• StarCraft 2: At Long Last

    As any Blizzard fan can tell you, the most played Blizzard release is called The Waiting Game. As a game manufacturer, they are notorious for long periods between releases. Generally, the consensus is that the games they release are worth the wait. And now here we are, 12 years after the release of StarCraft, and slightly shy of 12 years since the release of StarCraft: Brood War (both were released in '98, the original in March and the expansion in December). We've beaten every level of The Waiting Game on every difficulty setting, earned all the achievements, and then played it a few more times for good measure. At long last, StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty has been released.

    But has it been worth the wait?Gameplay:
    The gameplay is, well, it's huge. For that reason, I'll be splitting it into three subsections: Storyline, Advancement, and Missions.

    Storyline: I give this a section within gameplay because, for me and those like me, a game's single player storyline is as integral to the gameplay as the actual controlling of game characters, through the game environment. I will like a game 10 times better if it has a fittingly engaging story than if it simply has fun-to-play game mechanics (which is why I really enjoyed the second and third Halo installments, while many upon many snubbed them as cheap, less fun copies of the first).

    StarCraft 2 delivers. While others may not agree, I found the continuation of the Terran (and total) story arc very engaging. For me, the story made up for some of the few places where the other parts of the gameplay may have lacked. I found it sufficiently twisting, and true to the original Terran story arc, sufficiently soap operaesque. I found myself continuing to play simply to get farther into the story, and the conclusion (no worries, I won't spoil it) sufficiently satisfactory while leaving it open ended to continue in the forthcoming installments.

    Storyline - 95/100

    Advancement: The place between the missions, where most of the tech ups and story advancement took place, was almost an entirely different game in and of its self. As an added bonus, for those that like easter eggs, there was even an arcade game you could play at your leisure; a fun little top-down scroller spaceship game a la Galaga. While it certainly wasn't integral to the game, it made for amusing breaks, and I've wasted more than a little time playing it.

    This the area where you handle your tech ups in the single player mode. By visiting the Armory, Cantina (where our fun arcade game resides), or the Laboratory, you can spend either cash or research to upgrade your units, or purchase unique units (in the Lab). Money and research are obtained from the missions (more on this in a minute), and research is divided into either Zerg or Protoss research. Upon reaching each tier in Protoss or Zerg research, you're left with a choice between 2 different advancements, but choose wisely, as choosing one eliminates the ability to choose the other. The same can be said for Merc purchasing (Cantina) and/or unit and building upgrades (Armory). You'll only make so much money.

    While in this area, you can also get insights into the other characters around you by talking to them, as well as watch the Dominion's spin on your accomplishments with each finished mission (watch the TV in the Cantina).

    This is also the place you choose your missions, by going to the Bridge. From the Bridge, you can replay previous missions, watch previous cut-scenes and cinematics (the game simply calls them all cinematics, but I separate the two types; more on that in a bit). Here at the bridge you can see which missions are available to you, plus see what type of research or cash award you will get. Most missions also come with a new unit as well. By clicking on each planet, the above info, as well as a mission briefing will be available for perusal, along with a voiced description of the mission by whichever character is offering it. The different characters offer different mission paths, each with their own completion. Be wary, however, as by choosing the mission to Char (as you near the end of the game), any incomplete missions will no longer be available.


    Oh, I almost forgot, after a certain point in the "Artifact" mission path, you will be visited by Zeratul (our old Protoss Dark Templar buddy) who will give you a device. This device offers another path of missions, available from the Laboratory.

    This entire area of story extras, tech advancements, mission selection and other things was nearly enough to sell me on the game all on its own. This is a vast improvement on the original game's handling of between missions (and mission briefings).

