Battlestar Galactica Review

For those of you too young to remember 1978, let me explain what Battlestar Galactica was. In the deepest reaches of space, the fight to save all human life from extinction has begun. Twelve colonies are created to spread life to other planets. The threat of war looms as they gather to sign a treaty with their dreaded enemies, The Cylons. On the evening of the signing of the treaty, the treacherous Cylons break their word and strike against the colonies, destroying all twelve of them. Now a lone flagship Battlestar, the Galactica, remains to aid the surviving colonists on their epic journey for a new home to a far-off legendary planet – Earth.

For most folks, Battlestar Galactica was a blip on the radar, spanning only one season (if you don’t count the ill-fated Galactica 1980, or the new mixed-reviewed Sci-Fi Channel Mini Series), but for fans of the show this was the staple of their TV-viewing diet. Can this game recapture the feeling that you got every time a Viper launched off the Galactica to destroy the Cylon threat? Let’s see how the legend holds up…

There are parts of this game that are recreated with the utmost accuracy, and some parts that are not. I’m sure tons of stock footage, drawings, and models were used to generate the look of the Cylons, Vipers, and Colonial ships. Other portions of the game don’t get that same attention however. The whole affair feels rather like its subject matter; the cold emptiness of space. In the beginning there are few Cylons per Viper but eventually you will see the sky alive with various types of Vipers and Cylons, ranging from fast attack scouts to heavy bomber class ships. The space field looks pretty good and you will definitely feel like one small part of a far bigger war with the capitol ships you will encounter.

If you mention Battlestar Galactica, one of the things that pop into the minds of anyone who has watched the show is the awesome effect of the Colonial Viper’s max thrust engine. The engine featured an afterburner that threw an obscene amount of flame behind the Viper and whipped the pilot back into their seat. This could not have been modeled any better than they have here. It put a big stupid grin on my face the first time I did it, and pretty much glued it there for as often as I used it.

The starfield that you will find yourself looking at features a nice variety of starscapes and planets as background for your battle. You might even find yourself plummeting through a black hole at some point (ok, since I mentioned it you can pretty much bet on it). The frame rate is consistent despite all the eye candy, but that doesn’t detract from this nagging feeling that space just feels…well…empty. I suppose that could be by design, but until you get into some of the later missions you might want to get used to being the lone rubber duckie in a very big bathtub.

The graphics for the HUD are non-intrusive and do a good job of explaining what is going on with your Viper. You can see a gyroscope-esque 3D radar view on one side, and your Viper’s energy and shields on the other. Your missile rack appears just above that and little arrows with names tell you where your wingmen are.

For those who never watched the show, the Cylons had a dual-tone resonating voice that just sounded cool. They sounded menacing and you simply knew they were mindless killing machines. Say what you will about the show, but you simply cannot speak ill of just how cool the chromed-out Cylons sounded. This goes double for the caped steel Cylon sidekick, Lucifer. The original stars of the show have loaned their voice to this game to recreate that same feeling and it is well done. Two of the primary characters, Starbuck and Apollo, are voiced by the original actors, Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch respectively. Also among the star-powered voice actors is Kristanna Loken (of Terminator 3 fame) lending her voice to Iphigenia and Lethe in the game. Unfortunately, you play a young Adama, the man who would eventually become Commander Adama (played by Loren Greene in the series), and there is very little depth for your character. Quite frankly, your character simply doesn’t have a whole lot of interesting things to say, a stark contrast to the show, but only a minor mark against the overall voice acting.

The rest of the sounds in the game must have been directly lifted and remastered from the original show. From the sounds of the lasers on your Viper, to the sounds of your thrusters as you hurtle at break-neck speeds through space, it will absolutely peg your nostalgia meter. Once again, my ear-to-ear grin reappears.

There is one thing I should mention, the voices tend to repeat. There is one thing I should mention, the voices tend to repeat. There is one thing I should mention, the voices tend to repeat.  Have I made my point?  There are certainly times for a gentle reminder to ‘stay on course’ or ‘watch your vector’, but when you start to get them back to back with no time in between it tends to get a little bit ridiculous. 

