Better late than never, BSG gets the game it deserved.
Despite all its acclaim, the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series that ran from 2004 to 2009 has been severely underrepresented when it comes to quality games. Similarly, recent choices for space-based strategy games have been limited too, especially if you aren’t looking for a 4X experience. But Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock solves all of these issues single-handedly, with tactical-strategy gameplay featuring Cylons, Vipers, and Battlestars. The best surprise, though, is that it’s all of that and a good game.
Deadlock is a cleverly designed space combat game layered on top of a challenging resource-management simulation. In this regard, Deadlock echos what makes games like XCOM so addictive: the ships you manage from a strategic perspective are the same ones you command in combat, so decisions made in one phase have significant impacts on the other. For instance, spending resources on a fleet officer might enhance a ship’s firepower in combat, but lose that ship and you will have a harder time tackling future missions. It’s a formula that’s worked in other games, and works just as well here.
Regarding the combat, it feels fresh. It’s neither as rigid as XCOM’s grid-based gameplay, nor as frenetic as something like StarCraft. Instead, it uses a simultaneous turn structure where you and your opponent lock in movement and commands at the same time. These orders are then executed collectively, with the results playing out cinematically in front of you. This system is reminiscent of the highly regarded Frozen Synapse, but may have as much in common with tabletop miniature games like Star Wars: Armada and Star Trek: Attack Wing. In fact, anyone familiar with those games will likely appreciate the feel of Deadlock’s combat.
Deadlock’s combat interface makes it easy to feel like an armchair admiral.
Even if you aren’t, Deadlock’s combat interface makes it easy to feel like an armchair admiral. It’s as simple as moving an outline of your ship to the exact spot you’d like it to be at the end of the turn and taking into account the highlighted area that represents maximum range and translucent firing arcs which show what a ship could possibly hit. Since the ships in Deadlock are large capital ships with low agility and varying firing arcs, planning two or three turns in advance is important.
Understanding your fleet’s limitations and other class-based differences is crucial for success. The different ship types generate a lot of tactical decisions that keep combat interesting. Lumbering Jupiter-class Battlestars can attack in all directions, but also tend to draw the brunt of the Cylon’s fire. Meanwhile, the maneuverable Manticores have limited firing arcs and have to be carefully aimed where you expect the enemy to go.
Deadlock also includes fighter combat, a staple of the TV series, and these small-scale ships are represented in a great way. Wings of fighters can be assigned to attack and defend specific targets, and grouped into fighter squadrons. When viewed at a distance, the groups of fighters blend into one large glowing icon which is very easy to see, reminiscent of Homeworld 2 or Sins of a Solar Empire.
An additional twist that puts Deadlock ahead of its tabletop game relatives is its representation of three-dimensional space combat. You can adjust the elevation of your ships, and because ships can collide, it’s a necessity to manage it if you want to avoid crippling your own fleet. Ships do tend to clump together, paradoxically making a space-based battlefield seem congested.
Each turn feels bigger and fuller of important decisions than the 15 or so seconds that they represent.
Beyond the movement decisions, issuing commands keeps things compelling as well. Each ship has a variety of actions it can take, from firing missiles to launching fighters to repairing subsystems. Missiles are hard-hitting but limited in both number and by reload time. Repairs are straightforward enough, but knowing what and when to repair is crucial. If a ship is heavily damaged, is it better to be able to steer or fire? All of these options make each turn feel much bigger and fuller of important decisions than the 15 or so seconds that they represent.
Between combat missions, attention turns to a command center. While it is a 3D space for some reason, nearly everything is actually driven by clunky, unintuitive menus. However, even if I was occasionally unsure how to do something, what I needed to do was generally clear. This phase of is one of managing fleets, recruiting officers, and handling build orders and resources.
Choosing to prioritize money over missions is one of many tough decisions.
Thankfully, Deadlock limits its resources to two kinds: tyllium, used for building, and Requisition points, used for recruiting officers and unlocking blueprints for new weapons and vessels. Like XCOM, these resources come from a base of support that is very fickle when it comes to funding the fleet. If a colony feels they are being overrun or ignored, they may leave the alliance. Choosing when to prioritize money over missions is one of the many tough and interesting decisions to be made during this phase.
Balancing a fragile alliance, preserving fleet strength, and progressing the captivating story is at the heart of the management phase of Deadlock’s campaign. Of course, it’s challenging and frustrating too, as there were never enough ships and resources to do all that I wanted. But that’s where the tension comes from.
The story is told over 14 interlocking missions, though there are many more than that when considering random encounters, side missions, and defensive operations. I will admit that there were some moments when the space combat started to feel a bit repetitive; it’s not much fun to play a 15 to 30-minute mission when it’s clear from the outset that a loss is inevitable. It does help that Deadlock gives the option to quickly autoresolve non-story missions, presented with the odds of success.
Any success will be fleeting; every victory I had was hard-fought.
Any success will be fleeting; every victory I had was hard-fought. The AI is competent, if appropriately predictable as a representation of robotic enemies. The Cylons will reliably target the biggest capital ships and often use hacking attacks to take key systems offline, so defending against them becomes fairly routine. On the other hand, some missions change things up with reinforcements spawning mid-mission, and I do like that the story missions offer up a variety of objectives, like protecting civilian ships and destroying crippled ships before they can be captured.
Beyond this campaign, Deadlock only offers a skirmish mode. These one-off battles allow you to customize a fleet without worrying about resources and mission objectives. Though it’s briefly enjoyable, the combat shines best when coupled with the management phase, so it doesn’t match the campaign.
What really helps Deadlock is it’s commitment to the source material. Even though it functions as a prequel to the show, taking place during the first Cylon war as opposed to the second, Deadlock name drops enough that anyone who watched the series will feel at home. Beyond just the content, it nails the stylistic elements that made the show unique. From computer readouts to the music, Deadlock captures the look and feel of Battlestar Galactica. My favorite touch: You can watch a replay of each mission in full, complete with the aggressively zoomy camera that was a hallmark of the show.
All of this style, however, doesn’t quite overcome the middling graphics. From a wide perspective, the space combat looks fine, with nice-looking explosions and weapon effects. But zoom in too close and the repetitive shapes and lack of fine detail become apparent. Even the background of space can look a little flat, like ships are flying in front of a starry curtain. There are occasionally some wonky camera angles in the replays, too. And the officer portraits are not good. However, despite these visual issues, the gameplay was compelling enough to make me forget about these minor blemishes.