StarCraft protagonist Jim Raynor and Firefly captain Mal Reynolds have more than a few things in common: What do you do to keep your crew fed and your ship flying?
StarCraft hero Jim Raynor is in a bit of a tight spot these days. He's considered an outlaw by the Terran Dominion, money is running tight and his flagship Battlecruiser Hyperion needs repairs, and to make matters worse, the Zerg - led by old-flame-turned-Queen-Bitch-of-the-Universe Kerrigan - are stomping through the Koprulu Sector for the first time in four years.
After a short - albeit awesome - cutscene with the Hyperion narrowly escaping a Zerg ambush, we were dropped down onto the bridge of the Battlecruiser, where Jim could converse with his lieutenants, by-the-book military man Matt Horner and escaped convict Tychus Findlay (the Marine suiting up in the "Hell, it's about time" teaser) to flesh out the lore and story of StarCraft II. Beyond that, he could also go around the ship for sidequests and other little tools: In the Armory, Raynor is able to purchase upgrades for his forces (though money is tight), whereas in the Science Lab he can use alien specimens he collects during missions to engineer... something or other. In the Cantina, of course, he can consult with his best friend and adviser, Jack Daniels - it's been a hard four years for the guy.
When it came time to get my RTS on, I had two planets available to visit - Matt Horner had received a transmission from a colonial planet under attack by the Zerg, with the colonists left to fend for themselves after resident Bastard-in-Chief Arcturus Mengsk pulled the Dominion military back to defend the Core Worlds. On the other hand, Tychus Findlay had managed to track down a special Protoss artifact that would be worth some major bank - seizing it would let Jim keep Raynor's Raiders flying that much longer.
It's interesting to see how divorcing SC2's singleplayer from its multiplayer freed the developers up, because we get to see units in these missions that don't show up in the multiplayer portion of the game - notably, accepting the mission to help out the beleaguered colonists gave me access to the classic Firebat from the first StarCraft. The Firebat, of course, is very effective against the Zerg, and it's cool to see some of the little touches - a Zergling killed by Marine gunfire will collapse in a shower of blood, but a Zergling killed by a Firebat will roll on the ground screeching, covered in fire before it eventually stills and burns to a crisp.
The mission itself was pretty simple - there was a well-defended Starport at the end of a long road, and my forces had to escort civilian convoys from a barely-defended refugee camp to safety. Of course, the Zerg make an appearance, and I found myself having to construct and reinforce Bunkers along the roadside. While the Firebats made quick work of Zerglings and Hydralisks, it was important to support them with Marines, since the Firebats' short-range flamethrowers rendered them useless against the flying Overlords that vomited the Zerg Creep on the middle of the road that allowed the little monsters to burrow into the ground for ambushes.
Sadly, the time was limited - I'd spent too much time on the Hyperion looking at my new options and chatting with everybody - so the session was cut short mid-mission. The game is absolutely beautiful (loving the fire effects) and the mid-mission options are a nifty little thing that the original StarCraft never had. Obviously, when the Zerg and Protoss expansions roll around, they won't be able to use the same systems (can you imagine the Zerg going down to their armory to add armor plating to their structureS? Yeah, me neither) so it'll be interesting to see where they go with that.
As for the multiplayer... well, when Keane Ng and I throw down, I guess we'll see how that's shaping up (my guess? It'll be pretty awesome.)