17th August 2010 - Ten years, Twelve years; It's definitely been more than a decade since we first stepped into the boots of Blizzard's brand of Space Marine. Or has it? With the original StarCraft still seeing broods of players today, why should anyone using consoles today even care that the sequel is out? Well, there's plenty of reasons why All Age Gaming is reviewing Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, some which will be revealed in our review below. It's not because we only review console games. And it's not because I'm the only reviewer who's probably played the game. But it might be because SC II: WoL is one of the best games this year.
One of the main reasons we are reviewing the game, is because, it is just so darn playable. The game is addictive. For those who grew up on the original, it's like a guilty pleasure returning to the halogen days of RTS with all the same music and all the characters. It's surprising that it took Blizzard so long to churn this out, and then decide to split it into 3 games; but I suppose- WarCraft kinda got in the way. Wings of Liberty is the first in a trilogy which includes 'The heart of the Swarm' and ' Legacy of the Void'. It is worth reviewing though, because in our 12 years only 4 years have passed in the game which has led to a lot more supporting characters, their problems and their relationships with our main man Jimmy Raynor. If this is all starting to sound like Mass Effect with character monologues and personal side quest, well it is. Which leads us to the another reason we are reviewing StarCraft II.
Although there has been a bit of a fan backlash that SC II has not evolved, to meet rising trends in RTS games along the lines of Warhammers excellent Dawn of War, there are two things to consider when reviewing it. The single player campaign is not just an RTS: It is an RTS with Role Playing in-between, it is for the first time an RPS- A Role Playing Strategy game- and who says you don't learn anything new. Considering no one else has coined this, I'm going to roll with it as in between maps; you are able to 'play' as Jim Raynor, visit the ship and generally click through a bunch of different menus and interactive elements upgrading and spending money.
It's about time
At first glance it may seem confusing that in between maps and missions you suddenly have to deal with all these characters personal problems. While we are reviewing the game we can say that it is comprised of a marine, an elite sniper unit called a Spectre 'ghost', a civilian doctor and a Protoss Alien. This sums up the campaign as the maps are divided over each persons storyline. Complete each one to round out a chapter of the 30 odd missions.
While there are no dialogue options per say, there is a lot of talking, TV shows to watch, licensed music and you can hire mercenary units from some dude as well as visit the Armoury to upgrade units and buildings from a gnome and research new technologies in your lab from some punk teenager too young to be working on a Star Destroyer.
PRO TIP: Keep an eye on the tanks in the Tech Lab. The more you research Zerg and Protoss the more the items in the tank will grow...
My Life for Aiur
Speaking of destroyed: don't even get me started on reviewing the multiplayer aspect. Minus the LAN and international servers (Aust is locked into Oceanic servers only) and in-game chat- the new Battle.net system is flawless. It is the most well oiled and integrated system for party chatting and player achieves since Steam and LIVE/PSN. Truly all our technology is starting to merge. The actual multi-gameplay though is, as it was- 12 years ago. All the new units from single player have been canned and the aim of the game is, rush, rush, rush. Thank you DODA. Blizzard have seamlessly pandered to the leagues and clans and breed of StarCraft II player that thrives on measuring the size of their zergling by how quickly you can rush and destroy another base. Despite promises to the contrary there is no room for Noobs in this bunker.
No doubt this does leave some room for improvement and expansion over the next two games, but it is surprising that Blizzard would remove something only so they could offer it as an expansion later for more money- wait, no it's not. The story itself evokes waves of nostalgia and moves between boring, very good and highly cliché as an old enemy returns to haunt the broken heart of Jim Raynor, old Allies return to spell doom about a coming evil and an older 4th species is introduced to the mix which is really just a horrible hash job of two of the other species, except “alot more evil and uber and all consuming”.
Just to prove how much StarCraft II should be reviewed by us, Blizzard have thrown in 9 sets of challenges on top of Single and Multi as well as a full editing sweet for making any map you can think of. Every single level and action has three achievements tied to it ranging from 10 to 20 points which makes the game even more enjoyable, challenging and replayable.
If you still want reasons why we are reviewing the game, look no further than the graphics. The game is good looking. Even though the maps are played out as top down base building, the same as every other RTS game over the last 12 years; in between, the close ups of characters and cut-scenes are as good as any Blizzard movie.
