“Quite possibly the greatest RTS ever made.”
Twelve years ago, I tried a new Blizzard Entertainment game called StarCraft. The “Craft” suffix seemed to imply that it was Warcraft in space. Was it? Not really. It had all of the standard RTS features and the story telling was typical Blizzard fare, but it was definitely was not a space themed copy of its fantasy RTS cousin.
I didn’t care much for the new revered game. What most people called the best RTS ever made, I called a tedious and ugly borefest. I never felt entertained or immersed, nor did I ever get a sense of fulfillment out of the game. I wrote StarCraft off as a game that was obviously quite good since everyone else loved it, but it just wasn’t for me.
Now, here we are, in the year 2010. StarCraft II has finally been released and I purchased and downloaded the game on launch day. I went into the game not sure what to expect, but the opening movie certainly was a lot of fun to watch. You have to commend Blizzard, they’re definitely the best in their field when it comes to cutscenes and videos.
Before I share my thoughts on StarCraft II, which I’ll say I’m quite a fan of just to get that out of the way, I feel that I should touch upon what the story is behind the game for those who aren’t aware.
StarCraft is centered around three races. First is the standard human race, the Terrans. The second race is the Zerg, alien insectoids that assilimate, destroy, and more. To me, they’re sort of like a cross between the Borg from Star Trek and the Scourge from Warcraft, the latter clearly being inspired by the Zerg since they came later. The third and final race is the Protoss, an advanced civilization that wishes to preserve their way of life and maintain balance in a way. The Protoss are your standard enlightened race. Warhammer has the Eldar, Warcraft has the Night Elves, and StarCraft has the Protoss.
StarCraft II opens with the protagonist of the initial campaign, Jim Raynor, is working at overthrowing the corrupt Emperor Mengsk. Raynor was essentially an enforcer of the law in the original StarCraft, but now he is bit of a cross between rebel and revolutionary. With his group known as Raynor’s Raiders, Jim Raynor helps out planets that are being bullied by the Emperor and his Dominion Empire. Things take a turn for the worse however when the Zerg, who had not been seen for several years, makes a sudden appearance and begins attacking numerous planets. It’s up to Jim Raynor to deal with the Zerg threat while also working to do something with the Dominion.
The story that is told in the game’s Terran campaign is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in an RTS. Between missions, players are put into either Raynor’s favourite bar or his spaceship (depending on where you are in the game) and you are able to talk to NPCs, conduct research, check out various photographs and trophies, and even watch TV. It’s really neat and I found myself spending several minutes at a time enjoying Raynor’s ship before taking on new missions.
Completing missions rewards you with currency that you can spend on research or upgrades, or even mercenaries who you can call upon during missions.
Regarding the missions and how the game plays, there isn’t a lot of innovation here and most of what was in the original StarCraft is in here. If you know how to play the original, then you’ll have no problems jumping into StarCraft II and doing well immediately.
Even those who have never played the original game should have no problem, as this is just your typical RTS fare. Collect resources using units trained at your main base, and use your resources to train soldiers and provide them with upgrades. It’s nothing that we haven’t done before, so it’s difficult to get lost in this game. Several difficulty settings also allow you to play the game at a level you are comfortable with.
The graphics in StarCraft II range from slightly above average to simply amazing. Ingame mission graphics are usually just above the average mark for the most case, though I must admit that some units look pretty badass. The scenery usually isn’t much to look at, and I find it peculiar that wilderness maps are more interesting to look at than city/ruin maps. A few missions that take part in ruined cities feel really bland and you get the feeling that Blizzard didn’t put as much work into them as they did with the other maps. They’re still good and are fun to play on, but there is just something missing from them.
Where the graphics shine are in cinematics, cutscenes, and in between missions on Raynor’s ship. Cutscene models look very impressive. There are a few jaggies and unusual spots of texturing, but overall the models look great. The only problem I have with them is that most of the Terran characters do not seem to be able to convey many facial emotions well. Most of the characters have stiff faces that don’t change expression much, even when they are laughing or growling angrily. It’s a little odd to say the least, but it’s actually pretty easy to overlook.
Cinematics are an entirely different story. As expected from Blizzard, the cinematics are simply beautiful. Honestly, I can’t really say much more than this. They just look utterly fantastic. Faces move realistically and textures are very convincing. Animations of characters, guns, aliens, and anything else you name are very believable as well. The cinematics really are among the best out there, if not the best.
The sounds of StarCraft II are just as good. Background music during missions often possesses a sort of southern rock style that I find to be extremely catchy. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised to hear Sweet Home Alabama playing in the cafeteria of Raynor’s ship, too. Music aside, the sound effects themselves are good for an RTS. Voice work is good, and amusing at times (medics make a funny Star Trek reference by saying, “Please state the nature of the medical emergency.”), and the sounds of gun fire, explosions, and alien growls are all very sufficient. There’s not much that I can fault about StarCraft II’s sound department. Blizzard did a fantastic job of making the game sound very great, and not even once did anything I hear annoy me.
Online play typically plays a large role in StarCraft II. Since the game only ships with one campaign at the moment, it’s not too surprising online play is the focus of StarCraft II. Online play is done through Blizzard’s Battle.net service, which was recently updated to include all sorts of new social networking features. There is no more LAN support, which I still find a little peculiar.
Playing on Battle.net involves joining ladder games, which can move you up or down in the overall rankings based on your performance and results. There is also a matchmaking system that matches players of similar abilities, so a newcomer to StarCraft II is unlikely to go up against the National StarCraft Champion of South Korea or whatever. Basically, if you suck then you’ll be matched against other people who suck, and if your playing abilities are godly then you will be matched against other deity-like players. It’s a good system, and I commend Blizzard on implementing it.
The game also comes with a powerful editor. If you have used the world editors for either StarCraft or Warcraft III, then you will know what to expect here – a very functional and powerful editor in which the sky is the limit. Expect the community to churn out some really creative and fun maps.
With more official singleplayer campaigns on the horizon, a powerful modding tool, and an online community that will remain very strong for many years to come, it’s easy to see why StarCraft II is a worthy investment. Diehard fans of the original will love the game to bits, and those like me who are simply fans of Blizzard games will also find something to enjoy here. This is probably the best RTS I have ever played, and for good reason. The gameplay is solid, the story telling is superb, and the online services are absolutely perfect.
StarCraft II, undoubtedly 2010’s game of the year. Don’t miss out on this game. Buy it or get a friend to let you try it. You won’t regret it.