    Advancement - 98/100

    Missions: A friend of mine said, "It's like they tried so hard to capture the original game's re playability, the thing that made it a competitive gaming phenomenon in Asia, that they were afraid to change anything about it." In some ways, this is very true. The gameplay has a purist feel to it. Gone is the micromanaging, pseudo-RPG, Hero play of WarCraft 3 (and good riddance), and it is back to basics. Build a bunch of troops, send them to their death (or victory), and build some more. Now, however, you can control way more units at a time (unlike the max of 12 units per group of the original game). In fact, I'm not sure I ever even noticed a limit. This, to me, is great.

    What is not great, however, is that in 2010 I still can't rotate my view around. Up is up, down is down, left is left and right is right, and no amount of clicking, dragging, cursing or crying will change it. But I can zoom in! ... a bit. I certainly can't zoom out any farther, though. Which would be nice, so that maybe I could scale back to get a full view of my base and not have to see only a portion at a time. This would especially be handy to watch my borders for an attack.

    I mean, c'mon! This is the type of basic environment control that a cheesy 10 buck, tower defense, indy, Steam release called Sol Survivor can accomplish, why can't this fairly well advanced 60 buck game do it?

    That being said, as much as it irked me when I began mission one, I rapidly stopped noticing the lack once I was immersed in the game. So I suppose, if that is the case, it couldn't have detracted from the gameplay that much. But really, you're using 3D tech, why the hell is the main part of the game (the missions) coming at me in practically 2D? More on this in the Graphics section.

    Beyond that, I found the missions enjoyable to play. While many were of the "build this base, attack that base" style, most were diverse enough to give each mission a unique flavor. Added to that were the optional objectives (not always easy to accomplish on the more timed missions), which by accomplishing, you earned your lab research (or sometimes extra cash). By far, for me, the most fun to play were the missions where I didn't have to build a base, but instead take a small group of units through an area to complete an objective (notably the Tosh path final mission, and the Nydus cave mission on Char).

    All and all, the detractors of limited viewpoint aside, the missions had worthwhile gameplay and serious fun factor.

    Missions - 89/100

    Gameplay - 95/100

    Graphics:

    With any Blizzard game, one always takes note of the Cinematics. Often they are cutting-edge and beautiful to behold. In this game, they did two types of Cinematics; which I call Cinematics - the gloriously rendered, movie-like scenes that help propel the story along in a wash of eye candy; and the Cut-Scenes - less rendered (with hardly any anti-aliasing at all, oddly enough) moments, that were mainly dialog between Raynor and one or two of the other main characters.

    The Cinematics (by my definition) were, of course, beautiful. The Cut-Scenes, however, while certainly decently done, were not mind-blowing by any sense of the word. That was really OK with me, however, as it likely cut down on the processing and never once did I have a hang-up or choppy moment. In fact, the game has run as smooth as silk on my system, both in the Advancement area and within the Missions, as well as the Cut-Scenes and Cinematics.

    The mission graphics, on the other hand, were nearly painfully basic. Not as bad as if you were to load up the original game right this second, but certainly not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination. This is common for Blizzard, it seems. I recall similar statements made when Diablo 2 released: that the graphics were only marginally better than the first. What I DO remember of that time, much as with right now, the game ran as smooth as smooth could be, even in online play. I feel Blizzard does this to make their games run smoothly for a wider audience range.

    One thing I will admit, however, is that the Zerg side of things looks fantastic, even with graphics that wouldn't make the average Id Software fan blink. They have a much more organic feel, the creep looks great, and for me, watching the structure mutation (you know, when you plant the drone and it grows a building) almost always makes me pause to watch... which is not good to do in multi-player, by the way.

    So over all, the graphics are nothing staggering, with the obvious exception of the Cinematics, but the game is highly playable and runs smooth. I guess I can deal with function over form, can't you?

    Graphics - 80/100

    Sound:
    I should start by saying that I don't have Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound anything on my PC. I've got a very decent Plantronics Wireless headset that gets the job done with good quality sound. This is, however, the perspective I am rating the sound on.