StarCraft II had a lot to live up to because it was the first StarCraft; long before WarCraft III and even World of WarCraft – that set the standard for Blizzards cinematic. Wings of Liberty features gorgeous pre rendered movies', well lit cut-scenes and even in-game animations that can be zoomed into with excellent detail. All the characters are well represented and rebooted in a post WarCraft world that takes a new visual spin on the original StarCraft lore.
Worldcraft of Starwars
Perhaps the biggest crit against the whole game is that twelve long years have passed, and yet the story has not changed until now. Instead, the good people at Blizzard, with the addition of a few books, Warhammer series and table top games, have been telling the same story over and over again for the last decade: So that by the time we hit SC II, we are getting the same story from 12 years ago, just in a different skin. To drive this home, as you install the game it recaps the entire first game with Drawings, including the expansion Brood Wars which has now warped into one mass of plot. All the locations and character are re-booted in that World of WarCraft style, where the hands are bigger than their heads.
We are reviewing the game, because one look at their website, will reveal a glut of wonderful images and lovingly recreated drawing and paintings and artwork that finally have a home in StarCraft II. Every location and person has been re imagined and stylised in minute detail, even if the maps and base building don't look much different to WarCraft III.
Whilst reviewing StarCraft II we were playing it on a new Alienware FX M11 unit with all the graphics set to ultra. Without a decent graphics card the game will chug-a lug and a lot of the in between cut-scenes will look dark or blurrier without good lighting. But the scaling is there so that even on a moderate computer rig you can still play Blizzards best game so far.
The sounds especially, are worth reviewing because, a decade later they are still using all the original voice actors and music- remixed and in high definition. Every single memorable musical score is present and correct without an alteration or change save for the fact they have all been re-recorded live in instrumental losing their 1998 midi quality in favour of real guitars and drums.
Crying isn't something that you normally associate with gaming, unless you're holed up somewhere in South Korea and haven’t eaten in days because you’re still mining minerals on Mar Sara and your computer just crashed- but; there will be a definite lump in your throat and tear in your eye when that first mission kicks on and the music fades in.
Robert Clotworthy returns as the voice of James Raynor and Fred Tatascoire for the Protoss legend Zeratule after original actor Jack Ritschel passed away during production. In fact the reason we wanted to review it is, that we are not fan boys. Blizzard has heaped fan service on the game and the music and rigidly sticking to the same formula only drives it home even more.
In an open-world like twist and in an effort to appeal to the future of next-gen gamers, apart from all the additional dialogue there is a bunch of licensed music now included in the game including “Sweet Home Alabama” and even some original made up tracks. TVs can also be viewed for StarCraft Ipod ads and CNN news broadcasts. Unfortunately all the humour and pop culture, although welcome in a similar move to Grand Theft Auto, makes the game seem immature and 'silly' at times when Blizzard should realise that the original audience, from 12 years ago is now all grown up.
PRO TIP: Fred Tatascoire also plays the character Seren in the Mass Effect series
So given the rebooted story, lovingly created graphics, addictive gameplay and remastered music, why are we reviewing StarCraft II? Because it is one of the best value games this side of the console you are likely to pick up in 2010. It quite literally has something for everyone. Oh and FYI: If you are worried about not being able to play as Protoss during the campaign, fear not, because there are a few tricks up the proverbial sleeve that will see you get to do that- and more.
The highpoint, on top of the revamped multiplayer Battle.net is just how well integrated each element is. It does feel like the game exists online and that you will always need an internet connection: The game exists inside Battle.net and every time you load or exit or do something it gets updated to your Battle.net account and stored. The campaign alone though has a multitude of achievements to replay on different difficulties, which is converted into an account score for everyone to see. This in turn unlocks gamer picks and icons and new items which is more than can be said for XBOX Live.
Even if you only have a half decent computer with a video card, check the specs and buy it, there is a lot of game here for $80.00. It may have been 12 years in the making but the reason we are reviewing it is because it is so damn good. As a site that primarily only reviews console games, would we want to see StarCraft on the a console? Not unless it was a 3rd person Action adventure game with RPG elements. Halo Wars taught us the hard way that for real RTS goodness, the PC is where it's at.
AAG SCORE: 9.5/10
- Well integrated Story and Mission maps
- Faithfully recreates the StarCraft we remember
- Musical score
- Superb online multiplayer with almost flawless Battle.net integration
- Multiplayer is not for entry level players
- It took 12 years to make
Reviewed and Written By Ian Crane