It’s been a long time coming
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty may have been 12 years coming, but takes place 4 years after the events of StarCraft. For those unfamiliar with the back-story (like myself), the game is set around 3 races; the Terrans (humans), Zerg (insect type aliens), and Protoss (technologically advanced aliens), all involved in a galactic war. StarCraft centred on a marshal called Jim Raynor who came be a major player in the war, eventually teaming up with the Protoss to launch an attack on the Zerg Overmind in an attempt to destroy the Zerg. 4 years on we again follow Raynor, who finds himself caught up in hunt for alien artefacts by the various races. Luckily for people like myself who never played StarCraft, while you are installing the game you get a much needed recap of the plot.
Jumping into the campaign, straight away you can see that StarCraft II is slick and polished. With the exception of the first couple of missions, you spend your time between missions on your ship – the Hyperion. Instead of just having one mission follow on from the last with a simple mission select screen, you can visit different areas of the ship to perform different tasks: It’s like having a beautiful graphical menu and it certainly adds to the immersion. On the bridge you can select missions, in the cantina you can hire mercenaries, play an arcade mini-game, listen to the jukebox or watch the news. You can also visit the armoury to buy upgrades for your structures and units, or the laboratory to research new technologies.
Playing missions is much like any real time strategy game – You usually start off with a core structure and a resource field nearby, and then have to gather resources to build up your base and train units – but in SC2 it all comes very naturally and looks so stunning. All the units are beautifully rendered too, and as you progress through the campaign you will unlock a whole host of them to play with, all with their own personalities and corny one-liners. I particularly liked the mercenaries you can hire as they are beefed-up versions of the units you can build yourself, but are delivered to the battlefield instantly – great when things are getting too much for you.
Did I mention how polished the game is already?
What’s good about SC2 though, is that it doesn’t just stick to the old base formula of past RTS’s where you just build your base and fortify it, then fortify it some more while cranking out units until you go for the all out assault. It also adds in a variety of fun and challenging missions such as escorting colonists to an evacuation area, or gathering a certain amount of minerals while contending with rising lava fields. You are also free to choose from 2-3 different missions at any one time, each with different monetary and research rewards, but depending on your research and mission choices previously you may find you lack technologies that would help you.
Apart from the gripping campaign and the game-altering research choices you make, there’s a lot to keep you coming back to the campaign as well. For a start there are achievements for each mission, most of which are tied to the difficulty you play on, but also changing the difficulty changes how the mission plays rather just ramping up the number of enemies you face. In addition, there are a number of “challenges” to be completed after you’ve finished the campaign.
So on to graphics and sound: Graphically, as I’ve already mentioned, StarCraft II is incredibly polished. It maybe doesn’t bring anything ground-breaking but it does look fantastic. The cutscenes are slick and well presented, and the unit animations and details are great. Combine this with the great musical score and voice acting, as well the radio chatter when you select units and the jukebox playing both original songs as well as recognizable covers… Did I mention how polished the game is already?
If you’ve read my other reviews you’ll know I don’t usually review multiplayer and SC2 is no exception. In this case though I’ll let you in on a secret – I’m too scared. I have a long history of loving single player RTS games and hating multiplayer because, well, I suck. From what I hear though the multiplayer is excellent, although you have to use Battle.net. If online multiplayer is not for you (like me) you can always take part in AI skirmishes as well.
Some might complain that Wings of Liberty only focuses on the Terran race, and that Blizzard are milking it by putting the game out as a trilogy, but given the obvious amount of work put in to it and the surprising depth of the campaign I don’t think that’s entirely fair. There’s nothing particularly new about SC2, but as the saying goes “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”!