I’m about to date myself here. I vividly remember seeing “Star Wars” in theatres as a child. The first one. It's first release. “Han Shot First” and all that. I remember my first “Star Wars” action figure (C-3PO, and my little brother got R2-D2). I also remember the explosion of space-themed entertainment that appeared in its wake, including a rather epic TV series that celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2018. A series about a “rag-tag fugitive fleet” led by a single warship named Galactica that was seeking out a planet they knew only by its name – Earth.
Inspired principally by the franchise’s 2000s reimagining, Black Lab Games and Slitherine have crafted their own interpretation, Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock, in the form of a 3D tactical strategy game. After a yahrens-long stalemate between the Twelve Colonies of Man and the robotic Cylons, the Cylons strike deep into Colonial territory and take out most of the military leadership. Placed in command of a mobile weapons construction platform, players build and command ships – including the iconic battlestars – to counter the invasion, rebuild the Colonial fleet and keep the fragile alliance of the Twelve Colonies together.
What I liked
Real-time with a pause button – Deadlock generally follows the turn-based model of tactical gaming. There is a strategy phase, with its own separate turn structure, where you must move your station from one hotspot to another and manage resources to keep on the move and build out your fleet. As used here, “hotspot” is loosely defined, as it could be as much a Cylon attack as it can be an unhappy and vocal colony. Unhappy colonies may be unable or unwilling to contribute to the war effort, hamstringing your ability to build ships. In the combat phase, the player issues their orders and the ships in the fleet carry them out simultaneously over a set period of time. At the end of that turn, all movement stops (ships stop moving and missiles freeze in flight) and players take their next turn.
“By your command” – A good tactician reviews every bit of information they can while making decisions and planning for the future, and Deadlock is there to assist. From the solar-system view, which illustrates how content the colonies are and where Cylon activity is, down to the hull strength of one side of one Colonial frigate, just about everything you need is close at hand. Fortunately, it’s all accessible with a simple (but not flawless) user interface. This interface also helps issue orders to your fleet, giving them a course to follow, enemies to target and special abilities to access, such as deploying flak or launching squadrons of the series-favorite Viper fighters.
3D, but not really – Yes, you do indeed navigate your ships in 3D space, but some explanation is needed. All your ships start on a horizontal plane, but as the battle takes shape, you may have to move them to a higher or lower plane. You might do so to get a better firing solution against an enemy vessel, or to turn your weaker side away from your opponent’s guns. Again, a lot of this is planning ahead and hoping the attacker does what you expect them to do. All ships have circular icons that denote their current direction at the start of the upcoming turn, and the game’s 3D camera system is effective in letting you get close enough to gauge where you need to go.
What I didn’t like
“You … no, I mean YOU!” – Deadlock does make it easy to navigate the battlespace, allowing you to move the camera just about anywhere and zoom in wherever you may need to go. What isn’t so easy is choosing the target for your tactical decision-making skills. There isn’t a cursor or reticle to help; a small indicator icon appears over the prospective target ship when it is selectable. Making it harder still is that there isn’t a rigidly defined space in which that ship needs to be for it to be targeted. It seems to vary depending on how zoomed in or out you are. Due to the nature of the game, players won’t have situations where something bad will occur due to not being able to select a given ship in time; if this occurred in a real-time game, this could easily be a game-breaker. Here, it’s more annoyance than anything.
Early advantage is not yours – I don’t expect a cakewalk in a game, but I would prefer a startup where your enemies do not have a special attack that you have no means to counter. Early on, you’ll learn that the Cylons have the ability to hack into your ships, knocking key systems offline until the interference is disrupted. (Side note: Fans of the reboot will remember how the Colonials relied on older technology to avoid such attacks.) One NPC will suggest that they are developing countermeasures, but are reluctant to provide them just yet. Ah yes, this is what I call teamwork, and in a video game, I call it frustration. There are plateaus in the game where things level off, but when you're engaged in missions that advance the story, that's when the challenge ramps up again. The saving grace here – no pun intended – is a generous save system, allowing you to have a backup in case the battle turns against you.
Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock is a pleasant diversion from tactical games like Fire Emblem, especially with the addition of resource management. It’s also a bit lighter than your typical space-battle simulator since movement is simplified to be not-fully-three-space. It will play well with Galactica fans in this anniversary year, as well as gaming tacticians in general, but its advanced learning curve and higher-than-average price will make it a tougher sell to others. Still, if you fancy yourself an armchair Adama, using your spare cubits to buy Deadlock would be a decision worthy of the support of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Score: Reader’s Choice
Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock was developed by Black Lab Games and published by Slitherine, Ltd. It was released on December 7, 2017, for $29.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.