Open Beta Impressions
Action stations, action stations! Set Condition One throughout the ship! You know what this means, don't you? Drew's been spending some time in the Battlestar Galactica Online Open Beta. The browser-based Space MMO from BigPoint launched its Open Beta just over a month ago and I've had the opportunity to dabble a little bit in the gameplay.
Overall, fans of the show are almost destined to be as torn over liking this game as they were regarding the series finale (or, if you're like me, the last season in general). Sure there's a lot to like packed into this (surprisingly) impressive browser game, and a lot for the fans to like, but a lot of what makes the show great, like the urgency that came with every hour-long installment, just seems to be missing for me. Sure, some of the characters are there. The old man, Apollo, Starbuck, they're all there, in their non-talking, text bubble avatar forms. Sure, the game looks a lot better than most browser games and certainly makes full use of the motifs and presentation of the 2004 re-imagined television series. Bear McCreary's beautiful (and often haunting) score is even present and accounted for, even if it is just snippets of brilliant pieces taken out of context from the episodes for which they were written. That being said, as a fan of the television series, for me, it fell short of the mark.
As a browser-based MMO, on the other hand, I would say that it's safe to believe that in most respects, the title delivers. Now, by no means is this game going to change your life or revolutionize the genre, but let's keep a couple of things in mind. For a browser game, this looks fantastic. I was surprised how well this game ended up looking on my machine and though I was expecting graphics that could've come from a PlayStation 2 title, I was pleasantly surprised to find that they look more akin to early Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 titles.
After logging into the game and diving into your server, you're immediately thrust into the tutorial which, intelligently, puts you into the meat & potatoes of the game, the space combat. The tutorial would be more helpful with narrated instruction rather than the sometimes hard-to-follow text, but with the desire to use the likenesses of the actors but (presumably) not pay the price for their voices, there was little other option.
The controls leave a lot to be desired, as I found myself often clicking the wrong icon to achieve the desired effect, but with time this becomes far more intuitive. Another small pet peeve of my own is the inverted flight controls (up being down, down being up) but I know a lot of players rather enjoy this feature so I won't dwell on it. Once you get the hang of it, as is the case with most space shooters, the gameplay starts to become easy as pie as you can clip Cylon Raiders (or Colonial Vipers) with ease and find yourself pumping your fist into the air, yelling triumphant obscenities as you see their ship explode in a burst of flame.
Once you complete the tutorial, you're whisked into Galactica (or a Cylon Basestar, depending on the faction you choose) where you create your avatar. The character create, though incredibly limited, was actually far more detailed than I was expecting considering the game's platform. Once you're created, you wander about the ship and can learn about the story, collect missions and find out more about the game, from characters from the show littered about the ship. Adama himself, the old man, is present standing tensely in the CIC and you get your orders from him. Orders in hand, you're right back into the hangar and onto your ship to move forward.
More or less, that's the format of the game as I've experienced thus far. One last thing I wanted to touch on, however, was the PvP in the game.
In my mind, the PvP is probably the triumph of the game. It's fun, and the difficulty decreases the more familiar you are with the controls, but the gold in this format is the dog-fighting style and the thrill that comes with squaring off against an evenly matched foe. That isn't to say you can't take down a higher level enemy, but if you don't have the hang of your strategies and full mastery of your controls (which, let's face it, I didn't) it can be incredibly frustrating.
At the end of the day, this is a good time with the most reasonable price tag of all (free! With an item shop, of course), no installation necessary, and you don't need to have a top of the line gaming rig to play the thing. The game presents a layer of the ambiance of the show and McCreary's score (yes, I'm mentioning it again) adds to the possible immersion. Overall, if you're a fan of the show or if you dig on space combat games like Wing Commander or Tie Fighter, take a look into it. There's never any harm when it's not costing you a dime.