Thursday, 14 April 2016

Battlestar Galactica: Diaspora - Shattered Armistice

Forty years have passed since the First Cylon War, but the Colonial Fleet maintains a strong defence against the potential return of the enemy. Their newest weapon is the Command Navigation Program, an advanced computer system that massively improves warship and fighter response times and efficiency. The fighter wing of the Battlestar Theseus is tasked with testing the program. Thanks to bad - or good - luck and timing, the CNP is not working on the ship and its fighters when the Cylons attack the Twelve Colonies and the battlestar has a fighting chance for survival...

Diaspora: Shattered Armistice is a fan-made space combat game based on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica franchise. It uses the Freespace 2 engine, but you don't need a copy of that game for this to work. In fact, Diaspora is completely free of charge and can be downloaded here.

Fan-made games used to mean "amateurish". Not so with this game. Made over a period of four years, the game features professional-quality audio and voice work, an original musical score and often jaw-dropping visuals (the background skyboxes in particular are fantastic). This game may have the best explosions I've ever seen in a video game. The game also doesn't play as fast and loose with canon as I was expecting. The game casts you as a pilot on the Battlestar Theseus during the Cylon attack on the Twelve Colonies and has you providing cover as the ship attempts to rescue civilian ships from Aerilon whilst the planet burns below (several of these ships end up in the Galactica fleet) and tries to rejoin the main Colonial forces at Virgon for a doomed counter-attack (as mentioned in the mini-series). The Theseus is a new design - borrowing elements from both the Valkyrie and the Pegasus - and a most convincing one. If this had showed up in the series itself, it would have fitted right in.

As space games go, Freespace 2 is, even seventeen years after release, simply the greatest one ever made and it provides an excellent framework for a BSG game. Like the TV show itself, the game does not use Newtonian physics but a sort-of combination of physics and an "aeroplanes in space" model which is actually quite effective. This allows you to do the kind of "turn and burn" moves seen in the TV show and to deactivate your engines and strafe targets by flying on one direction but facing and shooting in another. Combat is both satisfying and dangerous: even the Viper Mk. VII is a relatively fragile craft and the Cylon Raiders are difficult-to-hit targets. You also get to pilot a Raptor on one mission equipped with missile pods and dual miniguns, which is even more fun.

Issues? Well, it's a short game at only six missions (some of them are quite long though), but there is a multiplayer mode which stretches things out. Also, some of the game's damage readings seem buggy. On a mission to disable a Cylon basestar's heavy missile batteries I found my cannons did more damage than heavy bombs, and both other fighters and the Theseus seemed to take down the batteries in seconds whilst my weapons barely scratched it. There's also some occasional stiff movement and animation that betrays the lack of budget and the relatively small team behind it.

But these are pretty minor things (just switch to engaging fighters in the basestar mission), easily made up for by the fact that the game is free and a lot of fun to play. Battlestar Galactica: Diaspora - Shattered Armistice (****) whiles away a few hours very nicely indeed.

The same team are now working on a follow-up, Worthy of Survival, hopefully for release in the near future.

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