Almost like looking back in time.
A lot has changed in the world in 12 years. With the major worldwide news aside, things have also changed in the world of gaming. Consoles have pretty much taken over, with the latest machines all offering online gaming, something which was until recently only for the PC gamer, with varying degrees of success (I’m looking at you, Wii). Look at all of the games that we have been able to play in the last 12 years, and how much they have advances in both gameplay and graphics. We now live in a gaming world where we are spoilt for choice and only the very best games are worthy of mass consumption.
The Real-Time Strategy market has also been through changes. Although many attempts have been made, the genre has met limited success when trying to make the transition to console. But the genre is still going strong in the PC market, with some truly outstanding games in recent years. Each new generation of RTS games have made improvements and streamlined the genre. Not only have the graphics and production values improved, but the gameplay has changed from the old gather resources/build units formula of the past.
So here we are, in the year 2010, and Blizzard, creators of the most popular RTS game of all time, have finally released StarCraft II. After 12 years of waiting, you would be forgiven for expecting a game that builds upon the advancements made by other games in the genre. But what you get instead is the same gameplay as the original StarCraft from 1998. What the hell have Blizzard been doing for the last 12 years?
Ok, before I get lynched, maybe I should point something out. The original StarCraft still is today an incredible game. The campaign is very involving, but where the game really shines is in the online gaming arena. It is the most popular RTS game in the world. So why would Blizzard want to mess with that? What would be the point? For all of the advancements that have been made in the RTS genre, the fact that a game from 1998 still remains so popular is something that Blizzard were obviously aware of, so the gameplay remains untouched. But every other aspect of the game has been improved upon to make it fit in the year 2010, and maybe carry it for another 12 years?
The campaign gives the player control of Rebel Commander Jim Raynor. For those that have not played the original game, or the expansion, there is a worthy recap of the events that have lead up to the story in this game. When not flexing their RTS muscles, the player gets to hang out in the four areas of his Battlecruiser, chatting with the various characters that can be found loitering within. It is here that the game has been most obviously advanced. interacting with the characters can build on the ever more complex storyline and give access to various upgrades. There is even a shoot-em up arcade game in the Cantina that can be played to let off some steam.
During the missions, the player will amass credits that can then be spent within the ship on a variety of things. The hiring of mercenaries gives the player a limited number of units that can be deployed quickly and easily on the battlefield, once the correct building has been constructed. These units are generally more powerful than their standard equivalents, and the speed with which they can be deployed makes them the ideal emergency choice for getting out of tight spots.
There are also two upgrade routes. The player can purchase upgrades for individual units or buildings, allowing for enhancements such as extra armour or increased range, improving upon the basic troop/building type. New technologies can also be researched, paid for with alien artifacts that can be found on the battlefields. These technologies offer a choice at each level, meaning that the player must decide carefully which they research. The choice not taken is permanently removed.
Perhaps the most important choice that the player will be making on the Battlecruiser, is which mission to play next. Instead of offering a linear progression from one mission to the next, the player is given the choice of which mission to take, allowing for a variety in mission types that will certainly ease repetition.
Newcomers to the game need not worry too much about becoming overwhelmed, unless they plan on jumping into online play, but more on that later. The campaign has a nice learning curve that will slowly ease the player into the complexities of the game, whilst introducing the various Terran units from one mission to the next. This is another benefit of choosing which mission to play next. With different missions unlocking different units, the player will be able to choose when they learn about new units, to a certain degree. I know that personally this wasÂ a major driving force in my choice of missions.
So what are the missions themselves like? Well, Blizzard have managed to gather up a nice variety of different mission types into the game. From holding out for a fixed amount of time or gathering certain items from the battlefield to simple protect the convoy and all out slaughter all of the enemies on the screen, the expected mission types are all present and correct. This is perhaps where the some gamers may feel a little disappointed. Whilst there are a few surprises to be found, the majority of the missions are, although entertaining, fairly run of the mill.
Playing the original StarCraft online was, to all but the most accomplished gamers, a lesson in humility. I personally pretty much gave up after losing a succession of games in mere minutes. Blizzard are fully aware of this fact and have, to a certain degree, made it easier for gamers to hold their own in the online arena, if only by offering some helpful advice.
Playing online gives the player the chance to control the other two races in the StarCraft universe, the Nerg and the Protos. Players will have already learnt all about the Terran forces from the single player campaign. Although the other two races offer a lot of similarities, there are also a lot of differences and, in order to help the player learn these differences, it is encouraged that they play at least a few skirmishes with the AI.
Once the player does make the jump to playing against human opponents, it quickly becomes apparent that the level of skill in the original game is still here in the new game. Experience is the only way to gain this level of skill and, for that reason, Blizzard have decided that, within the new Battle.Net system, the first 50 games will not be counted towards the players overall stats. This will allow the player to practice and gain that much needed experience without affecting their future standings within the StarCraft community.
The production values of StarCraft II are perhaps where the leap to 2010 are most obvious. The game is simply stunning to look at. within the actual missions, be it within the campaign or playing online, the maps, units and buildings are all incredible to watch, with some amazing effects on the battlefield. But coming away from the main game, the rendered cut scenes are all finished to such a high standard and the Battlecruiser areas are so well done that it shows the game to belong firmly within 2010. With some incredible voice acting, superb battlefield noises and atmospheric background sounds, the audio is finished to as high a standard as the visuals.
Those of you who have yet to experience StarCraft are in for a treat. Although the core gameplay, the resource gathering, building and creating of units, has not changed, this is something that should be applauded. Anyone with a passing interest in RTS gaming will find that StarCraft II is the pinnacle of that genre. The single player campaign is of such a high standard that it will be remembered for ages to come and will become the thing of Internet legend. The multiplayer is as unforgiving as ever, yet is guaranteed to have followers until far into the future and will likely become the standard for competitive RTS gaming around the world.
After 12 years, StarCraft fans were rightly expecting something amazing. Blizzard have delivered in bucketloads, offering a game that actually surpasses what was expected. It is not the perfect game, but it is as close as any. It may be a while until we see StarCraft III, but I think that this can tide us over until then.