The science fiction genre has seen a lot of high points throughout its existence, but few were as prolific as the late 1970s. Major franchises, like Star Wars and Alien were spawned in this era, as well as cult classics like Logan's Run and the TV series Battlestar Galactica. Many of these franchises and titles have seen serious resurgences in the last several years, usually to cash in on some manner of nostalgic value. Battlestar Galactica is the latest of these classics to try and rekindle the waning interest in its respective story, and it's now gotten a new miniseries on the Sci-Fi channel and a game for both the Xbox and PlayStation 2--although the two actually have nothing to do with one another, story-wise. Battlestar Galactica the game is a space shooter in the same vein as the Rogue Squadron series but contains a less intricate gameplay setup that is clearly aimed at the more casual fans of the TV show. For what it's worth, Battlestar Galactica puts forth a far more enjoyable effort than your average licensed game, but unfortunately, there are still many problems to be found within.
The Battlestar Galactica series was about as by-the-numbers for a sci-fi story of that era as you could get. In the series, humanity had taken to the stars, and it set up shop on a number of different planets throughout the universe. Humans traveled around in huge starships, complete with futuristic fighter jets and all sorts of crazy weaponry. Of course, all was not right with the universe, as humanity also happened to be at war with a race of antagonistic robots called Cylons who were hell-bent on humanity's destruction. The show focused on the crew of the Galactica, obviously one of the most prestigious ships of the colonial fleet. Added to the mix was a healthy dose of improbable situations for the crew of the Galactica to escape from, and you had yourself some classic science fiction television.
Battlestar Galactica is a prequel to the original TV series and takes place a full 40 years before the events of the show. In the game, you take on the role of Adama, a young, spunky pilot in the blue wing division of the Galactica's elite fighter squadron. Fans of the original will immediately recognize that Adama is actually Lorne Greene's Commander Adama character from the TV series, but, as this is a prequel, Adama is much younger and more impetuous than his future self. As is to be expected, Adama and his squadron must go up against impossible odds to defeat the Cylon forces and save the Galactica--and humanity--yet again. To do this, Adama and crew will take on a host of different combat missions against the Cylons. Missions in the game are actually quite varied, though the bulk of them are definitely of the "kill and destroy everything in sight" ilk. Battlestar Galactica gives you a nice variety of ships with which to do the aforementioned killing by letting you pilot multiple classes of the colonial Vipers. Interestingly, you even get to fly a Cylon raider here and there. Weaponry consists of basic lasers and missiles, each of which has different forms of functionality. For example, on the standard Viper, simply pressing the laser attack button will shoot a short burst, whereas holding the button down will fire a more powerful burst. The same goes for missiles. So a quick press will fire a simple, though powerful, one, while holding the button down will let you lock on to an enemy so that you can fire a pair of homing missiles. Missiles can also be programmed--on the fly--for varying degrees of blast radius and overall power by using the directional pad. Missiles are limited by a power meter that appears alongside your damage meter on the game's heads-up display. Energy is depleted as you fire missiles, and once your barrage is finished, it begins to replenish (albeit slowly). Your energy also ties in to your ship's damage meter, so when the meter is full, your damage will slowly start to replenish as well. However, if your energy is below 100 percent, your ship won't repair, and you're far more susceptible to destruction.
This is certainly nothing to make light of, as Battlestar Galactica is actually quite a difficult game. In fact, it's shockingly so when you consider how generally easy to pick up the combat is. Aside from the previously mentioned functions, your ship can also perform a speed burst or slow to a halt by pressing the right and left trigger buttons (or R1 and L1 buttons), respectively. It can also jump to an intensely fast speed when you double-tap the right trigger (or R1 button). Targeting is handled by a red icon that appears over your enemy's ship, and a blue marker appears in the best position for you to lead your shots on your target. However, there is one primary flaw with this system that does cause some problems. Once a target is destroyed, your next target is autoselected for you, and, more often than not, that target is not the most important one with regard to your mission. For instance, in any situation where you're being bombarded by multiple types of ships, or you're in a situation where you have to take out a massive, centralized target, the game will frequently switch you to a random Cylon raider that has no real bearing on your current task--save for being a minor nuisance. You can switch to a new target by using the target select button, but it takes a fair amount of time to switch to the enemy you want. In many missions, time is very much of the essence, so this less-than-intuitive method of autotargeting is a pretty big hassle.
