Battlestar Galactic Deadlock is the sci-fi strategy game I’d have killed for in 2005

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During 2004-2006, I probably thought about Battlestar Galactica at least once an hour every single day. Grown-up sci-fi where everyone was at least a bit bad, the space battles felt tangible as well as spectacular and the enemy was as unknowable as they were implacable. And then… well, let’s instead pretend what happened didn’t happen, BSG stayed the BSG we all loved, and some time in the middle of all that we got Battlestar Galactica Deadlock [official site], a ‘simultaneous turn-based’ strategy game that’s all about space battles and space battles alone, and most importantly, missiles do that cool, slow, curvy thing as they fly.

Let’s pretend it happened in 2005 rather than 2017, and this is but a fond look back at a time when everything BSG touched turned to gold.

BSG Deadlock – the 2005 strategy game we all conveniently forgot about until Autumn 2017, even though it was definitely released 12 years ago and not just a few weeks ago, is a prequel to the TV series. But only in as much as this gives it the excuse to not get caught up in what were then the ongoing adventures of Adama and all his frenemies.

It’s set during the First Cylon War, a few decades before the fall of Caprica (as seen in the BSG pilot), and that’s close enough that it has mostly the same Colonial and Cylon ships, with a handful new types thrown in for strategic variety. A few familiar surnames crop up during the campaign, distant relatives to check a few fan service boxes, but other than that the focus is on defending the 12 Colonies from Cylon attack, rather than escaping their near-total destruction, as the TV series concerned itself with and most certaintly never diverted off into anything quasi-religious instead.

As such, back in 2005 we were delighted to get a BSG that looked exactly how we’d want a BSG game to look, which is to say gigantic metal hulks turning slowly in the inky infinite, while Vipers and Raptors darted around their hides like fireflies. All this presented with cock-eyed cameras jumping from the close-up to the far-out, missiles that move like harpoons through a deep ocean, and a war-drums soundtrack that fuses East and West. Deadlock set the standard for BSG games and was never bettered, which is perhaps why it feels like it was only released a few weeks ago rather than over a decade ago, as was absolutely, honestly the case.

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I say that, but Deadlock can be a bit of a drag too. In my experience (not a complete experience yet… er, I mean, my memories of the many weeks I spent playing this in 2005 have grown foggy), a few turns of thrilling yee-haw action as you point all your ships at the Cylons, encircle them with the big lads while swarming them with the little’uns, are often followed by ten turns of very slowly moving everything over to the one or two enemies left on the other side of the screen.

Deadlock has a neat solution to the problem of turn-based not being as inherently filmic as the real-time battles we saw on TV. You give orders during your turn, the enemy gives theirs (and this happens silently and immediately in singleplayer), then watch, in real-time, the 15 seconds of movement and action that result from everyone’s choices. This is something of a best of both worlds approach: the time and headspace to think tactically, and the sensory pay-off of a live dogfight.

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It’s fantastic during a heated battle, both slicing it into thrilling snippets you have a chance to respond to and eliciting unblinking, wordless prayer that this turn, this turn will be the one in which your guys deal the deathblow to that Cylon Talon. But it’s boring when there isn’t much happening, and you have to watch all your ships slowly cross the screen for 15 seconds, click end turn, wait 15 seconds, click end turn, wait 15 seconds, and so on.

That said I only, er, remember the earlier levels of the campaign, which haven’t cranked the complexity up as far as it’ll go. Perhaps my memories of all those long, happy nights with Deadlock in 2005 will come back to me yet and I’ll recall that later levels rarely gave me a chance to breathe.

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I may also yet remember whether or not much came of the sub-XCOMy between-mission colonial management elements, in which you can research and build new ships for your fleet, gather (or lose) income from the Colonies and recruit officers to boost this or that. I seem to recall feeling that they came across as rather plain, and just felt like marking time before the next big fight, but again – there’s this weird blankness where crystal-clear recollection of late-stage campaigns from 12 years ago should be.

What I do know is that 2005 me was delighted by Deadlock, determined that this was a true, the true Battlestar Galactica game even if the pace was uneven and everthing outside of combat felt a little barebones. 2017 me? 2017 me doesn’t think about BSG anymore. I’m pretty sure that, if Deadlock was released right about now rather than so many moons ago, I’d think it was a pretty solid, distinctive and mostly great-looking sci-fi strategy game that did its own thing rather than tried to be a poor man’s Homeworld.

Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock is available now for Windows PC, direct from the devs or via Steam.

48 Comments

  1. Tiax says:

    I loved BSG from the beginning up to the very end.

    There, I said it.

    • rpenm says:

      So say we all!

    • Vinraith says:

      Good for you, I guess?

      Personally, I thought the mini series and first season were fantastic, the second season was spotty, and everything after that was clear evidence that the creators never had any idea what they were doing to begin with. The whole thing is a tragic exercise in wasted potential, honestly.

      • Scraphound says:

        Good for you, I guess.

      • Vandelay says:

        So what if they were making up as they go along. Twin Peaks: The Return was clearly made up as they went along, not a follow up to any grand plans set in motion when they began writing the original series almost 30 years ago, but it is one of the greatest things that has been put to screen.

        As for BSG, I enjoyed it from start to finish when I first watched it, although subsequent viewings I struggled even through the supposedly fantastic opening season, so I do wonder if it was ever as great as we initially thought. I only ever saw it all on DVD after it had finished and, although there were some moments where it certainly wobbled, I never felt that there was any major dip in quality. It always seemed to explore themes that were set up from the start and, silly robot montage aside, I never saw why the ending seemed to cause so much anger amongst people.

        • Vinraith says:

          Making it up as you go along is fine if you can actually come up with satisfying solutions to the puzzles you’ve created – not so much if you can’t.

        • colw00t says:

          “Black Market” was a bad episode but aside from that BSG was generally quite good. It was also a very daring show for its time and network. Making the heroes of the show into suicide bombers in the middle of the Bush Administration was quite a move.

        • Werthead says:

          The population of the fleet has a riot or mutiny at the drop of a hat (they’re worse than Springfield), but they suddenly agree as one to throw away their technology to go bone cavemen? I think not.

          The problem with the finale wasn’t that it focused on the religious stuff, but it used the Cylon god as a deus ex machine to resolve plot corners the writers had written themselves into by not thinking things through logically.

          • punkass says:

            Yes, and if the Cylon God is going to be the prime mover of your series, then maybe have a thought about the why, or create some kind of characterisation, or make there be a clever and logical plan that ties things together.

            Maybe my memories have dimmed, but if I am correct, the plot, boiled down, is: Cylon God causes Cylons to destroy all the colonies so that humanity travels to Earth, gives up technology for #reasons, then spends thousands of years developing technology so it can get back to building Cylons again.

            I’ve probably missed something, because typing that out makes one of my favourite shows on television sound beyond stupid. But it does explain my anger at the ending and the reason why I spend so little time thinking about it nowadays.

        • Dan Milburn says:

          The difference for me is that BSG put ‘They have a plan’ at the beginning of every episode, which may have mislead some people into expecting that they (the Cylons or indeed the writers) might have some sort of plan, and which lead to me bailing on the show somewhere in the third season when it became painfully apparent that they didn’t. Whereas David Lynch never promised any answers, famously only revealing who kill Laura Palmer at all because the network forced him to.

        • bonuswavepilot says:

          I dunno about ‘clearly’ there.

          The Return was first written in its entirety by Frost, then directed by Lynch during filming… Lynch uses weird methods, admittedly, but I think claiming he was just improvising as he went along is a bit of a long bow.

          If anything, The Return is a much more focussed vision than the original run (particularly S2), with its multiple writers and directors, and executive meddling.

    • QSpec says:

      What about the Watchtower? I actually said “what in the fuck” to my TV screen.

    • milligna says:

      Me too, but I didn’t watch the original run and saw it as a whole. That probably had a lot to do with it, but I thought the whole thing was fucking marvelous.

      Ok, other than guru Baltar not being remotely as interesting as his other phases.

      And yeah I goddamn loved the All Along the Watchtower too, that arrangement is just pure fun. Don’t mind the religious stuff at all, sure was an upgrade from the basic Mormony allegory of the original.

  2. NetharSpinos says:

    Is Deadlock comparable in gameplay to Battlefleet Gothic: Armada?

    • Werthead says:

      Armada was real-time (with a slow-mo mode) and BSG Deadlock is turn-based, which is a pretty big difference to start with. Armada also has no vertical movement whilst BSG does.

