Review: Battlestar Galactica Deadlock

While the re-imagined 2003/4 TV show of Battlestar Galactica was more grounded in intrigue, politics and (in later series) pseudo-religious concepts, it always had its fair share of space battles. Budget and the specifics of the plot meant that these could only go so far, but they were none-the-less pretty spectacular. How great would it be, I always thought, to play a game that would encompass these titanic clashes of chrome and steel… And then Battlestar Galactica Deadlock happened.

There have been other past attempts, of course, but the history of official BSG games is one of a largely under-utilised IP; Couple of gems, perhaps, but nothing in a while. Most of the truly interesting stuff comes from the modding community: Search hard enough and you can unearth mods for Nexus, Homeworld 2, Sins of a Solar Empire, Star Wars: Empire at War & others that try to import the setting onto the base mechanics. Apart from the Nexus mod, these are mainly 4X or real-time strategy games that involve base-building and empire management, as well as fleet battles.

It can be said, then, that Deadlock is unique in its own offering. Officially a turn-based strategy game, it offers a variant form of ‘WEGO’ mechanics where both opponents issues orders and resolve their turns at the same time (instead of the traditional IGO/UGO system of tactical turn-based titles). These ‘turns’ are played out in 15-second chunks of real-time space combat, with the action auto-pausing so that you can issue fresh orders and manoeuvres. It’s a game that relies heavily on its combat engine to impress and provide as much enjoyment as possible, which we can confidently say it succeeds in doing.

Black Labs Games’ previous title, Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy, was the precursor: a similar combat system with a more generic sci-fi IP, different fleet management minutia and epic, orchestral music. If there’s one thing the Australian team knows how to do, it’s a space-based tactical combat engine. The graphical fidelity and mechanical design of these battles could rival anything you’d get from a ‘AAA’ studio; you can read Marcello’s analysis of the systems here. While it means they haven’t been able to do as much with the rest of the game as a result, you can hardly argue they’ve put their eggs in the wrong basket.

This goes beyond simple rendering tech as well – Deadlock‘s other great strength is the detailing; the little touches. Everything from the UI elements, to the audio design of missiles and gunfire… even the background music, it all immerses you into this familiar, gritty sci-fi world in a way I’ve rarely seen in other licensed products. There’s even a cool playback feature where, if you enable auto-cam, it moves and pans around the battlefield in a manner reminiscent of the shots you would see in the TV show. It’s not going to win Director of the Year, but Black Labs have put a respectable amount of work into making it functional and cool.

In terms of content, Deadlock is a modest title; the main offering is a sandbox-lite campaign that features 14 main story missions, randomly generated secondary missions and low-level skirmishes against Cylon fleets. Your playground is a wonderfully detailed ‘table-top’ map of the Cyrannus double-binary system. You start-off with just the mobile shipyard, Daidolos, and must keep the support of the Twelve Colonies in order to fund bigger and better fleets as you fight to stave off the Cylon invasion.

The campaign layer in Deadlock can feel frustrating in the early game. With only one fleet, limited FTL movement across fixed lanes, and the Cylons popping up everywhere it can feel like you’re running around putting out fires — there’s not enough bandwidth to do everything. The best advice we can give you is to take a deep breath, and don’t feel overwhelmed. Letting the Cylons run-amok for those early turns won’t result in an early loss – if fewer than six colonies are in the Quroum, the game ‘slows’ to allow you to rebuild and catch-up. Your resources will be stretched, but focus on completing the first five or so story missions and any side missions that pop up to get those early gains. Once you’ve got access to some officers and some Tylium, you can start building extra fleets and have your presence felt in more systems.

As you start beating Cylon fleets, the colonies will come back to the fold. An important aspect of the “management” of the campaign is knowing what to do with the Daidolos itself. This mobile shipyard is your only way of constructing new ships, and you lose the game if it is destroyed. In battle, it’s kind of useless, but this is off-set by the fact that it comes with two fighter slots and can resupply any ships in the same fleet for free. Beyond the early game though, you’ll probably want to keep it out of the way. After Mission Five, it’s not required to be present for a main mission, and stationing it above a colony can yield useful benefits depending on which colony it is. Extra resources, cheaper blueprint costs… I’ve found the reduced FTL cooldown timer to be the most useful so far.

You learn the capabilities and tactical uses for the various ship types quite quickly – Jupiter-class Battlestars (the ship class that the Galactica is part of) are awesome warships of death, but the way the game balances armour, hull points and damage prevents them being one-stop shops for all things “war”. In fact, you don’t want to throw a Battlestar into the thick of the fighting because every Cylon ship ever will focus their fire on it. Lesser ship classes, like the Adamant or the Atlas, actually have better staying power in terms of armour. I recommend you read our two-part strategy guide to get more insights into how the game plays.

Your fight for the survival of the twelve colonies will feel like a slog at times, but thankfully even the more rote skirmish engagements come alive with tactical options and visual flair as you experiment and perfect your strategies. There’s always escape in the form of Skirmish and online Multiplayer/Co-Op, of course, but while you have the entire ship roster available to you in those modes, there’s nothing quite like unlocking something for the first time in the campaign. Playing with the same ships for extended lengths of time proves pretty useful in learning how they work and their specific tactical uses.

Here’s the thing: Battlestar Galactica Deadlock isn’t the “perfect” game – the campaign is pretty and functional, but also fairly superficial. Other little things and minor design choices may or may not bug you depending on your sensibilities. Even the UI, while slick, could have been designed a bit better, and there are some elements of the game that don’t communicate themselves as well as they should. That being said… this is without a doubt the best officially licensed BSG product in years. Possibly ever. If you’re into the idea of a 3D tactical space-combat game and a fan of the BSG IP, you should probably buy this game. The drawbacks, the limitations… they don’t really matter within the context of what this is. Given this new modern age of interconnected computer networks safe from Cylon hacking, Deadlock can only get better. It’s pretty damn good already. So say we all.

This review covers a game developed and published by members of the Slitherine Group. The author is a full-time member of Wargamer Ltd., for more information, please consult the About Us and Reviews Policy pages.