By A.J. Lansdale
Twelve years ago, gamers heard “You want a piece of me, boy?” in a revolutionary real-time strategy game.
Today, StarCraft players still hear that line as Terran Marines spawn from the barracks. The original game, still widely played on Blizzard’s “Battle.net,” was an inspiration to many modern real-time strategy games that have followed it. Its character-driven story was unique among strategy games of the era, and the game itself has formed a large part of the Internet-nerd culture (“Zerg rush,” “more vespene gas,” etc.).
The next chapter in the series, “StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty,” finally came out on Tuesday. Does it live up to its predecessor and its expectations? Well, it’s a worthy successor to a great game, but it’s far from the revolutionary status that its predecessor attained back in 1998.
The game has three different races: Terrans, Zerg and Protoss. The story campaign in “Wings of Liberty” only includes the Terran campaign, but Zerg and Protoss campaigns will be in subsequent expansions to the main game. All three races are playable in single-player skirmishes and in online play, however.
Terrans, or humans, are a more balanced race that can focus on powerful weapons or quick strikes. The Zerg are generally oriented towards a faster attack, able to create more units in less time, at the expense of power. The Protoss units cost more money and time to build, but most of their units are more powerful and harder to bring down.
The single-player campaign picks up four years after the events of the original “StarCraft” and its expansion, “Brood War.” Jim Raynor, a former soldier-turned-mercenary, fights against the Terran Dominion and its Emperor, Arcturus Mengsk, who betrayed him in the original game. The rebellion doesn’t last long before the Zerg return from hiding and begin wreaking havoc on planets across the sector.
Raynor and his crew then have to balance their attempts at getting enough resources to fight the Dominion with saving innocents from the Zerg swarms.
The campaign is largely run from Raynor’s battlecruiser, the Hyperion. From the ship, you can click on various crew members to hear their advice, head to different rooms of the ship to make upgrades to your forces, hire mercenaries, watch news broadcasts and choose where to head for the next mission. Different mission choices can give more credits or increase peoples’ goodwill towards Raynor’s movement. Cutscenes and mission briefings are more cinematic than last time, as opposed to all parties being on a strange video-conferencing system.
The multiplayer components have undergone some changes of their own. Instead of “Battle.net’s” old system where people join games at random, most of the time you’ll be playing against players of similar skill, depending on how you do in your first five ranked matches, known as “placement matches.” The option for custom, non-ranked games with friends or with varying rules is still present, however. In most games, you’ll have to work fast to build a formidable army, as neither online players nor average AI opponents will let you wait for long, as I’ve found out quite painfully.
Graphically speaking, the game does look like an updated version of StarCraft. The interface is exactly the same, and many of the unit designs are similar, and largely just updated to meet modern graphical standards. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, the units are considerably more detailed, and being able to zoom in and out is a nice touch.
As a whole, StarCraft II is a fun game, and a nice update to one of gaming’s most storied franchises. There’s really nothing new or groundbreaking here, but it’s still a worthwhile buy for fans of the series or of the real-time strategy genre. The changes to the campaign mode are a nice touch, and hopefully the expansions add to the narrative in a good way without costing another $60 each.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I require more vespene gas.