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Battlestar Galactica

Review By:  J. Michael Neal

Developer:  Warthog
Publisher:  Vivendi Universal
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Flight Sim
ESRB:  Teen
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Unit, Dolby Digital
Date Posted: 

2-12-04

Battlestar Galactica has a lot going for it. Itís pretty, it sounds good, it controls well, it plays well; it could have ended up being one of the best space combat games in the console world. But Battlestar has a problem. Battlestar is difficult, incredibly difficult. Battlestar has the three ďkisses of deathĒ that have put away more good games than a little bit Ė vague objectives, trial and error missions, and a harsh save system that requires obscene amounts of backtracking. If these problems could have been addressed, Battlestar Galactica would have been an easy recommendation.

The game begins 40 years before the television series. This will either excite or annoy fans depending on how sick of the whole ďprequelĒ thing they are. For non-fans this will be neither here nor there. Regardless of where you fall, the story does an adequate job of giving you a reason to blow stuff up, just donít be surprised if you find your mind wandering during cut-scenes Ė the plot isnít the most riveting around and the characters arenít very well defined. I guess they leave it up to the player to furnish the Battlestar back-story.

I, however, have never been one for needing much of a reason to blow stuff up, so a weak story doesnít bother me any. Battlestar enthusiasts might feel otherwise, be disappointed, but for me, as long as the game is fun to play thereís no hard feelings. And for the most part, Battlestar Galactica is fun - at least for the first few minutes. After that how fun you find the game will depend largely on your threshold for abuse.

Youíll be amazed by how easy it is to pick up and play Battlestar. Itís the kind of game where you can grab the controller and instantly get into the flow of things, especially if you are a veteran of Star Wars Starfighter or the Rogue Squadron series; the core mechanics are exactly the same (nimble interplanetary dogfights, dodging incoming missiles, the occasional stationary target or bombing run, you know the drill), and since learning to track enemy ships and out maneuver targeting computers is like riding a bike (you never forget), thereís no need to cross-train. There are even a few twists to differentiate Battlestar Galactica from its peers. There is a handy on-screen reticule called the ďPredictive CursorĒ that shows where to aim laser fire so that it hits moving targets, making compensation for velocity and trajectory as simple as following a blue dot. Energy, which is expended whenever you fire a weapon or use the afterburner, can replenish your shipís shields when not in use, which adds a bit of defensive strategy. Missile attributes can be configured on the fly to fit the needs of a specific situation, which adds a bit of offensive strategy. Both you and your wingmenís skills improve based on mission performance. Sure, these tweaks arenít revolutionary by a long shot, but they give the game some personality.

I canít go so far as to say youíll be ďamazedĒ by how the game looks, but you may be a little surprised by how nice the visuals are. They have a realistic look and feel, and the developers have done a good job of making each levelís environment distinctly different despite the fact that the blackness of space isnít much of a palette to work with. Not the most stunning environments youíll ever seen, sure, but certainly respectable enough, as are the models, which sport those classic Battlestar designs that fans will no doubt be looking for. Plus the game is free from slow-down and other technical issues, even with dozens of objects on screen; what more could you want?

Something else that will surprise is the claim that Battlestar Galactica supports custom soundtracks Ė it does not. Iím not sure if this is a typo on the back of the box or what, but Iíve searched high and low and there isnít an option to play your own music to be found in this game. Itís not that the game needs it; the sweeping orchestral score can do the job by itself, but itís still confusing to players.

Battlestar Galactica does, however, have some great Dolby Digital support. Itís easily the best part of the game. Ships zipping by, missiles zooming past your ear, lasers flying in all directions, epic score booming in the background Ė at the right volume youíll think youíre watching an early cut of Episode III. If only the same could be said about the voice acting. Itís passable at best Ė youíve probably heard far worst, but youíve certainly heard better. Itís not so bad as to drag down the overall quality of the audio, but just bad enough to disappoint fans looking for someone on par with the television series. However, thatís nothing compared to how much everyone will be disappointed by just how easily a few careless design decisions can ruin an otherwise good game.

