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cup.gif (5516 bytes)Ups:Terrific single player campaign; improved gamplay balance; great new units. 
Downs: No sign of next expansion set.
System Reqs:
Pentium-90, 16 MB RAM,  80 MB hard drive space, 2x CD ROM, SVGA video card.  
brood1.jpg (8935 bytes)Computer game sequels are a lot like movie sequels. Most of the time, they just aren’t as good as the original, like, say, Jaws and Jaws II. Less often, they share certain thematic qualities, but vary so much stylistically they almost seem different animals entirely, like Alien and Aliens. Very rarely, a sequel not only manages to rise to the level of its original, but improves it, continuing the story in such a way that the interplay between the narratives and characters of the films adds depth and complexity to both of them. Films like this are rare enough, like the Star Wars trilogy or the Godfather and Godfather II, and games like this are even rarer. Brood War is one of these rare games. First, it continues and improves upon Starcraft’s compelling narrative, surely one of the game’s strongest points. It also introduces new units that mesh well into the game’s background and general feel, but which also address play balance problems in Starcraft. Brood War also throws in three new tilesets, an improved editor and multiplayer game, and a great single player campaign. Starcraft is a great game; Brood War makes it even greater.

brood2.jpg (13683 bytes)Brood War introduces seven new units to the Starcraft universe. That may not seem like much, especially when compared to the overwhelming amount of new units in expansion packs like Total Annihilation’s Core Contingency, but as always Blizzard is more interested in quality than quantity. Each of the units remedies select weaknesses in the races, resulting in much more balanced gameplay. One reason we know the game is balanced is because so many people on the forum keep asserting how unbalanced it is—how Protoss can always whip Terrans or Terrans can beat Zerg. Unfortunately, just as many people will argue exactly the opposite. One of the best things the new units do (plus some upgrades and changes to existing units and structures) is make the rush tactic a much less effective one. It’s a lot tougher to send a passel of zerglings or zealots out early in the game and expect the big payoff you got previously.

brood3.jpg (14776 bytes)The Terran’s new units are the Medic and the Valkyrie Missile Frigate. Medics automatically patch up wounded troops (including allies!) and can also cast restoration, which removes troublesome spells and viruses like plague, parasite, and even the evil ghost lockdown. While they can’t engage directly in combat, they do have a nifty optic flare, a weapon that blinds enemy units. It’s a nice remedy for pesky observer and detector units, and can even render siege tanks useless. The Valkyrie, on the other hand, is the best air-to-air unit in the game. It’s heavily armored, fires missiles in volleys of fourteen, does a lot of splash damage, and is thus absolute hell on mutalisks. This unit takes the dreaded mutie rush out of play. Any Zerg player who tries this tactic against a halfway intelligent Terran player is in for a very unpleasant surprise. Another balance issue here that has nothing to do with gameplay is that both of these units are female. It’s nice to see that some thoughtful people at Blizzard consider women to be part of the human race’s future, dark as that future may be.

brood4.jpg (16456 bytes)The Zerg get some great new units as well, although most will find the Lurker to be more useful than the Devourer. The Lurker is a heavy defense warrior mutated from hydralisks. Defenseless above ground, it wreaks havoc upon units when burrowed, shooting waves of spines into unwary formations of enemy troops regardless of how heavily armored they might be. It is a king-hell ground defense, and addresses the problem that Zerg used to have once their perimeter defenses were penetrated. It’s just a lovely, lovely unit. The Devourer fills a more specific need. It’s an flying air-to-air unit that has a low rate of fire but packs a terrific punch. It won’t do much against wraiths or scouts, but that’s not what it’s for. The Devourer is specifically designed as the Zerg’s answer to the too-common Terran late game tactic of unleashing packs of battle cruisers upon their enemies. Devourers, supported by muties, will make short work of ‘em.

brood5.jpg (16033 bytes)The Protoss get three new units—the Corsair medium support fighter, the Dark Templar, and the Dark Archon. The Corsair is pretty useful; it’s cheap, so you can build a lot of them, and in packs their neutron flares can ravage enemy fliers. Their most impressive attribute is the disruption web. Fired from range, it prevents enemy units on the ground or air from attacking. It’s terrific for taking out static ground defenses, and really earns its keep when teamed with scouts or used as part of an assault on enemy positions. The Dark Templar actually showed up as a special unit in Starcraft; it’s a regular part of your forces now. They’re always cloaked, are armed with deadly close combat warp blades, and give the Protoss a sorely-needed stealth unit. They look really cool, too. Merge two of these bad boys together and viola! you get the Dark Archon, the Protoss’ third unit and the game’s most controversial addition. The Dark Archon has no conventional attack, but has some powerful psychic powers, including Feedback, which drains energy from and inflicts damage upon enemy units, and Maelstrom, which momentarily stuns organic enemy units over a wide area. And then there’s Mind Control, which allows you to take over enemy units and use them against their owners. In fact, you could even steal aTerran SCV and start building your own Terran base. This caused a lot of controversy in Starcraft forums, as it appeared to be an extremely powerful—maybe too powerful--feature. But in practice, it’s pretty difficult to sneak up on a stray SCV, and very expensive to build a new base—but it’s still a nasty spell.

Graphically, the game’s not much different than Starcraft, which is a good-looking game anyway. There are three new tilesets added—desert, snow, and twilight—and while they add some aesthetic variety to the game, they play much like the other sets. The new units look very nice, the new effects (especially disruption web) are very cool, and the new music is an improvement over the original’s. The new editor looks to be updated with the new tilesets and triggers, and loads of new SCMs should soon be flooding the web. There are no significant changes to the interface—if it’s not broke . . .

brood6.jpg (13262 bytes)Good as all of these improvements are, the best thing about Brood War is the single-player campaign. It picks up where the Starcraft campaign left off, and, as the title suggests, is centered upon who (or what) will control the Zerg broods, though there are many subplots that complicate the narrative. Most of your friends (those that survived, that is) from the first game are here, so expect to run into Raynor and Duke and Fenix and Mengsk and Zeratul. And you’ll see a lot of that charming little minx Kerrigan, too. Lots of new characters get added to the mix, and lots of them have their own little agendas. One of them, the Protoss matriarch, is yet another cool example of the increased female presence in the Starcraft saga.

There are eight Protoss, eight Terran, and ten Zerg missions, played in that order, and they are tough missions, much tougher than the original’s. They aren’t impossible, but it’ll take a bit of thought to win most of them. The campaign provides lots of twists and turns, and you’ll often wonder whom to trust, and with good reason. All of the races endure internal struggles in the game, and each race will find itself embroiled in intra- as well as inter-racial strife. You’ll also find some really weird alliances, as Zerg team up with Protoss, Protoss with Terran, and Terran with Zerg. Much to Blizzard’s credit, this never seems merely chaotic or forced. The narrative always provides a good reason for such odd bedfellows. The voice acting and cinematics are excellent throughout, and add considerably to the narrative’s suspension of disbelief. And though the official word from Blizzard is that no more expansion packs are in the works, the campaign’s ending certainly leaves plenty of room for yet another sequel.

For the legions of hardcore Starcraft fans out there, this is a must-have. Hell, even casual Starcraft fans should pick up a copy of Brood War. It’s a typical Blizzard game—classy, highly polished, and an unbelievable amount of fun.

--Rick Fehrenbacher & Al Wildey