StarCraft 2 is great, it picks up from StarCraft and whilst it is only one single campaign, the Terrans, it is a highly polished and thoroughly engaging game from start to finish. Hardcore StarCraft fans may not agree with that of course, expecting more than just one campaign but when you actually play the story from start to end, experience the content as it is, it's a meaty package and adding other campaigns may well have pushed the development schedule too far into delay.
From its grinding sci-fi western inspired soundtrack for the Terran Campaign, to the lush visuals and dramatic battles, science fiction RTS' have never sounded or looked so good. StarCraft 2 has been at least 10 years in the comin' but now it's here, it is every bit as frenetic and fun as the original and has some of the best single player storytelling in a game, since Mass Effect 2 from Bioware. This is really how you do a sequel to a popular game franchise.
Jim Raynor is struggling with his inner demons whilst trying to ignite the fires of revolution across the sector, against the Dominion led by the avaricious and power hungry Arcturus Mengsk, this is the stuff of classic good vs. Evil with a dash of wild west Firefly space adventure thrown in as you battle across the extensive single player campaign and watch the story unfold, you are Jim Raynor and you choose what battles you undertake and where.
Aboard the massive flagship Hyperion, a huge battlecruiser, you're not alone, you have a legion of supporting characters and in a decidedly rpg-lite twist you get to talk to your crew, learn about their motivations and fill in the gaps of the story between missions. You also get to accrue money and research points. The former is funnelled into the Terran tech tree between missions and the latter goes to purchasing special units, or abilities that make your army even more formidable - be warned though, once you research one particular tech, the other is locked out so...choose wisely.
You have various locations aboard the Hyperion, the Bridge, the Cantina, the Armoury, the Lab and so forth, each of these locations provides a backdrop for the story, characters and even more as you travel from mission to mission. Many of the game's in-engine cut-scenes take place in these key locations and serve to draw you deeper into the narrative and immerse you in the StarCraft universe. This is where the game triumphs over the bog-standard rts, the storytelling and the characters are excellent, you get a feel for Jim Raynor and his crew more than you normally would, we started to care about what happened in the plot, even though it can feel a little contrived at times.
Hey, is that a zerg or are you pleased to see me kekekekeke ^_____^
Outside of the main narrative, we come to the gameplay, where Blizzard has taken time to balance the units extremely well. There's a distinct rock/paper/scissors aspect to the game and each unit has a particular strength, a role, a unit counter and so on. It may take time to learn their various aspects, the use of their special abilities and what unit does what in what circumstance, but it's a rewarding experience and once you learn the ins and outs of the game and how it's changed from Starcraft, you should find you're back on old and familiar ground even if you are a StarCraft veteran.
Base building is back and there are a plethora of new options for defence, the supply depots can be lowered into the ground to allow units to walk over them. A clever tactical player can make use of those buildings to impede the march of an army, allowing them to fire ranged and area effect attacks with Siege Tanks or Thor's over the buildings and into the mass of their opponents forces. It is a familiar game but the resource gathering and base construction are much faster than before, allowing you to build a huge army as long as you have the resources, getting into the thick of battle much quicker.
In the single player story, you move from mission to mission, selecting them from a map screen and allowing some freedom of choice. There are also a few missions where you can choose to side with a particular faction or character over another, this alters the narrative and provides a moral dilemma for Jim Raynor. It also influences a few unit unlocks. You can collect resources and cash; find Zerg or Protoss research strewn across the maps, allowing you new research opportunities. The missions are also varied, we won't spoil the types of missions that you can undergo, but don't expect them to just be Army A vs. Army B, there's more to StarCraft 2 than just a basic rts even in the single player campaign, which numbers around 30 missions.
In multiplayer things are just as good, there are extensive matchmaking tools, Blizzard's brand new BattleNet 2.0 is much better than before and it has a great deal of user friendliness as well as good quality voice comms. There are a variety of game types, settings and full AI unit support across the numerous modes. With the option to build your own maps and create your own game types, the game is fully moddable, Blizzard have even snuck in a top down scrolling shooter in the Cantina to prove just how moddable it really is. You cannot play over LAN but in this day and age, it seems the online support is just as good, we never had a problem with waiting for matches and those matches we did play were great fun.
Multiplayer feels fast and frenetic with a great deal of tactical opportunity. The 3 factions are available outside of the single player story and they have been well balanced, with the larger unit cap and variety of units especially for the Zerg, it is great fun to initiate a Zerg rush on the enemy and watch them get overwhelmed early in the game. Of course, one wrong tactical move can see your strategy crumble against a few powerful Terran units, Firebats are especially good at flambé and they can serious cripple a good Zerg attack. The base building in adversarial multiplayer is just as fun as it was, with the new options such as being able to transform your HQ into a Planetary Fortress armed with a massive cannon and good for defence. The 3 faction tech trees are likewise, excellent and well balanced; each offers something for old and new StarCraft players alike.
Damn, sure looks pretty Tychus!
I've said it before and I'll say it again, Blizzard does some pretty-pretty CGI and they seem to be rivalling Square-Enix in that respect. The CG movies for StarCraft 2 are extremely well produced and very well directed, adding to the story and forming a good solid narrative. The in-game engine cinematics are very good and they have a great deal of character to them, especially when they involve the interactions between Jim and his crew. The actual in-game graphics with their fixed camera and solid colour palette are excellent as well, with a high level of detail on the various units that can be missed during the frenetic pace of the game itself. But it is there, from the Ghosts to the mighty Terran Battlecruiser, everything looks well textured and well made.
Lightning and shadow are used to good effect, the level design and map design is beautiful in many of the locations and whilst I never really was a StarCraft fan, I can truly say that 2 has actually converted me with its design, story and production quality. The physics are par for the course with explosions and bits of debris from the various destroyed buildings, it all comes together nicely in one eyecandy package of destruction and war.
Seems to be pretty intelligent too
The AI is good enough, the Zerg are troublesome when allowed to expand and the Protoss are sneaky. Terran AI seems very good at direct assaults and will usually probe your defences lightly before bringing in some seriously deadly firepower. Pathfinding on a whole is not broken and whilst we did get some odd unit movement from time to time, it worked out the path pretty quickly.
Sounds like a good one
The sound in StarCraft 2 is definitely good quality, everything has a nice meaty audio to it, from the weapons, the battles, the units themselves and the ship-board ambience aboard the Hyperion.
I dig them tunes Jimmy, I dig them real good
With a mix of various rock tracks and so on in the bar/Cantina, to the Firefly inspired western guitar twang of the Terran soundtrack, StarCraft 2 delivers a great musical experience across the whole soundtrack. It is at times suitably dark and grim, then sweeping and dramatic.
Now that's some mighty fine voice you got there!
Married to the music is the solid voice acting, everyone does their part extremely well, the voice acting is some of the best in the industry and it's great to hear StarCraft voices return, including the voice actor for that of Jim Raynor, who lends his suitable vocals to bring the hero to life in a very believable manner.
It's all good until someone loses their spleen
StarCraft 2 is a worthy successor to StarCraft and whilst it is certainly not the best ending out there, falling a bit flat, nor does it answer a lot of the questions you might have about the Terran side of the story, it sets up for a nice sequel (2 of them in fact) and provides a wild ride from beginning to end, one that you'll want to repeat to see some of the outcomes and unlock the other units. Of course, there's also the various tech upgrades as well as some other surprises - which we won't spoil.
All in all we can't wait for the expansion/sequels and the future of StarCraft is definitely safe in Blizzard's hands.