|To appreciate Blizzards achievement
in producing a game as good as StarCraft, you have to imagine any other company
doing what Blizzard did. This would include 1) releasing a real-time strategy game six
months after everyone agreed RTS had peaked 2) sticking with 2D graphics and sprites at a
time when everyone agrees only 3D acceleration and polygons get it anymore 3) refusing to
be bullied into releasing said game early, no matter what the pressure and 4) last but not
least, in the face of perhaps the most hype ever generated about any computer game,
producing a game entirely lacking in the sort of gimmickry that too often passes for
innovation these days, but which rather focuses on gameplay, game balance, personality and
fun. Starcraft doesnt do anything shockingly new, but Starcraft takes
everything good about real-time strategy and makes it better.
I have to admit, I was skeptical about Starcraft. Like everyone else, Id been expecting to see it on the shelves every day since last September, and after weathering the real-time glut of 1997, I was not sure that anything real-time could impress me. After Dark Reign and Total Annihilation and Age of Empires and Sid Meiers Gettysburg and Mythfine games allI frankly thought that StarCraft couldnt come up with anything to rock my world. I was a fool.
My conversion came shortly into the first missions of the single player campaign. I was feeling pretty smug at this point; Id loaded up Starcraft and played a couple of missions and was thinking, well, its OKthe graphics are very nice, but not the greatest, and the interface is nifty, and the Terrans have got a lot of personality, but so far nothing has sent me into paroxysms of joy. Then came my first Zerg rush. Tasked with defending my base while I awaited evacuation, I was enjoying picking off the occasional Zerg mob. Then, with time ticking down, millions of Zerginhuman, insectoid-like killing machinescame bounding and slithering and creeping onto my screen and into my defences. It was something. It was a spectacle. But mostly it was a rush, one of my most memorable gaming moments, and Ive been hooked ever since. And OK, there werent millions of Zerg, but man, it sure did seem like it--and that any game that can create that sort of illusion has got some serious mojo workin for it.
In the single player campaign, youll get the opportunity to play each of the three racesTerran, Zerg, and Protoss. At first I was somewhat disappointed by the brevity of the first campaign, in which you play the Terransonly ten missions, and upon completing it I felt like there were still a lot of loose ends to be tied up. So I started the Zerg campaign, and I was surprised and pleased to see that the narrative I began in the Terran campaign continued--but this time from the Zerg point of view. This is a very nice and original touch, and emblematic of the care and thought Blizzard has put into every aspect of this game. One of the best things, is, of course, the diversity of the three races. One of the big complaints about Warcraft II was that the units for Orcs and Humans were essentially the same. Thats not the case in Starcraft. Terrans are the Billy Bobs of the Milky Waythey like to shoot stuff up a lot, and their arsenal will be the most familiar to playerstanks, planes, robots, battlecruisers. They have, as all the races do, some really nifty special unitslike science centers, which can detect cloaked units or irradiate enemies, and Ghosts, scout-like units that can sneak into unwary enemy installations and target nukes. The Zerg are much like the aliens from the movie Alien or Tyranids from Warhammer 40Ktheyre big ugly insects that obey the overmind, excell in hand-to-hand combat, and can build their wonderfully disgusting bio-buildings only on a weird carpet of excretion called "creep." The Protoss are the most advanced of the races, beings that have advanced psionic powers, wield energy shields, and have lots of nasty tricks, like teleportation and casting nasty spells, up their sleeves. Theyre also no pushover in a toe-to-toe fight; the Protoss zealot is by far the toughest basic unit of any army, and the Protoss Archons are both beautiful and utterly deadly.
All of these races are very, very, different, butand here I take my hat off to Blizzardnone of them is dominant. All races have strengths and weaknesses, and playing through the campaign is a great way to get a feel for all of them. This balance extends not just to the races, but also to the units within each races army. No one unit will win the battle for you. Unlike Warcraft, you cant just launch the equivalent of an ogre rush and expect to win. All the units are usefuleven the lowly Terran marine is one tough hombre, especially when bunkered upbut none is overpowering. Terran battlecruisers are powerful, but if you send a bunch of them unsupported into your enemys base, theyre history.
Some have complained about the limited number of units in Starcraft, especially when it is compared to some of the other RTS games released this year, but frankly Ive found every unit in Starcraft to useful, unlike many of the units in other games.
Graphics arent amazingby that I mean they arent 3D--but they are very good, as good as any 2D graphics out there, Id say. There are lots of translucency effects, especially with the Protoss, the shadowing is just incredible, and units have lots of personality. Youll have your own favorites, but Im a big fan of the Terran Goliath, Zerg Guardian, and Protoss Archon. The terrain is very good as well, and short of 3D acceleration its hard to think of anything more one could ask for.
Sound effects are very nice. The music is different for each race, and is very atmospheric. And as in Warcraft, the sound effects are both well-done and funny. Many of them include clever references popular culture, from in Robocop to the Simpsons to Gomer Pyle, USMC (!).
As good as the single player campaign is, StarCrafts real strength is its multiplayer capability. You can play for free on Battle.net, and its a blast. You can play the standard free for all, or you can ally with a partner, or you can play games like Slaughter or Capture the Flag. Its enough easy to find a game, and while you will occasionally encounter your run-of-the-mill online cretin, most Battle.net players are good Joes. And if you ever run out of multiplayer maps, the game has the best map editor Ive ever seen. I always plan to get around to using map editors that come with games, but something comes up and I lose interest and I dont. This time I will.
The bottom line with Starcraft is that its just plain fun, and you cant fake that. No matter how much money you pour into a game, no matter how flashy the graphics are, no matter how innovative the interface or features, if the game isnt fun, its not a good game. I dont know how Blizzard does it, but every game they make is fun, and Starcraft is no exception. Heres how good Starcraft is: I review a lot of games, and most of the time I get bored with even the very good ones by the time I finish reviewing them; usually I just want to get on to the next one. But I really hope nobody sends me anything to review for a while, just so I can spend more time with Starcraft.