    And it's good. The in Mission sound is immersive and at the very least directional (no surround sound, so I can't say if it's 360 degrees of directional, though). The varied sounds of harvesting, building, death and destruction have definitely been ramped up since the original game; which one would hope after 12 years. The Zerg, especially, sound positively... gooey and organic. I love the Zerg sound elements, from the Overlords spreading creep, to the pustule-popping noises of the creep tumors popping up, to the varied grunts and gurgles of the units themselves. But... why the hell does the voice that tells you to "spawn more Overlords" sound like an infested version of the announcer woman from TF2?!

    The voice acting and dialog was well done as well. Some of the actors reprized their roles from the first game, but a notable exception is Kerrigan, now voiced by none other than Tricia Helfer. While Tricia is a welcome addition to any party (I'm having one in a couple weeks, Tricia, your invitation is in the mail.), I've always been a fan of acting continuity. Being pretty good with voice recognition, I immediately noticed Kerrigan's voice was different, while Raynor and Mengsk remained the same. Not as bad, I suppose, as trying to pass off Julianne Moore as the same character as Jodie Foster (Clarice Starling) but still something that niggles at me.

    But, as I said, Tricia + Any Party = Welcome.

    On an additional note, the background music during the missions (in campaign mode, there's not a lot of time to stop and pay attention to the music in multiplayer) is very reminiscent of the Firefly series, whether by accident or by design. The melodies are still very StarCraft Terran campaign (recognizable from the first game), but the undertones and instrumentation has the slightly western feel that gave Firefly its flavor. This gives me a sense of nostalgia and generally makes me happy as I hear it.

    Sound - 90/100

    Multiplayer and Teamplay:

    To use a bit of gamer speak: "Oh noes! Teh Battle.net is not teh same!!!!!11"

    Good. B.Net version one (1.0 or whatever the fuck), was like IRC with Cerebral Palsy; with all the inherent ad spamming, a/s/l, and other bullshit associated with chat programs of that nature. Like AOL Chat rooms, only more ridiculous. The channel system was cumbersome and the whole experience was generally unappealing. So what did we do to compensate? We'd get a hold of our friends we game with via outside means, pre-arrange at time, log into b.net at the designated time, and dart our way through the "public" b.net channels like a rich guy driving through the ghetto because he has no other choice ("Don't make eye contact, man, don't do it!!"), groan inwardly because that still wasn't fast enough to avoid 5 spam messages advertising member enlargement pills, to meet at a pre-designated private channel with a password so none of the riff-raff can find you. Then you create a private game with a password that no one else can get into.

    What a fucking chore.

    Now we have a new, and in my never-humble opinion, much improved system. It's called a buddy list (imagine that!). You add your friends, either by player name and ident number (for those that like their gamer privacy) or by email (for those unafraid to give their real name). From there, you can send them messages while they are in game, form parties, do whatever you need to do. Forming a party is simple, just have a guy start inviting people in. From there they can play whatever type of game mode they want, whether it's co-op versus the PC, or 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, etc, vs each other or connecting to another party to battle against them.

    And there's functioning voip! It didn't work, at first, but they seem to have patched in a fix rather quickly (Hey EA and Dice, you taking notes?). It doesn't have the best sound quality, but it has the benefit of quieting the game sounds so you can hear the person talking when they key up, unlike with using an outside chat program.

    The gameplay, itself, is fairly standard StarCraft multiplayer, though your team placement (if you're on a team) is much more intuitive. In other words, they actually place you near enough to work together and assist each other. This is a rather vast improvement on the old game's tendency to put you as far away from each other as humanly possible, with a pat on the back and a "good luck to you!"

    That being said, it is still a general game of "he who Zergling rushes first wins." Now, with the right playing style, this tactic can be countered, but even still, it'd be nice to see something new. I can't really fault the game mechanics, though, because without placing some arbitrary "forced cease fire" counter in at the beginning of the game, there's really no help for it. And believe me, any game that would add that type of counter to a game loses my respect.

