September 8th, 2012 | By Dominic Tarason
Deus Ex Machina ending aside, the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica for modern TV audiences was a huge success. Drama, paranoia, sweeping and exciting story arcs and a sense of terrible fatalism that isn’t exactly common in mainstream media. One other thing the show did right was space combat – a tumbling, complex, messy sprawl of dogfights in the contested space between massive, heavily-armed craft. It was perfect videogame material, but aside from a fairly uninteresting F2P MMO and an underwhelming XBLA arena shooter, nothing has lived up to the name. Until now.
Four years of effort, and a lot of talent absorbed from sister BSG project Beyond the Red Line, Forgotten Armistice is the first ‘episode’ of a planned series of Diaspora releases. The current version contains an 8-mission story driven campaign set on the human side of the conflict, online multiplayer and a mission editor, and a good range of craft to fly. While some swear by gamepads, joysticks, or even head-tracking systems such as TrackIR for maximum immersion, I’ve had absolutely no problems playing the game with mouse and keyboard, so don’t let your hardware (or lack of it) stop you from downloading.
If Diaspora has one key flaw, it’s that there’s a lot to learn. Flying a Viper-class fighter is pretty involved. While you can get away with basic throttle, targetting and weapons controls at first, higher difficulties (which also require much more precise gunnery – the default setting has a degree of auto-aim) require you to master directional thrusters and the ability to cut all engine thrust and drift freely on inertia. Great for strafing capital ships or getting a persistent enemy off your tail, bad for evading missiles.
There’s a lengthy tutorial that’ll teach you everything you need to know, but if you’re a Freespace 2 veteran (Diaspora runs on an open-source, heavily upgraded version of the FS2 engine), you can probably afford to skip it and improvise – the only concept really new to Diaspora is lateral thrust and ‘glide’ mode. Oh, and whether you’re a veteran or newcomer alike, it’s wise to reconfigure the controls as soon as you have an idea of how you want them laid out. The default layout is based on the original Freespace 2 setup, and is confusing to say the least.
Initial learning curve aside, if you’ve ever wanted to take part in a BSG space battle, there is very little to dislike here. The graphics are very good, and everything looks and moves exactly how it does in the show. No lasers or plasma here – these fighters flit around using (visible, if you switch to third-person view) reaction thrusters, and poke holes in each other using thick sprays of hot lead. The Battlestar that you’re flying escort for – the Theseus – is a hugely well armed craft, capable of walling off a huge area of space with rumbling flak fire (which hurts you as well as enemies), as well as dozens of gun emplacements that shred incoming nukes and fighters alike. It’s rather awe-inspiring to be dogfighting on the inner side of the flak curtain, and the sight of a wall of nuclear missiles curling off the struts of a Baseship is terrifying.
In addition to looking as good as the show, the Disapora team have gone to great lengths to back it up with music patterned after (although not directly copying) the style of the fantastic soundtrack of the show, as well as quite a lot of voice acting. While it won’t win anyone any oscars, the voicework is solid and helps flesh out the experience as a whole. Any recording issues there might be are also masked nicely by the crackling radio effect, also replicating the show. There’s even some nice details, such as mission briefings being prefaced with your wing commander audibly entering the room to issue your orders.
So, Diaspora is a beautiful, involved, well produced space combat sim that absolutely captures the spirit and style of the TV show. While a relatively short (although quite replayable) experience at the moment, it will be getting further updates and patches, and new missions and features are already planned or in development. The game is completely free, and available for Windows, Mac & Linux PCs. The only question remaining is why you’re not playing it already. You can find download torrents in the official launch forum thread here, and read more about the game on the main site here.