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BLOG Reboot the Alert Fighters Battlestar Galactica Online

SFX Blogger Alasdair Stuart immerses himself in the virtual world of Cylons

I’ve never really played MMOs before. Friends of mine adore World Of Warcraft , others favour EVE and another is an Everquest player of such long standing that when he returned to the game a few years ago he found that the real estate his character had acquired had increased massively in value. Value that people were prepared to pay real money for. Me though, I never really had the time or the inclination, let alone the willingness, to spend hours grinding my way through the various levels.

I died nine times a couple of Fridays ago. Each time, I jumped into a new system, each time I respawned, each time I died. Each time I came back for more. Galactica Online has me squarely in its grasp for three reasons.

Firstly, it’s free and runs in browser. I’m using a couple of less-than-current computers and it pootles along quite happily on them. No huge downloads, no endless software configuring – just another window open in Firefox . I like that; it feels inclusive, open, welcoming, a feeling enhanced by the fact you can choose to be Human or Cylon. This isn’t a game for people with terrifying dedicated gaming rigs, or rather it’s not just a game for them. More on that in a moment.

Secondly, make no mistake, this game is beautiful. The first time I deployed from Galactica in my Raptor (Viper pilots may look cooler, but Raptor Wranglers have more fun) I just boosted up, parked on top of the Battlestar and... looked. Colonial One was to my left, a pair of Virgon passenger liners were to my right. Off in the distance was the Zephyr, the ship with the gravity wheel. I was in the process of running a Galactica RPG scenario set aboard a Zephyr-class ship at the time so I boosted over and sat in the middle of the gravity ring, watching the universe go by. It was actually rather moving, and to be honest a little unsettling. A fictional universe I love had just gained a new dimension, one which I was able to interact with it on in a very real way. The ships look right, the sounds sound right, the systems you will fight and die in are beautiful, desolate places filled with asteroids and gas giants and the shadows of huge Cylon vessels cutting off the starlight. This is Galactica ’s universe and it’s just as cold, as dark and as awe inspiring as it looks on the show.

Thirdly, the game has a really interesting plot. Out on a routine training mission, Starbuck and your character uncover an odd artefact. The Cylons jump, a fight ensues, the artefact triggers and suddenly the Fleet is... elsewhere. FTL drives shattered, the Colonials and the Cylons begin a frantic three-way struggle for resources, answers and to defend themselves against the automated defence systems that keep cropping up across this new stretch of the galaxy. Even odder, the area is full of wrecks of old ships, all recognisably Colonial and Cylon in design even though they’ve never been seen before... It’s a great hook, a neat way to get around the continuity of the series and an even neater way to drop a levelling system into the game. Suddenly it’s not just Viper, Raptor or Battlestar, but Viper, Raptor, Rhino, Scythe, Glaive, Maul, Halberd, Aesir and more.

Unfortunately, it’s not all plain sailing. Whilst interacting with characters from the show is interesting, it’s all too easy to hit automated responses that drop you out of the game world. The game is now in open Beta, meaning it’s being modified as they work and sometimes you see the joins. It’s a shame too, as a lot of the rest of the time it’s a surprisingly immersive experience. Likewise, the story line is interesting but without spending hours grinding your way up the levels in endless combat scenes you'll soon get frustrated as everyone else gets bigger and faster ships than you.

Even worse, the game uses a micro payment system so, if you can afford it, you can simply buy large ships and levels. It’s an understandable approach – a lot of other MMOs use it – but for people trying to hack their way up the levels when they can, it can get frustrating. It’s hard not to feel picked on or left behind when the large battles take place, between ships which can, and will, destroy yours in two shots. Whilst the game hasn’t got to two tiers of player yet, it’s within sight of that and losing the inclusive feel as a result.

All that being said, Galactica Online is an essential destination for anyone interested in gaming and the Galactica universe will find a lot to enjoy here. And if you see a Raptor being driven by someone with the callsign Pancake, feel free to say hi. I’m a pretty good wing man.