      I would like to know a bit more about the comparison because I was massively disappointed with BFG Armada, which I’d been looking forwards to playing for months and then found to be mind-numbingly bland.

  3. Creeping Death says:

    “and most certaintly never diverted off into anything quasi-religious instead.”

    I’ve never understood this complaint. The show had strong religious elements from the very beginning. To think anything otherwise is a case of very selective memory.

    And I thought it ended well.

    • arienette says:

      True, but they started off as adding interesting depth to the world.

      Then ended up as thinly veiled proselytizing. There’s a world of difference.

      • Thirith says:

        That criticism doesn’t make any sense to me. There being a deity in BSG doesn’t have any impact on whether I believe there’s one in real life or not, and why should it? Added to which, we never know much about BSG’s God other than that they’re capricious and their actions confusing and (at least on a human level) cruel. How does that make anyone believe in, or even worship, a god in real life?

        Unless “proselytising” refers to any fictional world in which a god or gods exists, but at that point I find that the term becomes practically meaningless.

    • colw00t says:

      Yeah I’ve never understood this beef. From its very beginning, Battlestar was very clear that it was a show about religious conflict. Head Six spends entire episodes in the first season trying to convince Baltar to believe in God, and explicitly identifies herself as an angel.

      • punkass says:

        At the beginning I thought it was commenting about religion, and its effects on politics and the way people behave. I liked this.

        By the end, when it turned out that Everything Was Stupid, it felt like the show was basically 100% Deus Ex Machina. Doesn’t make sense? God moves in mysterious ways. Why did that happen? Um, this character has inexplicably become an angel, probably. Any threads left hanging and not tied up? God-y God-y God God.

        It made me feel stupid for trying to see some plot or overarching plan – something it had spent considerable time building up as the main reason for watching at the beginning.

        I still love more of this show than I should, but this didn’t merely jump the shark, it did some pure Cirque De Soleil shit over it.

        • Thirith says:

          I enjoyed the series almost right to the end; while I agree that it leaned too much on Big Questions whose answers were largely disappointing or inexistent, the characters kept me hooked pretty much until the end.

          The only thing that I cannot defend is the epilogue in the present day. That one is just stupid and strikes me as the series creators completely misunderstanding what it is they’ve created.

          • aldo_14 says:

            Supposedly the epilogue was something that had been conceived from the very beginning, though (just the in-betweeny bits were made up). They’d probably have solved 50% of the ending problems by increasing the ambiguity as to whether ‘God’ was a God or just a sufficiently advanced alien (I think a line was cut that would have done some of that).

            Although the other thing that strikes me is that there was pretty much no good, satisfying way to end the series.

          • Werthead says:

            “Although the other thing that strikes me is that there was pretty much no good, satisfying way to end the series.”

            I think this is the right of it, and also what sunk the original series. If they arrive on present-day Earth and, even excepting the fact that BSG 1980 was terrible, you have to address things like what language the fleet has been speaking the whole time and how to integrate the “humans came from outer space” stuff with the fossil record, which shows we didn’t. Arrive in the future and you have to do the same thing whilst also creating new worldbuilding extrapolating from our current society (or do what they nearly did in S4 but backed out of, suggesting we destroy ourselves as well which is too much of a downer). Arriving in the distant past is actually the dullest, easiest solution.

            If they ever do a 3rd version they should avoid the problem by swapping Kobol and Earth: Earth is the original homeworld which has become uninhabitable and the 13th colony is Kobol, which can be a complete open book for the writers.

      • bonuswavepilot says:

        For me it was because the nature of Head Six was ambiguous, so it might have just been Balthar being crazy, or some other weird thing going on. Once you get to the point where God is shown to be real and acting upon the characters, that is a *literal* deus ex machina.

        I can’t stand that. Same reason I hated ‘Q’ so much in TNG. Introducing a character who is essentially omnipotent rarely works well.

  4. Mezzelune says:

    Have you seen The Expanse, Alec? First sci-fi show I’ve really loved since Battlestar.

    • Werthead says:

      The Expanse is a stunning show, based on a very good series of novels. And definitely the spiritual heir to the good first couple of seasons of BSG (and far less likely to end in a confused Luddite message).

