Friday, 27 August 2010

Game Review - Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty

There are I feel, two very different ways you can go about writing a review for a PC & Mac game as iconic as Starcraft II; you can discuss it with emphasis that this is a sequel to one of the best real-time strategy games of all time, or try to steer clear of this fact and look at it as a stand alone experience. One should ask why the latter is even an option, but this is largely because Starcraft I was released in 1998, so long ago that for the current generation of gamers, the word Starcraft is only a myth and the experience is lost in history amidst the older generation of gamers. To appease both sides of the argument, Starcraft II is an excellent sequel but also a fantastic title in its own right. It does not stray off the path that made the original Starcraft so incredibly popular, which also means fans of traditional RTS will have no problem picking the game up. It also introduces some very impressive additions to the traditional game-play playing to the die-hard fans of the series while also creating vast replay-value for everyone. Starcraft II is one of the most impressive technical, visual refinements of any series and mixed with incredible multi player, a long, interesting and in-depth campaign mode and huge upgrade and customization options, this is really an RTS fans dream come true.

Looking at the campaign first, it might come as a surprise to fans of the series that while the game still holds true to the three races, Terrans, Protoss and Zerg, it is only the former that has a campaign available. This is quite disappointing that Blizzard chose to omit the latter two races largely because you will not be able to get to grips with their arsenal for multi player warfare unless you play skirmishes or challenges and inevitably, Blizzard will release the other two campaigns in either a package or download, either or I’m sure, will cost more money. Fortunately, this is almost the only minuscule drawback from what is otherwise, a full package. The campaign is long, comprehensive, challenging and offers plenty of incentive to come back and complete levels over and over in an attempt to unlock all of Starcraft II’s campaign achievements and all the different upgrades for your units. The campaign is presented in absolutely phenomenal cut-scenes that jump out at you, this is helped further by a fantastic narrative and great voice-cast. The game even offers certain ‘decision making’ moments that can effect the flow of the story, once again offering a reason to return to the campaign to find out how things could pan out differently. Each mission seems to feel totally unique and everything is strung so well together that you feel progression both in the story and on the battlefield. If that wasn't enough, there is even a role-playing experience integrated between missions that allow you to interact with other shipmates to gain valuable knowledge or important upgrades, units and weapons.

Once you have completed the campaign and you feel it is time to take the next step, online multi player is the inevitable solution. Let it be known straight away that Starcraft as a series, is renowned for its highly competitive multi player, this is one serious game. Don’t let this be off-putting, think of it more as a warning to not jump into the deep end straight away. Alongside competitive ranked matches, the game offers non-ranked game modes to warm up and get to grips with the other two races. Starcraft II offers a ladder ranking system that does pit you up against players of a similar level should you choose the competitive ranked route, and there is plenty of challenge and content to keep the online action fresh and engaging. Boasting a variety of diverse maps that offer plenty of space and room for numerous players, you will see your online experience take up countless hours of your time as there is little reason to stop engaging in such an incredible game.

Once you have had the chance to experiment with the other two races you will see that each army has it’s own distinct advantages and disadvantages, for example the Zerg race are known for their speed and rush abilities while Protoss are much more tailored for long lasting warfare with their strong armored, laser bearing units tipping the tide of battle. Whichever race you choose to pledge allegiance to, you will find a balanced and thrilling adventure, each race has countless upgrades and expansions that make using and mastering all three a sheer joy, while at the same time, they are all so incredibly balanced that clever wit and genius tactics will be needed to prevail.

Of course not everything has to be done online, being a traditional RPG, offline skirmish modes are available that allow you to tackle enemy AI in all the same modes that are available online. This however goes only so far as the true competitive spirit comes from facing other human opponents, as no matter how tough the AI is, it simply doesn't play like a human would. If you want a more structured way to become accustomed to the various faction’s units, then there is also a challenge mode available that goes through advanced game mechanics with you, letting you get to grips with some of the more technical sides to units and their abilities, preparing you for more advanced combat online.

Starcraft II promotes the idea of community amongst its gamers; this being achieved through the online service that acts as the mediator between the community and the actual game. It is through here that you will find all the different achievements available to unlock, your friends lists, all your accomplishments, leader boards and much more. This really gives you a sense of togetherness as everyone plays and enjoys Starcraft II, especially your friends who will be constantly updating you on their achievements through pop ups. At heart this is a very social experience, with the game forcing you to create an account to actually play the game in the first place. This may seem a nuisance that to unlock achievements you must always be signed in and online, with absolutely no way of becoming invisible and going offline. However, this is a small price to pay for what is otherwise a beautifully integrated management system.

The idea of community is enhanced further with user-creation tools being available to create new levels and game-modes for Starcraft II. While not being as simple to use and integrate as say games renowned for their user-creativity like Little Big Planet and Modnation Racers, it is still an interesting way of passing the time and adding to the already ever-growing lists of customized maps and game-modes.

From a hardware perspective, it is a sheer joy to see a game of such high quality, able to run on a variety of different systems. Indeed if you want the best visual experience, a top of the line system will be required, but those who understand the joy of high quality RTS game-play will tell you that beautiful graphics are merely a bonus, as long as the game-play is top notch, which of course it is. As for the first-person sections and cut-scenes throughout, these do suffer on low-spec systems, but to nowhere near any degree that makes it unplayable or unwatchable.

To conclude, Blizzard was certainly not trying to re-invent the wheel with the sequel to Starcraft. This in many ways is a really good thing because it sticks to what it does best, fantastic traditional RTS game-play. With a large variety of tweaks and enhancements, there is plenty of new content to keep things feeling fresh for fans. On the flip-side of the coin, this is an amazing stand-alone experience for those of you who never played the original. The game serves up plenty of backdrop information to fill you in on the story so you don’t feel left out, and little else is really needed to enjoy Starcraft II. The two missing campaigns, no local-area link up and no way of playing the game unless you’re online are irritating omissions but are greatly overshadowed by the endless list of things Starcraft II does expertly. Little else can be said to fault one of our generations most sought after and successful PC & Mac games.

Graphics – 8.0
Game-play – 10.0
Replay value – 9.0

Final score – 9 / 10

Igor, CeX UK contributor
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