"There's No Time Like The First Time"
Sequels, the divine right of any good genius to royally [expletive deleted due to oppressive internet censorship] up a damn good game. Think Road Rash 3D or Test Drive 4. In Deadlock 2: Shrine Wars, the follow-up to the hit 1995 strategy game that was one of the first big net games, developer Cyberlore has exercised their noble right to do so. As much as I support unlimited liberties for all peoples and house pets, it doesn't stop me from declaring that this is one disappointing game.
Damn that was harsh! Well, to calm down and stop taking the purple amphetamine pills for a moment, this is indeed a disappointing game but it is not an entirely wasted chunk of 0's and 1's.
Deadlock 2 is basically a conquer-the-universe-one-world-at-a-time with a mixture of SimCity style city building and population control, a turn based tactical wargame, and a little Civilization style diplomacy. At least the SimCity style elements aren't too bad, however, what we have here is actually not too much more than a fancy add-on pack.
The graphics are the same as they were back when the game was originally released. Apparently Cyberlore did not notice that the passage of three years brought with it a lot of tech advances that most new PC games actually bother to feature. What's worse is that the scrolling, over the 2-D representation of the world, is jerky. The game looks as though a 486 could run it comfortably and it still scrolls badly!
The major changes to the game are the inclusion of a new plot (having to do with a race between 7 races to conquer mystical, powerful, shrines ), a new streamlined interface, 14 new buildings, 13 new technologies, 2 new world types, redesigned AI… (…that really sucks), Diplomacy, Internet Play, New Victory Conditions, A Map builder, and a Colony Assistant (task automaton). Which would be pretty good for an add-on pack, but not great for a full blown sequel.
One of the things that most mars this game is the sorry state of the game's AI. Deadlock 2 makes the player depend heavily upon AI since the tactical battles are non-interactive. You assign your units goals/tasks and then the battle is played out, without you even watching. You can watch a replay later, but for the most part, you rely on the AI of your units to win a battle. It's a pity that they really haven't got any. Nearly all of the battles lost in this game are due to insufficient brain-dead AI.
It doesn't stop there either. The diplomatic AI for the other races is nonsensical and random. Within 5 turns of playing the first mission I had 3 wars declared upon me and then withdrawn the next turn, no explanation for any of them, no borders being crossed, no hostilities created. Just a little case of 'why not declare war?' and then 'I'm bored. Why not drop the sodden thing?'
Another problem with this unhappy puppy is that the interface could really use some work. They say the redesigned it and they did. This is definitely different from the original Deadlock but it still lacks a crucial streamlining that you find in games like SimCity 2000. Important options and commands are hiding under yet another layer of windows just out of reach.
Ah, that's another thing. The original game ran in a nice, un-intrusive windowed mode. This one runs like an old DOS game at full screen 640x480; this is what we call a great leap backwards.
One other little thing is that you begin each mission with your tech level set down to nothing. Near the end of the game's 42 missions (for each of the game's 7 races) you may find yourself having to wait 30 or 40 turns just to reach the tech level from the last mission. Not to mention the level you need to even think about completing this one. However the game does let you select your own path on the tech tree at the beginning of the mission so although it may take awhile, it's not a great chore.
I must note that the SimCity-like segments of the game are well done. You begin with a grid of squares, each one with an attribute (forests, geo-thermal sites, etc) that favors the placement of a particular building. Since the grid is very limited in size, as is your population, cities must be very carefully managed to be productive centers for your war effort. Although, perhaps a little to carefully managed; it seems that almost any morale rating under 100% is considered bad. If that were the case in the US, we would have had anarchy years ago.
Multiplayer is only supported through TCP/IP. Accolade has their NetAccolade server up and running, but with the length of time that multiplayer Deadlock 2 games can last due to their turn based nature, they tend to get a little long for net play. LAN would have been preferable.
Perhaps I have been a bit over-harsh in my review so far. Deadlock 2 is not a complete disaster. Despite many problems, there are some good elements and it actually is entertaining. However, it is a lousy sequel. On the whole, it is not all that much worse than the original game and fans of Deadlock could definitely do worse than take a look at this one. The city building is still fairly solid and the whole game is still fun... not good... but fun.