November 23, 2020

Battlestar Galactica Deadlock

Tags: Games, Video Games

I recently bought Battlestar Galactica Deadlock in a Steam sale, and immediately felt a wave of nostalgia upon playing it. Not for the TV series, but for my own game Concealed Intent. It feels so familiar. Both are simultaneous 3D turn-based tactical games of spaceship combat, and there are not many of those I have played. My game came out a little before Deadlock, although knowing the leadtime of games development there must have been zero influence between the games. Just two teams solving similar problems coming up with similar solutions.

Now for my review. Although before I start, I should give away the end. I really like Battlestar Galactica Deadlock, it is a good game and I enjoyed playing. I haven’t finished it (yet?), but playing over 20 hours in one game is unusual for me, and a sign of quality. I would go as far as saying that if you had the money for only one simultaneous 3D turn-based tactical game of spaceship combat (such a niche!), it should be this one. It is better than Concealed Intent. The Deadlock team clearly had a much higher budget (and/or higher skill) and it shows in every aspect of the game.

Battlestar Galactica Deadlock screenshot

Alright, now let’s get picky. While similar to Concealed Intent, there are two main difference. First the introduction of a strategic layer over the tactical game where you chase Cyclons around the map (or vice-versa), improve technology and build up your fleets. This is a great idea (and one I dropped from CI due to lack of time). Progression like this helps replayability as players want to try out their latest builds - it definitely worked on me!

Secondly, each game has a different conception of spaceship combat. In Deadlock space battle is like early 20th century naval dreadnoughts. There is a small concession to something more dynamic with fighters and missiles, but mostly victory comes down to big slow ships lining up and blasting each other. I spent many battles trying to cross the T, to devasting effect when I once succeeded. For reference CI is based on submarine combat, with relatively fragile ships trying to mask their position and using drones to do most of the fighting. Personally I prefer games where maneuver is important. Often Deadlock felt like two heavyweights tearing strips off each other until the larger force eventually won, and that is why I stopped playing only a couple of missions from the end. To be fair, this is the same feeling the TV series espouses, so the game is just being true to its source material.

Both games have a replay facility at the end of a battle, so a player can see what happened in “real-time”. Deadlock definitely does this better. They have a “director” highlighting specific exciting occurrences and choosing camera angles. Mostly this worked really well, the zooming camera reminded me of the TV series, so a big thumbs up. I would absolutely try to copy it if I needed replay functionality again. Also when the game does cinematics it puts a border on the top/bottom of the screen to change the aspect ratio - just like Homeworld (and CI), reminding me of my and (probably) their influences.

Movement controls in a fully 3D world are difficult to get working well. Deadlock comes up with a 2-part system which feels clunky but is easy to understand. Probably a better solution than CI though which is faster, but understanding it was the most complained about part of the game. Most disappointingly, the 3D part of Deadlock feels unimportant. It is somewhat important in the sense that weapon firing arcs and armor take account of vertical height. However, the big ships never swoop, climb or bank, they just seem to float up or down - it doesn’t feel real. Again like big slow ships blasting each other.

I also noted with interest Deadlock’s use of autofire. That is, the player does not choose when to fire their guns, instead the guns fire when they can. Concealed Intent originally started with a similar system, but I could couldn’t get it to work with the stealth mechanics. Here it is implemented nicely with few parameters like offensive/defensive stance and focus fire. It fits the source material and while it removes some agency, it is ok to lose ships in Deadlock so that is not too much of a problem (in CI the player needs to acutely feel each loss).

There is more, better and more consistent art in Deadlock than CI. Same with the music sound effects. The story is ok, but that is still a step up on Concealed Intent. The missions are normally quite straight forward: blast your enemy, defend something, etc. Scripted missions regularly have surprises (like having extra enemies appear later in the mission). This is in CI too, but I would not do it again. I’ve learned to dislike such missions, it means they are easier the second time around solely because the player knows the “trick”. I also found the fleet mechanics annoying as a player - why were fleets restricted in their size and why couldn’t they link up? As a dev I can imagine it was required for game balance (and maybe less likely, performance).

Again, I should emphasize how much I enjoyed this game. I know this review sounds negative at points, but that is only because this is a genre I am intimately involved in. Thus, I have a lot of thoughts and strong opinions on very small and often insignificant aspects of such games. Good game, recommended.