Review: Starcraft 2
Like some of you, I didn't play Starcraft back in 1998. I don't have a long history with the series so I wasn't expecting to get caught up in the immense hype that is Starcraft II. I mean besides the hardcore competitive online play that would take too much dedication for me to get to a decent level of play, what does this series have to offer anyone on the outside of Real Time Strategy games? Simple, as I discovered: one hell of a great story. Let it be known that Real Time Strategy (RTS) games are not my forte. I love to play them, but man do I suck at 'em too! I usually play for the campaign mode and dabble in the multiplayer for a few rounds before resigning to the fact that I will barely win. I'm sure there are a lot of you out there that just shy away from RTS games entirely since the learning curve for competitive play is fierce. On the flip side, if you can look past the multiplayer aspect of RTS games and focus on the story, you will find the genre quite entertaining, as is definitely the case with Starcraft II.
Now not knowing the story going in, I expected to be totally lost and not be able to immerse myself into the Starcraft universe. I have to hand it to Blizzard, they really made sure that anyone playing the game would have a clue as to what happened previously in the Starcraft universe. While you install the game, it gives you a brief rundown of the story leading up to Starcraft II. Still images accompanied by a narrator help you get caught up as you wait for the progress bar to hit 100% completion. Even if you don't pay attention, it is pretty easy to figure out what is going on in the story.
I played Starcraft II on casual mode since I am not very good at these games and I found it did challenge me at certain points but I wish I had played it on normal since it would have forced me to learn to play more properly. Casual mode is a perfect entry for people new to the RTS scene with decent balance between fun and challenging events to make you feel like it is not holding your hand through the game. Even so, I still had a wonderful experience all the way to the end. If you want to learn how to play RTS games in general, Blizzard, very smartly, included a tutorial mode to teach you the basics up through to the advanced tactics needed to be an efficient player. There is even a challenge mode to accompany the tutorial mode that presents certain challenges that teach you how to fully understand and learn the ways of RTS games. Some challenges have you pick the right units to counter the enemy presented to you and when you get to the more advanced challenges, the game has you use nothing but hot keys to perform actions by disabling the mouse. This all may seem a little daunting to some but it felt like Starcraft II was approachable enough for anyone to sit down and give this game a try. Not only can you apply what you have learned in the two modes mentioned to Starcraft II, but for the most part, it can be applied to all RTS games.
Besides the wonderful story, Starcraft II has amazingly well done cut scenes that blew me away. Most of the dialogue was entertaining though some moments were a little rough (Jim Raynor has a little trouble saying Protoss). After every mission, you are presented with a hub world where you can interact within it. With the point and click interface like adventure games have, you can talk to your friends, look at pictures, change the music on the jukebox, watch the news (look for the hilarious commercials) and a little further in the game, you can upgrade your units with the points you have earned in each mission. Starcraft II builds up to what you may think is an epic ending. I felt that the build up was met with an abrupt end. The last missions that you embark on seem to go too fast and left me feeling like the ending was not fleshed out enough. The ride that Starcraft takes you on is still great, just don't take it too hard when the ending is not as grand as the story leads you to believe.
You have a choice until the end of the game to go to any mission presented to you. Each mission has a certain unit you can unlock to use in the next mission. There are some units that you will see in the single player campaign that will not be present in online play due to balancing issues. The missions themselves are varied enough so that you don't feel like you are doing the same thing over and over again. One that everyone will remember is the mission where lava rises on the low ground where the minerals are located and you have to micro manage your drones or they will die when the counter reaches zero and the lava rises to incinerate your work force. Adding achievements is also a good way to get people that love that system to replay missions to get the max achievements for each. If that wasn't enough for you, Starcraft II throws you a curve by having you make a choice a couple of times during the story that effects the outcome of the mission before it even starts.
You might be saying to yourself "This game sounds amazing but my PC is old and I doubt this game will run". I have a 2 year old PC that runs this game fine at medium settings and the game still looks good and plays smooth. If you have a decent video card as well as at least a core 2 duo CPU, this game will run fine. I have heard people with MacBooks are having issues with poor frame rates as well as overheating. If you have access to a Windows OS and have the space, I would suggest using Boot Camp and turning things down to low to get a decent performance out of your Macbook.
At $60 ($100 if you were like me and bought the Collector's Edition), this game is worth it for the campaign alone. I never felt like I was cheated out of a full game at all. It even made me want to play the original Starcraft to experience the full story. It's packaged with the Collector's Edition but it's only $19.99 for the Battle Chest if you are intrigued like I was after playing Starcraft II. If you have little to no interest in online play, this game will still feel like a complete game and I am sure you will enjoy every second of it. Who knows? You might even get hooked and become a great RTS player... like I will one day, right?