Once upon a time, in the long, long ago - back when we used to record a podcast
'round here - my fellow presenters dared me to play a real time strategy game for the benefit of the show. That may not sound like a particularly riveting dare, next to divulging dark sexual secrets or tonguing the cat, but to this RTS naysayer, it was nail-through-scrotum time. T'was a ritual of sorts, in which the five of us took turns to play a game and genre we detested, and were thus forced to face our demons and report back our findings, in pursuit of some fun on-air shenanigans and much in the way of good old mockery. I've never been a fan of the real-time strategizing in my games, see. My theory being, why watch ants automatically fight each other from some abstract, omnipotent god-like perspective, when I can just fire up the old Call o' Duty
one of those ants myself. Actually doing said fighting for reals. And harvesting minerals? Lordy. I have better things to do than play Farmville, sir. Who finds this shit fun?
Well, three-year-back-Diggler - who so irrationally proclaimed the RTS genre a pile of steaming Yoshi poop - I
do. Harvesting minerals rocks. HARD. As does, ya know, the other stuff. And this sudden, jarring 29 year in-the-making change in perspective is all down to one mere game. Yep. Lord of the Rings - Battle For Middle-Earth!
Okay, not really. StarCraft II.
|On the face of it, SCII may seem familiar to RTS fans. Gather resources, research tech, pump out units. Beauty comes in the balance though, in the mission design, and most of all in the polish. Rarely have you seen a game so close to fucking flawless|
What is it that StarCraft does so right? Why did it win me over and open up a whole other side to PC gaming that I've spent almost three decades fighting to destroy through whining and negativity? Quite simply...Blizzard. SCII goes to show that a top tier, grade A developer is all one needs to make magic happen. That talent and artistry and raw skill matter above all else. Much in the same way they took the MMO mainstream and all-but perfected it in World of Warcraft
- allowing, if not downright forcing
those without such appetites to jump on board through sheer magnificence alone - they do so here with the strategy genre. And my god, it's wondrous to witness from the perspective of the indoctrinated.
Now true, StarCraft II is not a world
apart from its predecessor (so I'm told...). The fundamentals remain all but identical - with only unit rebalancing, beefed-up cut-scenes, and a super striking 3D make-over to tell them apart - but that's kinda the point. Blizzard, it seems, nailed this formula spectacularly well 10 years ago. Perfection doesn't grow old. I can't help but feel as though had I given the original just five meager minutes
of my time over the past decade, I would have been singing a different song in regards to the RTS this entire time.
I was wrong, okay?
With the apologizin' outta the way, let's talk deets. Dang, this game's good
. Right out the door, the single player's astonishing. Blizzard craft a world both familiar, yet unique, with that overt "western in space" vibe we all fell for in Firefly
out in full force, mixed with its own pleasing twists and takes on the subgenre. From the somber guitar plucks to the cowboy attire, SCII has a warmth and down-to-earth atmosphere often missing in sterile science fiction of old. Yeah, the dialogue's super 80's era cheese, but I grew oddly fond of captain Jim Rayner and his tale of heartache and vengeance. Newcomers like me could do well to read up on the first game's plotline prior to diving in, mind.
|SCII sees you commanding Cpt. Jim Rayner, on board a ship with plenty of ace content to peruse between missions. Including Night Elf holo-strippers|
Beyond the storyline and characters, this campaign simply oozes wondrous ideas. Inter-mission, on-ship sections deck the game out with a sort of Mass Effect
-light element - in which you chat to crew members and research tech - while the art design, animation and overall presentation is about as top of the rung as you'll currently find in gaming.
