Mixing turn-based strategy with the popular Battlestar Galactica franchise seems like something that should’ve been tried ages ago. Australian developer, Black Lab Games, obviously agrees and have given us Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, which slots canonically nice and early in the rebooted series’ timeline.
Taking place during the First Cylon War, Deadlock sees you taking over control of the Colonial Fleet from the mobile shipyard, Daidalos, after High Command on Picon is destroyed in a surprise attack breaking the titular deadlock that had been in place. The game’s campaign provides a series of missions that have you trying to save the Twelve Colonies from the Cylon threat.
The game shares a lot of DNA with Black Lab Games’ previous space strategy game, Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy. Like that game it uses a simultaneous turn-based system where the battles play out in two phases: planning and execution. During the planning phase you issue movement, affect repairs and target weaponry across your fleet of capital ships before ending your turn and watching it all play out in the execution phase with your head in your hands as it all goes terribly wrong.
Each battle has your fleet take on a variety of scenarios ultimately engaging a variety of Cylon fleets as you protect the Twelve Colonies. During each turn you issue movement, combat and repair assignments for every ship in your fleet. Each ship has a limited range and arc it can move in three dimensions with each class of ship having a variety of armament options ranging from housing squadrons of Vipers through to Guided Missiles and Nukes.
As well as combat, you also have to deal with prioritising system repairs as they take dings during encounters. Alongside that you can also assign a focus on defence or offence which gives bonuses and penalties to your systems. The interface for adjusting this stuff is basic but functional, fortunately battles rarely involve much more than a handful of units. It does add to the deliberate, slow-paced feel the game is aiming for but can feel a little tedious over the course of an engagement.
Between battles you can build ships and manage fleets from the Daidalos’ CIC (Combat Information Center), moving your forces around a strategic map where you intercept Cylon fleets whilst moving along the main campaign path. This gives the game a lot of dynamism as when and where you take on enemies can make all the difference as the game doesn’t end until the Daidalos itself is destroyed.
This phase is also turn-based with your movement and fleet build queues progressing with a press of the end turn button, whereupon any engagements will be added to a battle queue for you to resolve. This is done either via an auto-resolve option or by taking control yourself. There is a third, more drastic emergency jump option that will move you randomly but costs Tylium, the main currency which is also used for fleet construction.
Fleets have a point limit, initially 2000, which allows roughly four ships in the early game. This limit grows as you recruit officers but each fleet has a maximum of seven ships meaning you always need to consider your fleet makeup no matter how far into the game you are. Each ship in the fleet can have a custom loadout with the diversity possibility growing as you progress.
The game makes good use of the Battlestar Galactica licence, setting it during the First Cylon War gives a more imposing threat and fail state to deal with as the Cylons bring bigger, more powerful ships to the table as you try to hold them off. Being set in this time period also allows the Cylons to hack your ships disabling and then damaging the systems on them. Fans of the show will know that this is the reason ships have isolated networks and AI is banned in the future causing a lot of the calculations for jumping between systems or creating firing solutions to involve manual input.
Hacking, which is visualised by a red wavy beam connected between the ships can be dealt with in a couple of ways. Your firewall is the only thing between the hack attempt and ship damage so prioritising a defensive posture will increase your firewall’s regeneration. The tradeoff being that all other systems suffer a penalty.
Your other option is to use Raptor craft, which in the series assist with targeting and electronic countermeasures, to latch onto an affected ship giving a boost to its firewall. Neither option eliminates the danger hacking poses however leaving it a constant threat to be mindful of.
The game clearly focuses on capital ship combat with squadrons of Vipers and Raptors essentially being autonomous units you can assign a target to so those expecting fine control over fighters won’t find that here. Instead the order of the day is positioning and broad strategy with the capital ships. Taking advantage of the three-dimensional nature of the battlefield can turn the tide, shielding a damage unit by blocking enemy fire or stacking ships “on top” of one another increasing firepower from a specific side for example are fun and viable options here.
The campaign itself has some nicely animated sequences and overall good production values, the voice acting can be spotty in places but is overall quite good and nails the gritty nature of the show well. Battle audio is also good with the dull thuds of cannon fire bringing the show’s “reality” to life here.
Battlestar Galactica Deadlock also has a basic skirmish mode where you can pit a fleet of your own construction against a variety of premade fleets. Whilst this mode is appreciated it does feel extremely bare bones, something more dynamic and reactive would be more interesting as a game mode. In its current form it’s good for testing out different fleet configurations and nothing else. The multiplayer is essentially skirmish but with a real person, you can opt to be cooperative or competitive and get to play with the Cylons but it too is very simplistic.
The replay mode is fantastic however; during normal play it is often hard to see what is happening, due to either UI elements being in the way or simply just because of the birds eye view and scale of things. At the end of each battle you can opt to watch a replay that strips out all the pausing and chooses exciting camera angles for all your actions. It’s a great way to see the ship models up close and adds some real drama to each encounter. As a bonus you can also export it directly as a video.
Deadlock has some issues, the clunkiness of assigning orders on a per-turn per-ship basis is something you adapt to, especially once you get the hotkeys down. A more problematic issue I had a few times was the text failing to display in various places in the interface along with the text indicating what a unit was set to do orienting itself vertically, spilling out of the box in an untidy mess.
As a whole though the game is a fun, thoughtful strategy game and whilst it doesn’t bring much in the way of innovation, the low unit count plays to its strengths and allows you to really focus on tactics. It uses the Battlestar Galactica licence well with enough character and plot links to be enjoyable to fans but not detrimental to those unfamiliar to the show.
Whether you know your Starbucks from your Apollos or not, the rough edges and lack of polish in some areas aren’t enough to ruin the experience and if you are in the mood for some sedate, strategic fun you can do far worse than Battlestar Galactica Deadlock.
Battlestar Galactica Deadlock (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Battlestar Galactica Deadlock finally gives us a solid game based on the popular franchise. It doesn’t attempt anything new but some polish issues aside it’s a solid strategy game that does a good job of translating the feel of the show.