      • ramirezfm says:

        There are novels?! Damn. Where is my Kindle…

        • Werthead says:

          Yup. A series of 9 books. 5 out now, Book 6 due next month, and a bunch of novellas. The TV show has adapted most of the first two books and a couple of the novellas so farm

      • Vinraith says:

        I’m concerned it’s going to go off the rails when they get to the third book, just like the novels did. I’ve resisted getting involved in the TV series until I see how they handle the Melba problem.

        Those concerns aside, Leviathan’s Wake is outstanding and anyone that enjoys sci fi would do well to give it a try.

        • Werthead says:

          They’ve come up with some creative solutions to the issues so far, mixing together storylines rather than addressing them sequentially. My guess is that most of Book 4 will be ignored or relegated to a subplot.

          I strongly recommend the show. I think it’s actually a better version of the story than the books.

    • bit.bat says:

      I really like it too! Watching season 2 at the moment, I hope its popular enough to keep on going (and that it stays good).

      • causticnl says:

        It is renewed for a season 3. so yay! and yeah it has one of the best zero-g spaceship combat I ever seen.

    • mukuste says:

      It’s good, but (having watched only S1 so far) sadly the characters feel so flat and bloodless compared to BSG. In fact everything about the show doesn’t quite pull me in as much as it should. Still I’ll keep watching because the worldbuilding is great and the space scenes are gorgeous.

  5. snv says:

    Even better than the simultaneous turns is pausable realtime, the actual best of both worlds, able to give you “the time and headspace to think tactically, and the sensory pay-off of a live dogfight” but you also do not have to click next turn again and again while no input is needed and usually can even speed up those phases.

    • Baines says:

      Simultaneous turns do have a particular gameplay/gamefeel advantage over pausable realtime. Simultaneous turns requires a commitment to actions which pausable realtime does not. (Whether you actually want that in your game varies by game and person.)

    • Someoldguy says:

      The advantage of simultaneous turns is that you know the AI is processing its turns the same way you are. It doesn’t have the advantage of updating its orders to huge numbers of units in milliseconds to respond to any action you do.

  6. h78 says:

    Looks like a combination of Combat Mission and BSG Fleet Commander.

    The latter was THE Homeworld Mod (jointly with SW Warlords) in 2008. Played it obsessively, tried to make models for it… so many memories!

    It really nailed the aesthetics of pouring missiles/shellfire into massive lumbering warships.

  7. thekelvingreen says:

    The board game is excellent. Give it a try if you haven’t already.

    • syndrome says:

      I liked it initially, then I’ve found out it’s massively political (and boring) in the wrong crowd. It’s essentially a party chatter game centered on dishonesty with expensive boards lying around.

      I can’t deny it’s popular. But then, so is Big Brother.

  8. colw00t says:

    WEGO Turn Systems are the perfect strategy systems and it should be a crime for them to be as rare as they are.

  9. Syt says:

    Funny. In my world the game came out shortly before the TV show was released in its entirety (funny, that) to build up hype. I’ve been binging on this new show thanks to getting interested through the game.

    (I’ve tried to get into the show a few times in the past and kept bouncing off. The game made me try again and this time it clicked. Loving it!)

  10. Bobtree says:

    The same developers made Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy.

    • Clarksworth says:

      Thanks for pointing that out. I thought Star Hammer’s battle system was excellent. For me, it really nailed the “space naval” feel that military science fiction presents. The plot line was not nearly as good, so it’s nice to see the BSG setting used here. This just went from vaguely interesting to a must buy.

  11. racccoon says:

    I love all the work of the game & it looks awesome, I just don’t like still framing game play. I would prefer real time movement play. Turn based barely makes it fine & abilities to stop time, seems really silly to me.

  12. wombat191 says:

    I kind of gave up on the game when I discovered the Adamant wall tactic. Watching the best ships the Cylons have go pop..pop..pop one after another when they get into range, battle after battle got boring.

    To explain: The Adamant is a frigate class that concentrates on broadsides. So you stack them one on top of the other making a wall and turn them side on to the incoming Cylons.

    I don’t care how powerful their ships are, they melt when faced with that much concentrated fire power. Plus a Viper squadron each keeps the Raiders off your back.

    Weirdly I found it’s better off not making battlestar’s as they are too fragile and a priority target