether on additional ship construction and improvements, weapon and ammo upgrades, or even the capacity to warp more efficiently around the map. The economics are multi-faceted and give a real sense of forces both within and outside player control happening in the universe. Optional side missions, like mopping up an annoying Cylon raiding party, earn additional resources outside of the main story campaign but come with a cost as more immediate -- and ignored -- altercations are also taking place that will impact the campaign.
The RPG/sim aspects of Deadlock are adequately engaging but absent the beloved characters from the series, it is the battles that must really capture what made the series fantastic, and the news here is generally very good. The Jupiter-class battlestars, frigates and fighters are pitted against Cylon Base Stars, Vipers and a few other ship designs that were not part of the original show, and it doesn't take too much suspension of disbelief to imagine that each epic battle has been ripped right out of the small screen into the game. In particular, the Bear McCreary-like, exotic percussion-heavy score and overall audio do a good job of paying homage to the series, with battle effects growing in intensity with proximity to the action. Somehow, whether through the excellent camera placement or visual design, the developers really nail the look of the series the way fans remember it.
Players control up to seven spacecraft and plot their movements, choice of weapons, and targets before watching the battle and their decisions then play out in real time. Moving and positioning various fighters in 3D to avoid collisions, while anticipating enemy flight paths becomes a fairly complex dance that takes some dedicated practice and a learning curve that isn't always smooth, not always helped by an interface and icons representing the ships that take up a lot of screen space and create some visual clutter. After completing the 12-15 hour campaign, players can enjoy a coop mode and 1v1 multiplayer, plus an endless supply of skirmishes that are less predictable and inherently more replayable than the scripted campaign missions.
Some up-close texture issues, occasional framerate hiccups, and a lackluster cadre of voice actors aside, Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock is one of the best -- and certainly, most respectful -- of the Galactica -inspired games. Although no game has really captured the deep philosophical underpinnings and complex human drama that made the series so engaging Deadlock nails the exciting and tactical battles that were such a memorable aspect of the show.