Starcraft II – Definitely Worth the Wait

How do you improve on Starcraft, the top selling computer game of all time?  How much time do you take to develop the sequel?  How do you improve on one of the pinnacles of computer games and its genre real-time strategy games?  This is after all a game that has an almost universal following in South Korea, where its top players are feted like rock-stars or top footballers; a game used by the US Air Force to teach officers about crisis management, a game whose tactics is taught in UC Berkeley.

Is 12 years- an eternity in computer gaming- worth the wait?  Consider, in that span of time, we’ve had three Philippine presidents- FVR, Erap, GMA, Noynoy, three Olympics: Sydney ‘00, Athens ‘04, Beijing ‘08, four football (soccer) world cups- France ‘98, Japan- Korea ‘02, Germany ‘06, South Africa last month. Following the Moore’s law, we now have 64 times more transistors for CPUs now compared to the then state-of-the art PIII chips in 1998.

Was it worth the wait?  Is it worth the not inconsiderable P 3,500 (Datablitz) price tag, for just one campaign- Terran- at that?  Yes and more.  Hesitant to shell out P 500 for pre-ordering, even with the dog-tag and Starcraft 2 shirt incentives, and a little surprised by the price, all these concerns, and the long wait seemed trifling once I started playing.

The campaign resumes a mere four years after Starcraft’s Brood War finishes.  Jim Raynor’s raiders are still in a low-intensity conflict against Emperor Arcturus Mengsk.  The latter considers Raynor as the #1 terrorist, evident from the TV news coverage shown between missions.  Zerg, Protoss are relatively calm, but, as will be seen soon enough, this is more a quiet before the storm.  Massing Zerg swarms, the scattered yet recovering and still powerful and immemorial Protoss, rumors of Xel’Naga artifacts all mean the uneasy peace will not last.

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Jim, reunited with ex-con veteran Tychus Findlay, will soon be caught between Mengsk’s army and fleet, fanatical, die-hard Protoss and the Zerg led by Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades.  Old ally Zeratul does a surprise visit, sharing a crystal that unlocks visions, and Protoss missions.  Other unlikely allies, hardened mercenaries, branching decision points in technology investments and mission choices, make this campaign much more compelling than other RTS games and provides some (albeit limited) replay value.

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All 26 missions are challenging at the ‘normal’ level.  Carrots for points made me replay several scenarios to get more points. Examples of bonus achievements include destroying a prototype battle cruiser, rescuing all isolated allies and finishing a day-night hunt (where Zergs ruled the night, Terrans the daytime) in five nights.  One of the most difficult is the secret mission, unlocked in the Media Blitz mission, which pits Raynor and a select squad of marines against a top secret bio-weapons facility.  Other hero led missions with Raynor, Tychus, even the Dark Templar Zeratul, make for engaging breaks from the more typical resource gathering, force assembling and defending and eventual assault.

New Terran units such as the heavy assault mechanized walker- Thor and the Macross-like transforming Viking (aircraft to walker) rounded out the Terran forces.  Old favorites such as the ghost or equivalent spectre, battlecruisers and tanks make Jim or Mengsk forces more than a match for isolated or straggler Zerg or Protoss units. Protoss and Zerg units have also been updated, with the former’s powerful Reaper being replaced. Kerrigan’s swarm, on the other hand, has been reinforced by a powerful mind-controlling ability, able to control any unit.

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One, not exactly minor concern is a Blizzard confirmed bug that can overheat graphics processing units. A workaround is available, to limit the screen refresh rate. Fortunately, I’ve been playing with an external fan and air-conditioning. Of the 30+ hours played, I’ve encountered two crashes, where my PC just froze. Barring those, wait times and performance in my two year-old Windows 7 PC was fine.

This is one of the best PC games I’ve played in a long while. I can recall some milestones in computer games I’ve played- Civilization, Masters of Orion, X-Com, Diablo, Starcraft. The latter is a landmark, and builds on top of all of the great real-time strategy games forged by Dune 2 and followed by Warcraft II.

Some critics complain of SC2 being stuck in time, of not evolving beyond the original gameplay. That’s a very minor quibble. Just as Godfather 2 didn’t break new ground but simply improved, polished and built on an incredible original movie, SC2 doesn’t break new ground but polishes to a high sheen, updates the graphics and gameplay to the 21st century. Just as X-Com’s dated early 90’s EGA graphics do little to detract from the underpinning extremely addicting gameplay, so does SC2’s reuse of working elements, updated after an eternity (or Blizzard has once again come up with a masterpiece. Anyone into computer games should add Starcraft 2-Wings of Liberty to his or her library.

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5 observations on “Starcraft II – Definitely Worth the Wait
  1. Jojo

    Pabs, you've forgotten to mention Warcraft 3. The introduction of heroes and the use of items have raised real-time strategy a notch higher than the conventional macro-management of Starcraft.

  2. Druce

    Great review Pabs! now move on to the battle.net stuff na! i just got into the gold league which is freaking intense coz i keep getting bullied.

    @Jojo – Agree that heroes add something to the RTS genre. but i dont agree that starcraft is macro management. Warcraft 3 micro was easier coz you had a tank (hero) usually. In SC micro you have to move the zerglings/marines around

  3. Mario G

    Lots of starcraft pro out there but not organized. Go for advertising agency, printing press, printing repro sevices most of them are playing starcraft on there free time using Mac platform computer.
    OMG I miss to play again Starcraft with my officemate…
    Hope one day we have a reunion to play again starcratf Broodwar


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