Feeling cramped? Claustrophobic? If overpopulation's got you down, why not colonize a pristine new world, just sitting there for the taking? Simply jump in your colony ship, load it with basic necessities plus a few friends to help you gather resources, and build your new empire. No problem, right? Well, there is a slight complication ... you're not alone. You are one of seven races salivating over the untouched terrain of Gallius IV. You must gather resources and build new cities before the enemies choke off your supplies or come knocking on your city walls with demolition squads. According to the compact of Gallius IV, this is supposed to be a peaceful competition. But rules are, of course, made to be broken ...
The world of Gallius IV is richly represented. You can tell that the folks at Accolade spent a good deal of time on the art direction of Deadlock. The landscapes are nice to look at and easy to understand for placement of structures and colony planning.
The World and Settlement views allow you to see what's happening on a global scale and to zoom in for a good view of each settlement. You will spend most of the early portion of the game focusing on settlement views (while constructing your cities) and turn more to the World view as conflicts with other races start to gain your attention. Cleverly, there is always a small world map displayed in the upper right hand corner, to make viewing different settlements possible without zooming out to the World view each time. Below this map is a chart that keeps track of all of your resources for you, so that at a glance you can tell in which resource (e.g. wood, iron, food, energy) you are the most deficient.
Video clips are your communication link to both your enemies (be they computer or human opponents) and your minions. You can threaten, insult or brag to your enemies via pre-recorded messages. Or you can even type a message of your own to send. If you ever wanted to vebally taunt your Doom opponent, you could see how such communication would be a lot of fun during a multiplayer game. My only wish for the communication aspect would be for the video representatives to also verbalize your custom messages -- although I'm not sure what's involved in implementing such a feature. As it stands, your custom messages are simply displayed as text, along with the video image of your race.
Here's where Deadlock really shines. To begin with, the game is almost entirely customizable; you can change everything from the size of the planet to the number of cities one must build to conquer it. What's more, you can select the intelligence level of the computer AI -- from "Brain dead" to "Unbeatable." Too bad you can't do the same for your human opponents! You can also put time limits on turns or select fast resource production to speed up a contest.
You will represent one of six races, each of which has its relative advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the Tarth (pictured) are military behemoths, the kind you'd want in your corner when the puny humans start sending video threats. But they can't sneak up on anybody, and their navy is a joke. Some races are smarter, some faster-growing, others sneakier.
What's really cool is that you can redefine race abilities. This would allow you to handicap a friend if he always chose one race because of a particular attribute. For example, if your friend Joe always chose the Re'Lu because of their mind control powers (and this always led to a victory for him), you could give every race mind control ... or none. This is a protection against strategy loopholes. You know what I mean by loopholes, like the guy that always built nothing but engineers and transport helicopters in, or the one that built so many defenses that no one could possibly do anything but kill themselves on his walls (OK, I admit, that was me). The point is that in Deadlock, you can't cheat. You always have to balance your strategies.
Unlike some other strategy games, Deadlock allows you a great variety of ways to gather resources -- and makes you continuously allocate workers to do just that. You can get iron, wood, food and energy by building the appropriate structures, but you must also devote labor to resource production. Therefore, you can have ten farms and still have a starving populace if you fail to devote the proper manpower to work the farms. You can get money through taxation, trade, or by selling items or resources to the Skirineen black market. If you're in dire need of certain resources or armaments, you can also buy them at a premium from the black market.
Be careful, though; dealing with the Skirineen could cause a scandal and adversely affect your population's morale. Yep, that's right. Your people won't just work because you point, click, and tell them to; you have to keep them happy too. You can do this by keeping them fed, building ample housing for them, and not overtaxing them. If your population starts to grumble because you failed to do any of the above, you may improve their morale by building cultural centers, museums or art complexes.
Although the strategic model of Deadlock is impressive and developed thoroughly, the game falls a little short in the battle arena. Remember playing Risk with your friends, where you'd gather together your armies and march into your neighbor's territory and start rolling dice to see who won? That's how I feel when my troops in Deadlock are fighting. Battles are represented through little videos that you simply watch and maybe replay. As colony leader, you are given so much control over the other aspects of your game, that you feel totally helpless by comparison when fighting. All you can do is attempt to send in enough guys to hopefully get the job done, and sit back and watch. Since these are not real-time battles, you must pre-set your troops to retreat if they lose half their health. Be sure to save your game before launching an attack. If you fail, it may take you several turns to build another army.
This is one of the best computer opponents I've found in any strategy game, not only because you can adjust how "smart" it is, but because it truly reacts to what you do. The first time I played against the AI, I tried to simply focus on building cities, thinking "OK, I just have to build five cities to win ... no problem." Well, it was a problem. Actually, things were going fairly well until I sent a video threat to the humans. (I was playing as the Cyth, the stoic elder race.) Shortly thereafter, troops of little humans came bursting into and capturing one of my favorite territories. Needless to say, I was quite aghast. After all, I was just poking a little fun at them. This race to colonize was more serious than I thought. Next time I threatened, I would make sure I could back it up with some muscle.
Eventually, though, I discovered that you could greatly improve your chances against hostile races with a little planning. Most importantly, you must choose a landing spot wisely when you first touch down on the surface. I found it best to choose a site where your first territory would be the only one touching the lands between yourself and the competition, but also where you could expand to lands "behind" you, creating sort of a bottleneck effect. This way, your weak territories are not vulnerable to invasion. Still, even when employed, this tactic does not assure victory -- not all maps allow this type of planning, so it is not a fail-safe way around the AI by any means.
The aural key for a strategy game that potentially lasts hours is to have sounds that add to the game's "suspension of disbelief" without becoming noxious. Deadlock achieves this goal admirably, while maintaining enough variety to keep the ears fresh. The sounds that accompany the view of a settlement are among my favorite. I say "sounds" because what you get is a vague collage of industrial, natural and vocal sounds -- sounds you might hear if you put your ear up to a tiny city encased in glass. Vague in this sense is a compliment; since the sounds remain somewhat aloof from the ear, they both peak interest and remain subtle enough to not distract you from your planning. Music itself is sparse, occasionally fading in mysteriously only to disappear beyond your grasp again. It adds to the experience when present, but you don't miss it when it's not.
Included are a player's manual and a "colony leader's handbook." The manual completely describes the game's options and configurations, while the handbook presents the story. Both are well made and include plenty of valuable information and nice illustrations. Besides reading the docs, you can play through an on-screen tutorial or ask for advice at any time from Oolan, a sort of sexy on-screen host.
486-66, Win 3.1, NT or 95, 2X CD-ROM drive, 16 MB hard disk space, SVGA (640 x 480), mouse, keyboard, sound card
Reviewed on: P-120, 16 MB, 4X CD-ROM drive, Diamond Stealth 64 video
Deadlock is a very addictive, time-consuming game. Always having been a fan of real-time action, I was pleasantly surprised by the success of the turn-based model used by Accolade. And although I was somewhat disappointed with the battle sequences, I quickly accepted the fact that this was not meant to be a war simulation--this one's all about building and managing your settlements better than the other guy. If you, like me, often had more fun in C&C orplanning your strategies, building a war machine, and racing to the resources than you did fighting, check out Deadlock. Accolade's new title shoots and scores with an 88.