And how about those missions, eh? Here's where smiles and mild enjoyment turned to serious infatuation, I'm happy to report. In SCII's 25 or so levels - some of which are optional, while others you may never even see based on your choices - I can hand-on-heart say, I never felt like I was playing anything near
the same mission twice. Not only is the game spectacularly well paced - doling out new units and vehicles smoothly and aptly as both your skill and the story dictates - but the level design and accompanying twists are so inventive and inspired, you simply don't have time to grow bored either. One mission you'll be holding off invading alien Zergs from over-running your base for 10 straight minutes like some kinda super complex tower defense game for example, while the next you'll have
no base, and be commanding a squad of stealth assassins decimating an enemy stronghold like some bizarre mixture of Torchlight by way of Metal Gear. I wanna detail the awesome day/night zombie level too as a further example, not to mention the horrifically volatile lava map...but really? You gotta see this shit for yourselves. ALL OF YOU.
Not only is each such mission a riot, but they make you better at the game too. SCII has something of an agenda, see. It not only wants to spin a sweet yarn, and make for a fun experience, but it wants to train you. Knock you into shape. Develop some skills...
...specifically; get you prepped for multiplayer.
|Without giving too much away, this mission is typical of the inspired mission design running rampant throughout SCII|
I by no means proclaim single player a tacked on afterthought, or some glorified training mode though. No sir. It wreaks of quality and perfection that only a Blizzard game seems capable of. But there really are two diverging personalities at work here, as StarCraft II's multiplayer component is not just a whole other game, but an entire freaking lifestyle
in and of itself (...as my worryingly large amount of 5am bed-times these past three months demonstrate).
Quite simply, it's not hard to see how this game has become a god damn sport in Korea. SCII competitive play is too damn addictive. The mind-games, back and forth, out-thinking and sheer luck
that meander their way into each and every game result in both pelvic-thrusting, air-punching victories, and face-palm-inducing, heart-breaking losses, that simultaneously strike the highest of highs and absolute lowest of gaming lows. Take a loss though, and five secs later you care not. It's oh so tempting to hit that quick-match button and jump back on the horse. Take what you learnt from that past defeat and mould it into your next win. Herein lies the genius.
This is all infinitely improved by the wonder that is Battle.net; Blizzard's proprietary online matchmaking and ranking service. Okay, as I write this, it's currently down (the only reason I find myself updating the site right now in favor of playing), but StarCraft's Battle.net integration demonstrates the sorta unified, persistent profile-based stat-tracking multiplayer functionality that X-Fire, Steam, Xbox Live and the Playstation Network have all hinted at in varying degrees, then binds them all together to sheer AMAZE
. It's subscription-quality content, minus a monthly fee. From automated replay saves of each and every game, to super complex post-match reports, to integrated voice-comms, to cross-game friends lists, to fully integrated ladders and league games, right up to custom mods....all built into the UI, it's simply unparallelled right now in PC gaming. 10 years from now, all devs will do these things. You just watch.
Even the freakin' achievements and challenge modes are inspired. The former encouraging you to test out specific modes and factions you would otherwise probably ignore in the name of cool new multiplayer avatars and decal rewards, while the latter introduces short, high-level multiplayer-like scenarios that require very specific tactics and strategies to outsmart, further prepping you for the jump of facing humans from AI. Both feel typical of how every damn facet of this game just feels so god damn polished. Modes that in any other game, one would happily ignore. Not so here.
|Void Rays - an alien's best friend|
There's a reason Blizzard release barely one game a decade. Why StarCraft Ghost was canned. Why Diablo 3 won't be out for years. While marriages continue to fail due to WoW. They simply don't release bad games. A Blizz title feels play-tested and refined to god damn perfection. That is
StarCraft II to me. Pretty darn perfect. I find precious little to gripe about beyond aforementioned cheesy dialogue and minor voice-comm hiccups, with the new found infatuation I have with this genre (and the surprising amount of RTS games I've since bought) proving just how hard they hit a bull's-eye. It's undoubtedly one of the finest PC games seen in years, and one I particularly
recommend to RTS haters like myself. Join the light
: Wanna test your might against my Protoss? Battle.net me on: diggler [at] tpsreport.co.uk