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Review: Battlestar Galactica Deadlock (Steam)

Introduction
Battlestar Galactica Deadlock is without a doubt, one of the finest Sci-Fi fleet simulators on Steam today. For fans of the titular series, it offers some much needed context and it enhances the pre-existent lore. Several BSG licensed video games have been released before Deadlock, yet they were mediocre by comparison. This is the second Steam project from Black Lab Games, a developer you may recognize as the creators of 2015’s “Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy”. That title served as a template for the core mechanics in the game I’m reviewing today. Industry veterans (and grand strategy masters) Slitherine Ltd. served as publishers in both cases.

Story 
Story-wise, Battlestar Galactica Deadlock is more attuned to the 2010 “Caprica” spin-off prequel than the 2004 rebooted series or the 1978 originals. I admit that I’ve been a moderate fan of Battlestar Galactica and that I haven’t watched all released material in its case. I shall write a spoiler-free article as I always do and regard my readers with the utmost respect they deserve, while also trying to accommodate a public which may not have been exposed to the BSG saga at all. To summarize it in general terms, humanity’s birthplace was the planet Kobol, from which the Twelve Colonies (scattered across the four Helios Star Systems) prospered until a genocidal race of sentient machines, succeeded in wiping out nearly all traces of human existence. The original Battlestar Galactica was a product of its decade, back when post-apocalyptic themes were all the rage. But make no mistake. BSG is not Mad Max in space, nor it deserved to be “genre sidelined” by Star Wars, as it sadly had to endure in the eyes of the prolific Sci-Fi writer Isaac Asimov. That’s like comparing apples to oranges, Ike. Battlestar Galactica has its own, unique story and deserves the same recognition as Alien, Doctor Who, Stargate SG-1, Star Trek, Star Wars or Terminator to name just a few, but very important TV series and motion pictures within the Science Fiction genre.

What you need to understand about Battlestar Galactica’s Universe, is that it shifts the focus from Earth (apparently the thirteenth, lost colony of Kobol) to a human race which developed alongside our conventional theories regarding the evolution of our species. Kobol may have had a similar fate to many grim scenarios which predict and warn that Terra’s dwindling resources might deplete altogether when faced with an ever increasing population. Unsustainability might have been the driving force behind the massive colonial efforts undertaken by humanity, but it was apparently in vain once the Cylons brutally intervened. This cybernetic threat has created a continuity rift between the original and the rebooted BSG series. Originally a species created by a reptilian race to mirror their own exploits and represent their will, in the recent TV series, the Cylons were created by humans as an Artificial Intelligence that might assist with the colonization of new worlds. That plan backfired and thus, resulted in a Skynet on steroids, if you’ll indulge the metaphor. Machines turned on their creators, leaving only wastelands in their path.

The titular Battlestar named “Galactica” is among the few, massive ships which escaped the Cylon onslaught and now harbors what’s left of the human race. Always on the run or in the most optimistic scenarios, successfully defending what they have left and still hoping to find a new world to settle, as far away from Cylons as possible. You can connect the dots now and see where the Mass Effect series got its inspiration for the Quarian race and their former robotic slaves, the Geth. Battlestar Galactica Deadlock is not about a migrant fleet however. The action takes place during the First Cylon War, back when humanity still had Twelve Colonies to defend and powerful armadas that were ready for the ultimate sacrifice. Warhammer 40K and its Imperium of Man share some of those creeds and their inherent fatalism. BSG’s defining moment was the Cylon rebellion and the wars which ensued. By definition, a “deadlock” is a situation (conflict or not) from which no parties involved can progress any further. Imagine the trench warfare which became synonymous with World War One’s Western Front.

Battlestar Galactica Deadlock is thus, concentrating on the defense of the Twelve Colonies through the assistance of its skilled admirals. Players assume control of such an individual and are offered the command of the Daidalos Fleet Group. You will see very many Greek terms and names in BSG, for either locations or characters that had some connection with Greek mythology. I’m as pleased in this title, as I was in SOMA and my review for it. Greek nomenclature deserves a share of the spotlight, which more often than not, is just full Latin territory. One good look at our own Solar System and you’ll understand where I’m going with this. Daidalos is a “mobile shipyard”, really just a fancy term for a travelling space station used as a literal flagship within a fleet already composed of very large space vessels. So its the mobile headquarters of the entire Colonial Fleet in terms of actual war efforts coordination. Its structural integrity is crucial, if humanity hopes to have a fighting chance against the cybernetic foe it has enabled and provoked to some degree. Much like the Geth or Skynet, the Cylons are also more than capable of defending themselves, constantly adapting to the tactics used by their former masters and with the same genocidal desire to eradicate their creators.