Space combat is the primary staple of Battlestar Galactica, and thankfully this was handled by a company who has done it before, and done it well. Warthog is the developer behind the highly regarded Starlancer game for the PC. A good portion of the innovation that made the combat in that title great has made its way into this game.

The speed at which battle occurred and the amount of enemy fire and ships hurtling through your immediate area required a little bit of adjustment on the controls that were used in Starlancer. This game required you to be able to lock-on and fire on twenty separate targets and pull breakneck sliding thrust maneuvers that end in a reverse drift as you continue to fire on the enemy. If it sounds intense, that’s because it is. The controls keep up with you and allow you to fight in a 360-degree space with ease.

There will be one particular mission, mission 7, that will challenge your ability to control your ship. Remember that you can double tap B to match speeds with your prey and you will be just fine. Of course, the controls are only part of the equation…

For some missions you will find yourself jumping around a particular area and straying far away from the Galactica. Disaster could strike and you will find yourself racing back to save her. This leaves a lot of space in between to fill and not always does BG do a great job of that. There are some points where you are simply hitting the trademark, and VERY cool, afterburner and high tailing it to your destination. A smaller playground might have been better in some instances, but thankfully most missions will keep you more than busy.

When you sit down to play through this game you should be prepared to spend some time with it. I say this as you will be spending a ridiculous amount of time replaying the same missions over and over. Specifically, while you can get through each mission in about 10 minutes, unfortunately it might take you literally 12 or 13 attempts to get through it, much less get a good enough rating to unlock the extra content. This reaches an apex when you get to mission 7, a mission where you have to attack a Cylon base in a Cylon ship. The mission itself isn’t overly difficult, but it begins with you trying to stay in a formation with a Cylon Phalanx until the opportunity to attack arises. When the attack order is given, you are forced to assault this base in what was billed as a ‘surgical strike’. I’ve seen drawn out full-scale capitol ship battles last less time. It took me 25 attempts and 20 minutes to complete when I finally did ‘luck’ my way through.

Let’s not start off with mission 7 though, let’s start off with mission 1. You are charged with wiping out a Cylon assault force, but along the way you have to protect your wingman. Normally you can just let them die, but this particular mission means that every wingman is critical, so you have to defend them with no regard to the mission or personal safety. Unfortunately, this pilot is also the worst shot and has almost no chance of survival with his poor piloting skills. He will be shot down time and time again and you will be required to start over again from the beginning of the mission as there is no in-game save. Let’s suppose you actually do manage to complete your mission as you babysit your wingmen, well then suddenly you have to escape from the blast radius in just a few seconds, and if you don’t manage that incredible feat, you get to replay the entire mission over again.

These examples are not small segments of this game, it IS this game. The entire game seems to be designed around maximum frustration. Each mission is frustrating in new ways, but have common threads. Almost every one will have an ‘escape the blast radius’ portion, a ‘defend this thing’ portion, and a ‘keep this person alive’ portion. The gameplay just degrades quickly before you are even half way through the 20 missions in the game, and even then, the time you spend on it simply isn’t fun. I’d recommend a rental unless you are an absolute die-hard Battlestar fan.

Unlocking the footage and pictures from the original series is great, but the frustration factor to get them is simply overwhelming. I wouldn’t imagine that the folks that made Starlancer would make a game this frustrating without their test team telling them so, but the proof is in the gameplay section.   The initial run through the game was so controller-throwing frustrating that it removed all want to play through it again. Battlestar Galactica sets out to capitalize on the nostalgia of the series, but seems to fall short of its goal.  What could have easily been a stroll down memory lane instead turns into a frustrating disaster.  The addition of a mid-mission save would have probably edged this game towards sanity, but the lack of it hampers the gameplay to the point where it simply isn’t fun.  Rent, rent, rent, shall be your mantra.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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