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Review: StarCraft II

Greg Tito | 3 Aug 2010 13:00
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StarCraft II is a complete game experience. At its core, it is a standard-setting real time strategy game. But the shell around that core includes elements of an adventure point-and-click, an interactive cinematic, and achievement-hunter-baiting challenges, all topped off with an engrossing multiplayer component that many refer to as the "real StarCraft." Playing all of StarCraft II after paying only 60 bucks feels like you are wearing a ski-mask and ripping off Blizzard at gunpoint. It's that good.

The story is told through cinematics that attempt to rival some of the gritty science fiction films of our day. Jim Raynor is a cigar-smoking drunk, nearly every cutscene has him swilling various forms of alcohol, but he leads his group of rebels against the oppressive Dominion. Haunted by the memory of Sarah Kerrigan, and her transformation into the Zerg Queen of Blades, Raynor mobilizes his forces for a final push to take out Arcturus Mengsk, the man who betrayed Kerrigan and now rules the sector with an iron fist. Mengsk has created an 1984-like totalitarian government, complete with billboards and propaganda urging citizens to watch their neighbors and that the Dominion is there to "protect you from yourself." From the start of the game, Raynor's objective is clear: Take down Mengsk, whatever the cost.

The character development of Jim Raynor is told through a great supporting cast. Tychus Findlay arrives early on and through him we learn that Raynor was once a criminal and he had gone legit before being named a Marshall on Mar Sara. The support staff on Raynor's flagship, the Hyperion, are fiercely loyal to their commander, but aren't afraid to question him. How Raynor responds gives us a window into his troubled soul. The voiceacting for these supporting characters is way above average, with the deep southern drawl of Tychus standing out. As the story progresses, more characters interact with Raynor and, depending on your choices, become fixtures aboard the Hyperion. Between missions, you are encouraged to check in with them to get their opinions on what just happened. You can always check the network news on the TV in the Cantina, which offers a funny sideplot of how Mengsk shapes public opinion, always painting Raynor as a terrorist and war criminal.

The conventions of strategy games are all present in StarCraft II. The Command Center builds workers called SCVs which then collect the two resources: minerals and vespene gas. SCVs can build structures, which are then used to produce units. As Blizzard is wont to do, learning the basics of how to play is easy. If you have no experience with strategy games but you're interested in StarCraft II, it shouldn't be a problem picking it by playing through the campaign. New units and strategic complexity is added slowly. These units, some of which are new to the campaign and don't appear in the multiplayer, are then added to the Armory, manned by the mechanic Swann, allowing you to build them in future missions. From the console there, you can buy upgrades using the credits that you earn after completing missions.

For the strategy nerds like me, the possible upgrades and tech trees make for some very difficult decisions that impact how you play the campaign going forward. The most important of these are the defensive base upgrades; having a defensive Bunker loaded with 6 marines instead of 4 is game-changing. You can also use credits to hire mercenary troops. Once their contract is purchased, these troops can be dropped in during any mission from the Merc Compound. The mercs are elite versions of units you can already build and can turn the tide of the battle in a jiffy.

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