These are the voyages of the starship...wait, wrong show.
Cylons were one of the coolest sci-fi enemies ever. The shiny silver bodies, the Knight Rider eye, the old-school robot voice, the occasional gold Cylon that you know was a badass, even the freaky-looking purple guys that ruled the Cylons were cool.
The problem was, they were in the wrong series.
Though accused of being a Star Wars ripoff (the only connection being space, lasers, and an operatic feel), Battlestar Galactica was an ambitious science fiction epic that had great ratings but little support, was expensive to make, and got sued by George Lucas who believed the laser effect was his and his alone.
This meant that the TV series was short-lived, only 24 episodes, but had attracted such a following that it is still discussed today. The sudden re-interest in Battlestar Galactica isn't all that sudden, believe it or not. There's something called the Galacticon where fans dress up and talk all thing Galactica related. When messing with the Battlestar Galactica universe, you better be prepared to deal with legions of geeks who are more dedicated to a 25 year-old show than to personal hygiene. (Watch in amazement as my e-mail inbox explodes with hate mail!)
So now, some two and a half decades after the original aired and right before a new mini-series premieres, we have Battlestar Galactica the game. It's based on the original with one major, seemingly last minute change to the story to make it more in-line with the new series. Unfortunately, the game isn't as cool as the Cylons, leveling out to mediocrity due to numerous minor flaws that frustrate to no end.
First, for the geeks, the change to the storyline. In the original series, it was well-documented that the origin of the Cylons was definitely alien. A long dead race of reptiles made the Cylons and set them on the task of wiping out all intelligent life in the universe. The aforementioned purple guys are the only Cylons allowed to be modeled after their creators.
In the new miniseries, humans made the Cylons as servants and sex toys. I wish I was making that up. Imagine the movie Terminator 3 with a bit more T&A and you have the plot of the new series. Oh yeah, and Starbuck is now a woman.
The game combines the two TV shows. While professing to be loyal to the original series, the opening sequence and the manual make reference to man building the Cylons. However in the game, there's an Imperious Leader of the Cylons named Erebus who looks remarkably reptilian. I officially declare shenanigans on the part of Vivendi in trying to appease the new series and not stick with the original series as the developer obviously did. Okay, enough of the geekery, on to the game.
Battlestar Galactica is a straightforward space action game in the vein of Wing Commander, Freespace and Colony Wars. Each mission has you piloting your craft, which can be flown from a third- or first-person perspective, usually a Colonial Viper but sometimes a Cylon ship, to accomplish specific tasks: destroy the enemy, protect the convoy, etc. Your primary weapon is the laser guns, with missiles for situations that require a bit more oomph. There's no ammo count, except that you have to stop shooting every now and then for your weapons to recharge. You also get to command the turrets on the Galactica itself in later missions. Standard gun emplacement combat takes over when that happens. No real surprises in the gameplay; you've most likely seen or played space shooters before and Battlestar Galactica sticks to the formula.
For the most part, the game is well made, with decent explosions, nice textures and no real graphical glitches. The levels are fairly well done and provide lots of action and objectives to accomplish. The only difference between the PS2 and Xbox versions is graphical; the more powerful Xbox has slightly better visuals, but they have no effect on the gameplay.
What does affect the gameplay, however, is the horrible targeting system. You automatically target the ship nearest to you, and pressing the targeting button will readjust to a nearer target, if the one you're after moves away. Holding down the targeting button switches your view to point directly at whatever the primary objective is, but still does not actively target it. The only way to target primary objectives is to either move close enough so that it becomes the closest target, or to cycle through all available targets until the one you want is locked on. This gets very frustrating and makes the game artificially harder.
Another gripe is the AI. The AI of the enemies is decent enough, with them evading attacks and retaliating effectively. The friendly AI, unfortunately, is a mixed bag. In the "destroy all enemies" scenarios, the other pilots - and eventually controllable wingmen - do a great job holding their own against the enemy. However, once the scenario changes to a "defensive" objective, it's like all the friendlies throw in the towel and let themselves get destroyed. I know they needed to tone down the fighter AI so that the CPU doesn't win every defensive objective for you, but the difference is stark and rather annoying.
As far as I can tell, there are no training missions. Nothing to teach you how to effectively fly your craft, no easy initial mission where they tell you what the X button is for or how the targeting works, no nice but slightly patronizing voice telling you what you're doing wrong. You are thrust into the action immediately and I guarantee you'll have to play the first mission more than once in order to beat it. This means you HAVE to read the instruction book, something that irks the pride of many hardcore gamers and book-haters alike.
The developers obviously spent some long hours making this game and were even able to secure some major talent for the voice acting. While the game is technically a prequel and takes place before the events of the TV show, there are moments in the game (I'm trying not to give anything away) where you will encounter some of your favorite old Galactica characters. Richard Hatch (Apollo) and Dirk Benedict (Starbuck) reprise their roles, and Dirk even brought along his pal from the A-Team, Dwight Schultz (Mad Dog Murdock), to do some of the voices as well. Then, as if to accentuate the fact that the plot is more Terminator than Galactica, additional voices are provided by Kristanna Loken, also known at the T-X from T3. Thank god Battlestar Galactica isn't as bad as that game.
While it may not be as bad, it's just not that great either. Battlestar Galactica is a solid attempt that unfortunately does nothing new or unique and suffers from some strange gameplay quirks. Fans of the show may do well to check it out and will definitely have fun tooling around the universe in a Viper, but other gamers will get frustrated easily by the control issues. At least the game doesn't have any sexy Cylons trying to seduce you. *Sigh*