Saturday, December 17, 2016

Deadlock 2

There was always something missing.
I've played a lot of games and talked about them here, trashed many, praised a few. Deadlock 2 was something I got from another guy back in high school and enjoyed playing it well enough, but while arguably as good or better in technical terms than most games of its time, something in Deadlock 2's composition has left it somehow... forgettable.

It might get classified as a 4x turn-based strategy game, but its many restrictions on expansion and rather limited scope preclude the 4x label. It adopts a much more balanced and thoughtful approach to turn-based strategy than normal 4x endless x-ing. While tempted to put up a screenshot of a battle for dramatic purposes, this up above more truly represents Deadlock 2. It's a resource management game. You'll have to actually pay attention to the upkeep costs of everything you're building so as not to starve yourself of any particular fodder (as I did this game with energy) and it's one of the few TBS games where you won't find yourself just blindly hitting the "end turn" button repeatedly waiting for something to happen. Your bases give you something to fiddle with every turn.

The combat side of things is relatively weak, mostly relying on building up overwhelming numbers with little regard for counters or finesse, but once again, this is a resource management game. Maybe that lackluster combat is why Deadlock 2 never really qualified as one of the greats. Once you've managed to balance your resource production, you're let down by the lack of anything truly interesting into which to sink them. Maybe it's because of its relatively shallow and speedy technology tree (you blow through most techs every couple of turns) that it never feels very momentous. Maybe it's because of the relatively small maps (that up above being the biggest map size) that your conquests never feel glorious. Maybe it's the painfully gullible AI that fails to put up a fight so long as you flatter it.

Logically, this game should be better remembered. The interface can occasionally get in your way with its pop-up messages but mostly offers a surprising amount of customization and information for a 1998 program. The resource balancing proves challenging enough, the various playable races run a large gamut of bonuses and drawbacks altering the pacing of the game for each one, the various notification screens and pop-up messages are humorously written and voiced, the randomized terrain makes you plan out your colonies' role. The visual and aural aesthetics carry off that glorious pulp scifi book cover "Jetsons" look surprisingly well. And yet... it's as if a lot of good features met and simply canceled each other out, interfering instead of amplifying. It lacks any singular vision, any... point to it. I can't help thinking this whole technical team should've been bottled up and giftwrapped for some mad genius of computer gaming to fuel a more focused, visionary project like Alpha Centauri.

As it stands, Deadlock 2's still worth buying if you catch it for a couple of bucks, so long as you're not expecting anything Earth-shattering.

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