Starcraft was one of the most widely played games of all time and in the Far East millions of people are still addicted. Blizzard have been working on the sequel for many years now and with a budget of over $100 million spent we have high hopes that this sequel will live up to Blizzard’s reputation for creating the most playable and addictive games on the planet.
Living up to the critical acclaim of StarCraft is going to be some task and while many other strategy games have tried to ‘redefine’ the Real Time Strategy genre, Blizzard have opted to keep it as pure and simple as possible. When I first fired the game up to play, I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had managed to capture the ‘feel’ of the original while updating the graphics to meet modern day gamer demands.
StarCraft 2 revolves around base building and unit production and strategy purists are just going to love the way Blizzard have implemented it all – they aren’t trying to push into new territory with elaborate or complex mechanics, they have ignored developments in the last 5 years and have remained true and firm to their own system mechanics which made the original title such a monumental success (and a joy to play).
Installing the game isn’t something we often talk about, but the production values shine through as you are narrated through the whole backstory of the title while being presented with beautiful still, comic book imagery of the highest calibre. This is something we loved to see because while I am a Starcraft veteran of many years the Blizzard universe weaves a rich and daring tapestry which could be overwhelming if you were to just jump into the game without a clue as to who the Zerg or Protos are and why they are here.
The install takes about 10 minutes, even on a fast system, but I suspect the installer is geared to slow down on fast machines, just so the user can follow the scripting and story elements presented. It is well worth absorbing in detail.
One of the new and key elements within the game is what the player can do between missions. You can select to travel to various rooms within a host battlecruiser ship and interact with other crew members, while purchasing various upgrades for both units and buildings. You also select your mission path from here, because while the game is obviously linear by nature you are given the open option of how you wish to proceed and which missions you want to tackle first.
There are four ship areas, and by clicking on any person in the rooms you interact and get further information on the story and the progress. This isn’t a Mass Effect style mechanic, its strictly a scripted interface, but it really adds wonderfully to the overall enjoyment of the experience. You research technologies, purchase new weapons and can even hire mercanaries and listen to various bands on the jukeboxes. All of this seems minor, but when looking down at it from the overall ‘big picture’ it all adds to the immersive skillset of Blizzard on sucking the player into the futuristic world. Hours simply pass by like minutes.
The game offers a wealth of upgrade options which not only reward the player but enhance the feeling of being in a living, thriving world environment. The learning curve in particular is a lesson to other developers as to how it should be done. New buildings, upgrades and units are delivered just when you need them and the research paths taken also help to enhance your particular playing style. The Terran bunkers for instance will always remain a firm favourite of mine, and in StarCraft 2 they are given a beautiful makeover with a fine selection of upgrade choices to help defend a base.
The units on offer are staggering and every one of them has been meticulously hand crafted, if you pause the game and zoom in as far as you can, there are no shortcuts taken, and it goes some way to explain why this game has taken so long to release and so much to produce.
Ascertaining which units are the best for each given job is a trial in itself and one of the Terran missions in particular where you have to defend your base by night and attack by day is worth the asking price of the game alone. It really is that good. The fast moving, flame throwing jeeps were a blast to play with.
There are so many units which receive that special ‘Blizzard magic’ and one of my other favourites is the Viking Jet which can transform into a walking unit, and then fly away when needed. It gives such a versatile facet to a simple unit that makes it so much more than a simple air based attack force. My colleague played this with me for quite some time and I was fascinated to see that his personal unit choices were completely different to my own. This gives a good indication that balancing during play testing has also been a focal point for the development team as I have yet to find a single unit which ‘ruins’ the game, due to it being overpowered or incorrectly designed.
The fine balancing between high octane Real Time Strategy masterpiece and story driven cut scene media showcase is again a presentation of why Blizzard generate so much money. They have such a clear vision of how a game needs to work that when they come to create it, the solid foundation is already in place.
Presentation is absolutely first class, with all the characters having both strong graphic design and voice acting. There are literally hundreds of sections I still have fresh in my mind which is a rare thing for me in todays gaming environment. The actors really do deserve some credit because I couldn’t find one who wasn’t capable of an A list movie delivery. Tychus steals the show, and everyone who has seen or played this game agrees.
The pacing is sublime – each level isn’t over in a few minutes, and several will take many hours to master but you never feel as if you need to escape the game to come back to a less than wonderful game level. Every level I played drew me into the overall story and I really wanted to be a success so I could return to the ship to speak to the crew and work on my next series of upgrades.
The game levels are presented to the player in the shape of planetary conflicts, and a single NPC will interact with you regarding those series of missions, offering information, tips …. basically ideas on a consultant level. All of the planets offer a variety of mission types and I can honestly say I don’t think I experienced any boredom at all, except for perhaps a few missions when I was tasked in killing every single unit on the map which meant wandering around every single meter to hunt down all the Zerg.
In regards to graphics, the game runs well on any modern hardware and I played the game with a HD5770 graphics card and a mid range AMD Quad Core processor. Not an expensive system by KitGuru standards, but more than capable of setting everything to ULTRA/HIGH at 1920×1200. This game hasn’t been designed as a Crysis style ‘power demander’, but more a ‘Valve Source style engine’, with subtle fine detail on every created surface as well as gorgeous lighting effects … more importantly it open Blizzard sales to a huge audience as people will be able to enjoy this game without running to the store for a 2k upgrade inside their PC. Kudos to Blizzard as they have clearly opted for the ‘lets focus on the gameplay first’ approach. Don’t get me wrong however, the graphics are still gorgeous.
The Multiplayer element of the game is not something I have spent considerable time with yet and even though ive been playing the beta for months, I still feel I need more time to give a complete analysis on this side of the game, this is why ill be following this review up later with another focused primarily on multiplayer elements. Obviously all of the three main Starcraft races are catered for with the Terran (Humans), Zerg (HR Giger type monsters) and the Protos (futuristic myserious race) on offer. All of these are tied into the core resource elements, gas and minerals to earn enough to build units and other buildings.
The way they go about it all however is significantly different because each race has their own style of production. Humans create via builder units, much like we would in real life while the Zerg metamorphise into different forms with pulsating (and gross) skin mutatations aplenty. The Protos use their scientific robotic skills and advanced brain powers to create their own units and buildings – this means you get completely different play styles between the three races and this opens up a huge array of game styles for each player.
StarCraft 2 is assuredly a masterpiece, there is no other way to describe it. You can kiss days and weeks away of your life once you get into the game and while the gameplay itself hasn’t evolved much, this is a deliberate decision from Blizzard which we admire. Why should everything always be ‘new’ and ‘fresh’ to be good ? They have built upon the core mechanics of the original and updated it in the most important ways for 2010. The story elements and overall game play are top of the field and they deserve to sell many of these games over the next year, we are sure they will.
Production values are exceptional throughout and you really do feel as if you are playing a game which the developers really did care about, even if it meant another 4 month delay and another 1 million in subsequent costs. It shows, and all I can do is recommend you get yourself a copy as soon as possible. They may have taken a decade to get it out, but my god it rocks!
People right now in the UK can walk into Game stores and pick up a boxed copy complete with some lovely artwork from the artists at Blizzard for £34.99. You can also download it online and get an activation code, but this is currently £44.99. I recommend you use your legs and get a physical copy of this, not just for the price difference, but to drool over the stunning artwork.