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Graphics
ModDB seems to regard Unity as the graphics engine powering Battlestar Galactica Deadlock. Even if it would be proprietary to the dev team, the game looks more than decently and it scales perfectly even on highest resolution settings. I had no performance issues either and after I wrote on the title’s Steam Discussions tab, I did find out just how easy it is to disable the User Interface during the battle phases. I’ll explain those in detail below, but for now, let’s focus on the visual assets. Plenty of screenshot material once the action picks off and you can simulate on-screen some truly epic scale space battles between the two warring factions. Never a frame rate drop or crash in sight. Not even glitches, so there’s really no cause for concern in this case. It’s not as demanding as Battlefleet Gothic: Armada but it looks nearly as beautiful, since both titles allow a generous level of zooming in and out, coupled with pausable options, perfect for savoring the defeat and subsequent explosion of an enemy vessel.

Audio
The soundtrack was really to my liking since it offered a mix of instrumentals and genre specific effects. Voice acting was decent enough while the sound effects emitted by the ships and their crews, proved rather repetitive. As in, RTS-like repetitive. You know, the longer you play some strategy titles, you learn by heart those two or three lines which always get yelled by the units you’ve just selected or issued a new command to. It’s not like I expected anything out of the ordinary from Deadlock’s sounds, I’m just stating the obvious, I guess. Strategy is more than fine with the audio assets it usually offers and this game is no different from this perspective.

Gameplay

I am a fan and experienced player of several fleet simulators. Discussing strictly about Deadlock’s themes, I could compare its complex gameplay mechanics to those from Battlefleet Gothic: Armada and Nexus: The Jupiter Incident. At least from the unit recruitment and technological advancement perspectives, Battlestar Galactica Deadlock is similar to the aforementioned titles. Once again we have a War Room sequence between campaign missions and the selection procedure goes through several menus in which new ships may be commissioned, retrofitted or scrapped altogether, making way for better base models. Individual fleets have a finite size after all and the unit roster is well divided by ship class. It’s all very conventional in this regard and the Battlestar Galactica is known for its somewhat believable approach to Sci-Fi and its avoidance of “technobabble”. No laser beams, plasma shots or undiscovered elements which may offer an edge in battles. BSG is all about rail guns, missile salvos, spatial dogfights between Colonial Vipers against Cylon Raiders and last but definitely not least, launching nukes in space. Nuclear payloads, as you can imagine, are the very last resort for the localized conflict, since friendly fire is always a concern when launching such devastating projectiles. Again, Cold War themes were crucial for the series original run time, but let’s face it: nukes are a constant threat even in the 21st Century, sadly. Outside the deeply strategic order of War Room logistics and planning, the missions involve battles which may contain primary and secondary objectives, the latter, always being delivered as the situation unfolds. Even the best-laid plans can often go awry and when dealing with a cybernetic menace that can adapt to most situations, warfare is well simulated through the element on (unpleasant) surprise.

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Of course the stars of the show and this video game adaptation, are the titular battleships which are designated as Battlestars for Colonial forces or Basestars for the Cylon aggressors. Massive in all regards, these vessels will dictate either victory or defeat should they succumb to the continuous fire they’re being subjected to. Fighter squadrons and Cylon hacking, spice the battles even more. In the television series, daring commando raids involving the sabotage of Cylon ships during battle, was a common sight. From our in-game perspective this can’t be simulated so well. Mission progression is also turn based and this is where Battlestar Galactica Deadlock detaches itself from similar gaming counterparts. True, this is also prevalent to Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy but we’re talking of the same development team, so originality remains intact. Real time strategy doesn’t always offer the amount of detail which goes into turn based methods, even if both of them might feature pausable action. Deadlock is all about careful planning and maneuvering. You don’t rush into the fray without extensive intel relating to potential threats. Cylons will more often than not, have the advantage of numbers on their side. Colonial forces cannot afford to throw caution out through the proverbial airlock. Advancing cautiously, positioning similarly powered vessels against their immediate foes and flanking maneuvers, are all important pieces of advice that will serve you well in SP and especially MP skirmishes against equally capable human minds. Mid-battle repairs and energy redistribution are nice little features that wish to add more realism, even if we’re talking about pure Sci-Fi topics over here. Diverting power reserves towards certain ship segments and their crews, can also make the difference between survivor and space debris. The AI during the single player missions doesn’t make full use of its arsenal, so players who want a real challenge are encouraged to try out various skirmishes. Too bad that the maps are in short supply for this particular game mode.

 

Verdict

Battlestar Galactica never had a proper video game representation until 2017’s Deadlock. You can be bothered by many things such as the severe lack of battle map diversity, small unit roster in the base game or complete absence of a Cylon single player campaign and perspective, but the truth is, Battlestar Galactica Deadlock still has a lot of content to offer in those thirteen missions within the Colonial campaign. No fan of the series should miss this game and even less acquainted folks who might be just strategy enthusiasts, have a lot to look forward to from this title. The relatively static gameplay should never deter gamers that regard themselves as proper strategy fans.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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