A good portion of the game's difficulty can be directly attributed to this flawed targeting system, but there are other factors to take into account as well. The only aspect of the game's inherent toughness that can be legitimately praised is the enemy AI, which is very nicely done. Various types of ships all behave in different--and appropriate--manners, and each one puts up a more than decent challenge. Considering enemies tend to travel in packs, you'll more than likely have a rough firefight on your hands in most every mission, and if you can deal with the targeting issues, the combat can actually be pretty fun. However, while your enemies are more than adept enough to get the job done, your supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired.
Adama's squadron is about the most inconsistent group of fighter pilots you'll ever encounter. On missions where their jobs are to keep Cylons occupied while you go and blow up some key landmark, they can seemingly last forever. Yet, as soon as the mission objective shifts toward you having to protect them, they almost instantly become helpless, and it doesn't take long before they're sent into oblivion. Things can be made a bit easier by enacting unlockable wingmen, which you can gain through performing well on each mission. Wingmen can be instructed to attack, defend, or scatter, as necessary, in a combat situation. Beyond these basic functions, however, they're no smarter than the rest of your squadmates, and they also happen to be insanely easy to destroy. They're a great addition while they last, but they just don't last long enough.
Battlestar Galactica also has a somewhat problematic mission structure, which further adds to the frustrating side of the game's difficulty. Save points appear between each mission, but the bulk of the game's missions feature multiple objectives that must be achieved. This wouldn't be a problem, except that certain objectives take a fair amount of trial and error to get right, and it can frequently take anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes from the start of a mission to get to that problematic objective. The game's first level alone requires a great number of plays to get right, but it's one of the longer missions in the game. Perhaps if some sort of limited-continue system were available that gave you the opportunity to try a specific objective a few times before having to restart a full level, then the game wouldn't be nearly as irritating to play as it is. However, as it stands, that just isn't an option, so you're going to experience a lot of frustration while trying to make your way through Battlestar Galactica's missions.
Although Battlestar Galactica is by no means a terribly impressive-looking game, its graphics do the job just fine. Fans of the TV series will take to the ship designs immediately, as they're modeled very nicely after the classic Battlestar look. Weapon and energy effects, explosions, and the like also look pretty good, if a bit understated at times. The game, for the most part, runs very smoothly, and the frame rate is never an issue of any kind--nor is the camera. The only hitches that ever seemed to appear were when occasional radio communications would pop up from your squadmates or Cylons and when in-engine cutscenes would load between mission objectives. Periodically, the loading of these little scenes would cause the action on the screen to actually freeze up for a second or so, which can be rather disconcerting when you're in the middle of a battle. The only other complaint about the game's graphics stems from the less-than-impressive CG cutscene work, which shows some pretty bland-looking character animation and some bad-looking video compression, thus giving everything a very washed-out feel. The Xbox version looks decidedly better than its PS2 counterpart in most every regard, but, other than that, there's not much beyond the usual platform-to-platform variance.
The game's sound design seems as though it could have used a little more effort, as there just isn't a whole lot to it. Battlestar Galactica alumni Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict make appearances in the game by voicing their original characters, in addition to new ones, but really, they don't make a significant impact beyond the initial nostalgic value. The rest of the game's voice acting consists of some pretty forgettable talent, save perhaps for Terminator 3 star Kristanna Loken. Though, to be perfectly honest, her work isn't that memorable either. Of course, the Cylons have their awesome retro-sounding robot voices, so at least there is one bright spot to be found with the voice acting. The expected roster of space combat sound effects is front and center in Battlestar Galactica, and though none of it stands out, it's all effective stuff. The game's music is mostly made up of a lot of melodramatic, orchestrated tunes that fit pretty well with the overall scope of the game, and, of course, the classic Battlestar theme does show up here and there.
For what it is, Battlestar Galactica is certainly an appreciable effort to do something more with its license than just offer another slapdash, underproduced game without any redeeming qualities beyond said license. Warthog has made a strong attempt to make the game's action accessible to both casual fans of the show and fans of the space combat genre. Sadly, the attempt was not entirely successful. The combination of the irritatingly tough mission structuring along with the relative simplicity of the combat ultimately makes Battlestar Galactica a bit too basic of an experience for any seasoned space combat fan, and it's too difficult of an experience for casual fans that are just looking for a simple trip down memory lane. However, if you're able to look past Battlestar Galactica's problems, there are most definitely things to like about the game, and it certainly makes for a good weekend rental.