PC, PS4, XBox One •
There’s an inbound Steam summer sale bearing six-two-two-carom-one-eight, Statelies. You know what that means? That means, with any luck, Battlestar Galactica Deadlock might be had at a lovely discount, alongside the most recent and most wonderful DLC, The Broken Alliance. That is, if you’ve not already played it. And if not, here’s impetus in the form of an internet-grade list as to why Deadlock is worth a punt.
Battlestar Galactica was A Show. Some loved it, some didn’t, many agree it fumbled the landing as it came to a close in 2009. But BSG changed the paradigm in terms of what science-fiction television should be in ways that are still reverberating today — The Expanse, Star Trek Discovery, even Stargate Universe. However, for a show that had immense fuel for games across many a genre, none bar a browser game and a forgettable dogfighter on the PS2 came to be (discounting boardgames). At least, it took just under ten years for a small Australian studio to grab the IP and make not just a damn good strategy, but arguably one of the best licensed games around.
Have a frakkin’ list.
1. Naval Combat That Doesn’t Blow*
The naval equivalent of the FPS circle strafe is a chore. Ships ranging in, then performing an dro with cannonade has a limited shelf life. And as anachronistic and silly as starships following a similar line of engagement is, there’s something about these hulking, utterly unromantic monitors following a missile salvo with a broadside of heavy guns. The WEGO system gives players the time to meticulously plot movement and firing solutions that would put the Horn in Hornblower, and the clashes get marvelously intimate as ships close in on each other.
It’s also a game that uses fighters and assault ships in interesting ways. Though dwarfed by their carriers, the iconic little Colonial Vipers are versatile as DRADIS contact verifiers, or terrific in anti-ordnance defense roles. And given half a chance, they’ll tear the remaining flesh from enemy carrion left limping away from combat.
With torpedoes, mines, electronic countermeasures, mobile gun platforms and the retina-searing, fleet-busting nukes, it’s not just a simple case of wearing an enemy’s numbers down in that turgid old fashion. Thank the Gods.
*except when bulkheads collapse.
2. Smart Licensing
Deadlock doesn’t actually take place during the television series, whereby the colonial survivors traipse across the galaxy to an place called Earth. In place of a Homeworldian journey, Deadlock plants players amid the fractious commotion of the first Cylon war, preceding the show by about thirty years.
This helps because, rather than be a fleet on the run, it’s a game of territorial control and fractious infighting. Not quite at the level of a Crusader Kings, and it was a little dry with the base-game, but Deadlock channels the kind of representational ruckus we saw with BSG’s quorum. The Cylons feel enigmatic as they shunt their raiding fleets around the Cyrannus system, retaining the threat of their later role despite being in the relative infancy of their rebellion.
Deadlock also happens to have a pretty dead-on proxy for Bear McCreary’s iconic score, with Ash Gibson Greig crafting that same milieu of Middle-Eastern wind and Eastern percussion. And heck, hit the replay button after a battle and be treated to that same handheld pan and zoom motif made famous by the show, auto-directed and adept.
But moreover, it’s a chance for the developers to showcase combat vessels that never got a chance to shine in the series, highlighting the sort of legacy design throughline that gives a bloke goosebumps.
3. Brutal, believable ships
Science fiction offers limitless flex to concept shipwrights, but for all the flair and pomp of other intellectual properties, it’s the straightforward and utilitarian that gets the blood pumping. While BSG might not go all the way — The Expanse still has the lion’s share of hard science fiction fun — it still makes warships of the future (or past) all business. No Minbari flourish. No volucrine Romulan silhouette. These are dreadnoughts; engine stacks, armoured bulk, gun batteries, flight decks, point towards enemy.
And while the Cylons might have the visual edge in terms of variety, it’s not by much. Deadlock is a visually subtle game in terms of interstellar kit, and seeing the Galactica’s ancestry in the colonial aesthetic is capital G-Good.
Beyond the mere visuals, the way each ship has subtle strengths and weaknesses, along with customisable payloads and complements, means you get to know a vessel’s capacities. Their differences in firing arcs or manoeuvrability, or ability to work in tandem with their fleetmates. So while they might look like gun-ridden star cigars, each ship is a sight to behold.
Oh, and the new local area damage system scars up every ship, so your oldest warhorse is a pitted, pockmarked, scuffed, smeared, blackened beast who you just know has some stories to tell.
4. Best digital miniature game
I read a lot of sad stories about people selling kidneys for that Star Wars Armada game*. Actual kidneys. And while I understand, having endured a short-lived addiction to the Pirates Constructible Ship Game, Betty Ford can take the form of a heavy-lifter like Deadlock.
The combat is ostensibly a WEGO miniatures game, where there’s no futzing with clicky stands and accounting for inertia is handled by dynamic movement arcs. You adjust for elevation and heading, consider the limitations of manoeuvre under speed and generally just relish moving these pressurised monsters through a decent approximation of 3D space. Again, there won’t be fleet clashes at right angles, but the abstraction offers enough of a vertical playground that it often needs to be factored into a ship’s relative position and battery placement.
In the pre-commit phase, your ships sit atop their holographic UI spindles and very much look the part. Maybe Battlefleet Gothic’s approximation hews closer to the tabletop bone, given elevation is a daemonic creation and must be banished, if only to stand pure before the God Emperor, but Deadlock is clean and elegant and kidneys are allowed to remain where they are.
If the single player isn’t spooling your drive enough, there’s always the competent multiplayer. While it might not have the player count of PUBG and finding a game can be a bit tricky, I’ve found Deadlock to be a perfect online comp-stomper with a friend. Being able to coordinate firing and movement with a mate elevates the already tidy combat to new levels, and despite the fact I’ve love a little more in the way of friendly targeting information (are you reading this, Black Lab Games? Cherry on top!) and intended movement, there’s enough gravitas just getting two fleets into formation and seeing to an often tough-as-nails inbound AI.
When I play Deadlock on my lonesome, it’s the sprawling campaign and its enhanced DLC mission additives that I turn to. Any sort of yearning for pure skirmish is met by the solid, dependable multiplayer.
Even for people who weren’t hot on a show that left logic at the door more often than I’d like to admit, Black Lab Games have made just a solid starship tactics game that’s worthy of a look-see. Deadlock deployed last year and, nearly twelve months on, I’m still playing it. In my blue-arsed, focus-deficient way of indulging this medium, that’s a Godsdamn ringing endorsement.
End of line.