It’s been over a decade since the first Starcraft strafed gamers’ PCs. And by video game standards, well, that’s a very, very, long time ago indeed. Much has changed since then. But fans who’ve been on pins and needles waiting for this sequel will find that the real-time strategy core of what made the original game a huge hit has remained intact. And everything else has simply been buffed to a high-tech sheen.
Never heard of it? Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty is a T-rated RTS PC game that’s currently selling like hotcakes and has the entire gaming community buzzing—partly because this sequel is actually the first of three Starcraft “episodes” which will present the action from different species’ perspectives. This first one is composed of a series of military strategy missions in outer space that are wrapped up in a sort of space-cowboy adventure tale.
Some Assembly Required
The RTS side of the title is well-designed and as straightforward and intuitive as the genre gets. With each mission, players are given a variety of sci-fi military units that they can control and move around on a good-sized map. But before battling bad guys or rescuing good ones, you must manage your resources: building bases, fueling production with local minerals and natural gases, and then building up the forces best suited for the job at hand.
Will you produce a corps of fast-moving marines or a few heavily armored marauders? Will you crank out flame-throwing Hellion dune buggies or a cannon-loaded robot mech? It’s all up to you. And with each mission accomplished, new units are at your command and your strategic choices become more varied.
The missions themselves become more diverse as well. Battle missions, defense missions, rescue missions and race-against-the-clock missions are all part of the mix. For example, one heart-pumping quest demands that forces are mobile enough to stay ahead of a deadly wall of flame that’s slowly enveloping the world they’re on. Another features creatures that can’t stand the sunlight but become incredibly powerful adversaries at night.
Resistance Is Useful
Cutscenes before and after each mission tie the gaming threads together and add a whole new dimension to Starcraft II. They’re elaborate HD creations that are so well-crafted, beautifully scored and character-driven that they almost make the game feel film-like as they explore its intricate storyline.
The 26th-century action follows a large, gruff guy named Jim Raynor. He talks with a Southern growl and can usually be found belly up at the Cantina when he isn’t out leading a rebel force against the current Terran (human) dictator. Raynor also has to deal with two other threats in this neck of the galaxy: the Protoss, a humanoid group with advanced tech and psionic abilities; and the Zerg, a race of insectoid aliens that hopes to obtain genetic perfection by assimilating other races.
(Even before the other two episodes arrive, online multiplayer action lets gamers compete as any of the three main species.)
The Way of the West
With all that cinematic action and RTS battling, how messy does this space Western get? Not excessively. But it does have a few “missed the spittoon” moments. The RTS segments deliver a bird’s-eye view of the battles, so we experience little more than longshots of missile hits and laser blasts. Tiny figures erupt into flames, dissolve with acid and splat in a splash of goo. But the more visually descriptive cutscenes contain occasional blood spray, too.
An ex-con compatriot of Raynor’s has a cigar constantly pinched between his teeth. Both men let loose a little raw language (the s-word, “d‑‑n,” “b‑‑ch” and “a‑‑”). Whiskey sometimes seems to be Raynor’s best friend. A holograph of a bikini-clad dancer gyrates on an upper landing in the Cantina. And near the end of the game, a cutscene shows a naked woman obscured by shadows and floating mist.
Those are my only complaints, but by registering them at all I’m well aware that they don’t line up with what everyone else is saying about this game. Metacritic reprints this from gamers.at: “The biggest complaint that come to my mind is that I’ve got to wait for the other two episodes. [Starcraft II] might not revolutionize the genre, but it doesn’t allow itself any shortcomings either. The campaign is exciting, the cutscenes are awesome and the multiplayer is in a league of its own.”
1UP’s Kat Bailey adds, “I doubt it will completely repopularize the genre as we once knew it, since the world has moved on in the past decade or so. But StarCraft II does have mainstream gamers talking about build orders and micromanagement, which is honestly something I never thought I would hear again. Just in that, I consider StarCraft II a minor miracle.
Maybe. But I still think there’s more to gaming than just cool mechanics. So I say, Look at the whole picture—in real time, if you will. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty’s portrait isn’t miserably ugly, but not all of van Gogh’s brush strokes are perfect, either.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.