    In short, the multiplayer is as fun as ever, and with the addition to voip and better team placements, the coordination and teamwork is that much better.

    Multiplayer/Teamplay - 98/100

    To Sum Up:

    The answer to my original question is: yes, yes it was worth the wait. I will admit that in my more snarky moments I was sorely tempted to give this game 1/3 of a score, since they only gave me 1/3 of a game to play, but I have to admit: they convinced me. The single player is long and immersive enough to give me the feeling that I've played a full game, and add the multiplayer to it and you've sealed the deal. Will I feel the same once the other two installments release? I guess that depends on if they really try to wring 60 more bucks out of me each time. I have, after all, already bought the multiplayer once, so I'll have no need to buy it again with the next campaign.

    Time will tell, but as for this installment, I am well pleased.

    TeamPlayer Rating - 96/100

    PC Minimum System Requirements*:
    Windows® XP/Windows Vista®/Windows® 7 (Updated with the latest Service Packs) with Directs® 9.0c
    2.6 GHz Pentium® IV or equivalent AMD Athlon® processor
    128 MB PCIe NVIDIA® GeForce® 6600 GT or ATI Radeon® 9800 PRO video card or better
    12 GB available HD space
    1 GB RAM (1.5 GB required for Windows Vista®/Windows® 7 users)
    DVD-ROM drive
    Broadband Internet connection
    1024X720 minimum display resolution
     
    Mac Minimum System Requirements:
    Mac® OS X 10.5.8, 10.6.2 or newer
    Intel® Processor
    NVIDIA® GeForce® 8600M GT or ATI Radeon® X1600 or better
    12 GB available HD space
    2 GB Ram
    DVD-ROM drive
    Broadband Internet connection
    1024X720 minimum display resolution
      
    Reviewer System:
    AMD Athlon(tm) 64 FX-60 Dual Core Processor, MMX, 3DNow (2 CPUs), ~2.6GHz
    2816MB RAM
    300 GB HD (76 GB free)
    NVIDIA GeForce 7900 GTX
    Windows XP Professional
    Display Resolution - 1920x1080
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Solstatic's Avatar
      Solstatic -
      An amazing game, much better than I expected.
    1. PizzaSHARK!'s Avatar
      PizzaSHARK! -
      Thoroughly disagree with a lot of what you said, and quite a lot is just outright wrong... but it's all been covered in the SC2 subforums, so I'll save the tirade. I'd still rate the game as a solid 85 or so, though.

      Not sure if it's worth $60, though. Not as a single-player game.
    1. Walkerxes's Avatar
      Walkerxes -
      Oh please, do tell.
    1. QuickLightning's Avatar
      QuickLightning -
      I still say a lot of the story went right over Pizza's head... Especially if he thinks the whole crew was gun-ho about going to edit: removing spoilers... to that planet in the end.

      Good review. Well done walker.
    1. kyle700's Avatar
      kyle700 -
      "he who Zergling rushes first wins."

      I don't own SC2, but I like watching Day9's stream, and that has never, ever been the case lol...

      And I don't think the main point of SC is single player. It's a MP game.
    1. Kanati's Avatar
      Kanati -
      Don't matter if it's main point is single player... they actually put together a good single player game. It is, I do believe, the first RTS that I've actually finished the single player game on (and boy have I played a lot of RTS). And not only that, I actually ENJOYED pretty much every bit of it. I have yet to play multi as a matter of fact. On more than one RTS I flat out ignored the single player and jumped into skirmish or multi immediately.

      And with my vast experience with RTS games, I find it hard to believe, given the mechanics I've seen thus far, that this game is going to be anything BUT a "rush" game once I do get into it's multi. I will say, however, that it's a rare RARE find in the RTS genre that can do away with the rush game entirely. And I can't really think of any off the top of my head but I do think I've played a few in the distance past.

      Oh, and nobody listens to Pizza... he hates everything.