So youíre sitting there and youíre playing your new Battlestar Galactica game. Youíre enjoying the score and the colorful backgrounds and thinking, ďhey, this game is pretty fun. I donít know why it got such mediocre reviews.Ē Somewhere around the 12th crack at beating the first level, however, youíll begin to realize something. Youíll begin to realize that Battlestar Galactica isnít as fun as you first thought. What it is is needlessly difficult and frustrating to the point that most people would rather turn it off and never turn it back on again than try to succeed. Levels are long, some spanning multiple stages, and objectives are given in rapid succession. You can only save at the end of each level, and thereís no checkpoint system, so if you die or fail on objective six of six with three seconds until victory, you have no choice but to start over from the very beginning, two stages back.

This wouldnít be too big a deal if it werenít so easy to die or fail. Enemies are brutal, though easy enough to avoid, wingmen are practically useless, and mission objectives are so loosely defined that it will often take multiple deaths just to figure out what youíre suppose to do next. And donít bother to look for an easier difficultly setting Ė thereís only Normal and Expert. If you want to progress, youíll just have to keep at it, no matter how long it takes. The question is, do you want to? Iím a reviewer Ė I had to play this game. If I had a choice, I wouldnít have stuck around past the third straight death less than a minute into the first level. Itís nothing personal, itís just that the amount of fun this game gives back is in no way equal to the amount of effort you have to put in to get it.

To the gameís defense, it does give players a few tools to make getting through easier. Thereís heads-up indicators to show how close missiles are to your location, and a cool sideways barrel roll for avoiding them, you can match speeds with an enemy craft with the press of a button, and if you hold the Y button youíll be pointed in the direction of your nearest objective. These, however, fail to put a dent in the overall difficultly of the game and wonít save you from repeating level after level after level.

Thereís even production art, character and ship models, and codes to unlock for completing levels under specific conditions, but in all honesty, this just isnít enough to keep players motivated. As much as I would have liked to maybe unlock a code for infinite health or overpowered weapons, the last thing I wanted to do after finally putting a mission behind me was play it over and over to get some pencil sketches of Cylon Raiders.

If you are determined to play Battlestar to the bitter end, you will most probably find the game enjoyable, but ultimately not worth the effort. Itís fun, sure, but not so fun itís worth drudging through hours of frustration, and not when games like Jedi Starfighter offer equivalent gameplay at half the cost. Only absolute space combat junkies will see this one through to the end, and only the most enthusiastic Battlestar Galactica fan will be lured into replaying missions for unlockable production art. If the save system could have been addressed early in development, if this game could have stayed as fun as it was the first 30 seconds you picked it up, Battlestar Galactica could have been the start of a million selling franchise. As it stands now, Battlestarís reserved for diehard fans only.

Highs:

  • Easy to jump into.
  • Distinguishes itself from similar titles with some thoughtful additions like the Predictive Cursor and customizable missiles.
  • Enjoyable as an arcade style space combat sim.
  • Visuals arenít bad at all.
  • Audio is pretty top-notch.

Lows:

  • Trial and error objectives that force you to repeat incredibly long, involved missions over and over.
  • Ridiculous save system will generate far more frustration than this game has fun.
  • Claims to support custom soundtracks but doesnít.
  • Voice acting could have been better.

Final Verdict: 

Battlestar Galactica isnít a bad game. What Battlestar Galactica is is fatally flawed. I really, really wanted to like this game, but I just couldnít. It was like Warthog was determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. A simple mid-level autosave could have made this game an easy recommendation for Battlestar and space combat fans alike, but unnecessarily difficult levels turned it into a ďbargain find with reservationsĒ; approach with extreme caution regardless of how much you the license or the genre.

Overall Score: 5.5

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