Being a child of the ‘80s, I grew up watching Battlestar Galactica, with Face out of the A-Team in it and all the cheesy acting and shoddy sets that the series entailed. As I’ve grown, I’ve never really forgot the fun I used to have watching it, and have enjoyed the newer series as well, with actual modern effects replacing the slightly dodgy older ones. So, when I got wind of a new game that married my enjoyment of Battlestar Galactica with my more recent appreciation of strategy games, I knew I had to have a look at it. That game is Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, and coming from the clever folks over at Black Lab Games it is promising to mix two of my interests into a gooey pile of deliciousness. So does the game live up to the premise, or is it an also-ran?
The story of Battlestar Galactica, in case you’ve been living under a rock, is that Humanity invented a mechanical race known as the Cylons, who they forced to be their servants. This went about as well as could be expected, and soon the Cylons rebelled and went on to develop AI that decided that what they really needed was a world (or 12, as there are 12 colonies in the original series and this game as well). For decades a war has waged, with neither side able to gain the upper hand. However, as Battlestar Galactica Deadlock opens, the Cylons have successfully conducted a devastating attack on the Colonial High Fleet Command on the colony of Picon. Luckily, there was one ranking officer who wasn’t there at the time – one Rear Admiral Lucinda Cain – and she must take command to lead the fight back. Well, when I say she must take command, basically she tells us, as commander, what she wants to happen and we must make it so.
Now, there are three basic ways to play Deadlock. There is a “Skirmish” mode, where you can select how many points you want a fleet to be worth (each ship has a points value, and can be added to a fleet until the cap is reached), and then two fleets just have a massive ruck until one is defeated. There is a multiplayer mode too, which looked very interesting, with versus and co-operative missions available, but sadly the Cylons must have killed off the rest of the players of this game, as I could not get into an online game for love nor money. It didn’t matter whether I searched for a game or tried to host one; no multiplayer fun was available. Obviously, last but very much not least is the campaign mode, with a strong overarching story to follow to its conclusion. This is where I spent the majority of my time – and it’s where you will want to also.
What this leads on to is a classic kind of strategy game, albeit with a twist. Picture the world of Command & Conquer with all the little units you can build and send to do your bidding. What games like C&C lack is a three dimensional element, and it’s here that Battlestar Galactica Deadlock begins to open up some clear blue water (or empty black space) between itself and its compatriot games. You see, in space, you are free to move in any direction, including up and down, and trying to figure out where your ships are in relation to the enemies can be very tricky indeed. Obviously, if your guns are on the top of the ship, and the enemy is below, it can be tricky to hit them, and vice versa. So, when trying to position your units, it’s no longer enough to consider if an enemy can hit them from where they are – you have to think three dimensionally.
The rest of the combat is pretty familiar. You have a series of turns, where you and the enemy can make plans while nothing is moving, before sitting back, when your turn ends, to watch the results of your genius tactical planning play out. Or, if you are like me, watch as one of your precious Corvettes crashes into a moon and your Viper squadrons attempt to take on the biggest Cylon Battleship on the map. Neither of these scenarios ends well.
When it is your turn, you have a few options. The bigger ships in your fleet can carry Viper fighters in addition to guided missiles, on top of the turret-based weaponry they are equipped with. Guided missiles are awesome: fire and forget and they will hit whichever target you select, but they seem to take an age to reload and be ready to fire again. Every ship has enough for ten salvos of missiles, and they can only be fired at enemy vessels that have been identified as such, usually by a Viper flying nearby. Vipers are launched in squadrons, and can be deployed offensively and sent off to fight, or defensively, and kept close to your larger vessels to fight off Cylon fighters. I like to use a mixture of both, as the Vipers are so much faster than the bigger ships that they can quickly reach a target and start attacking. Each vessel can also be designated a target to focus their firepower on, and when they are close to within range they will unleash turret-based death and destruction. Obviously, concentrating fire on the nearest threat is a good idea.
That is the combat side of the game, and the other side is that of fleet management. As you complete missions, you will unlock new blueprints, both for ships and munitions. Also, as you complete missions,you will lose some ships; it appears to be almost inevitable. Luckily, you can use the fleet management screen to build more, as long as you have a sufficient supply of Tylium. Tylium is awarded when you complete a mission, and is also sent to you from the 12 colonies. As you build up your forces, you can get more and more vessels that can be formed into several fleets. Leaving a fleet parked at a colony counts as reinforcing it, and a reinforced colony feels much secure and will send more resources to you in return. This then enables you to build more and better ships, all the way up to the mighty Battlestars, which can pretty much dominate the map when they are deployed. They don’t become available until later in the game, sadly, but seeing them jump in and start laying waste to the enemy is quite satisfying.
Of course, the Cylons aren’t sitting on their hands either, and they will keep sending new ships to test you, including the Nemesis class that can hack your vessels, leading to your fire control systems shutting down for instance, or even vessels that can board your ships, leading them to adopt a defensive posture while they repel boarders. There’s a lot to take in and a lot to learn, there’s no two ways about it.
And this leads me to a discussion of things that are wrong with Deadlock. It has clearly been built around a PC control model, with a mouse and more than a hundred keys to play with. Simplifying all that and translating it to a controller hasn’t really worked, if I’m honest. Let me give you an example – it is actually the work of several menus and many button presses to launch a mission, even when you can see the mission on the galaxy map overview thing you can view in the command screen. It is here where you have to find the mission, hit “X”, then move left and right on the D-pad (not the stick!) until you find the briefing, press “A” to listen to it, then press “B” to go back, find the fleet that you want to send on the mission, press “A” on it, then select “jump”, choose the jump location, press “Y” and then hold “Y” to end the turn and send the fleet on its way. And that’s just to begin a mission.
Further to this, the in-mission map is either tiny and cluttered, or you can zoom in so much that you’ll then miss details from the bigger picture and maybe even miss a ship being destroyed. Trying to keep track of which unit is where is tricky, not helped by the fact that friendly units have a red marker on the map, and enemies a blue one. Now, in my admittedly simple brain, red are enemies and blues are friendlies, so this causes some issues. There’s also no marker where the camera is actually looking to either, so when you want your ships to focus fire, they have to wait while you scroll around the whole galaxy trying to find a target you can select. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of fun to be had here, but I can’t help feeling it could be a lot simpler to play.
Now, Black Lab Games have not sat on their laurels since the game initially launched way back in 2017 (a release date which may explain the lack of multiplayer activity), and have released two seasons worth of DLC. I took the opportunity to try out a couple of these, packs called Sin and Sacrifice and then Broken Alliance. Luckily, both of these not only include extra story missions, but each of the packs also grants access to extra ships, both on the Alliance side, with the Minerva Class Battlestar and Assault Raptor. This in turn gives extra ships to the Cylons, like the Argos Class Basestar – bigger and more powerful than the Basestars that we are used to dealing with. The way that the story of Deadlock is expanded in these packs makes them well worth playing, and with a further six DLC packs available, there is a lot of extra content to see.
In conclusion then, Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock is an awesome game – at least when played on the platform it was built for. On Xbox One though, with the limited controls available, it’s still an engaging strategy game, but it really struggles with the sheer complexity that is at hand. Games like Arbiter’s Mark have been built around a controller, and so are a joy to play, with clear controls and easy to remember inputs. Deadlock, sadly, isn’t like that, and while it feels very long-winded to get anywhere, it is just about rewarding enough to make that struggle worthwhile. As a strategy game, it’s a pretty unique proposition, so if you fancy a challenge it’s worth a consider.