12 years is a long time in anyone's calendar - and the PC gaming landscape is a very different place to what it was in 1998.
StarCraft, essentially a sci-fi version of Blizzard's early fantasy-based C&C rival Warcraft 2. With an appealing sci-fi setting and the twist of including three factions instead of two, it achieved a legacy which is almost unheard of in gaming. To this day, the fanaticism showed now signs of abating. Were it not for the arrival of its sequel StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, selling a whopping 5 million copies in its first day,
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In StarCraft II, you play as one of three races. The Terrans - humans with customisable, oversized, steam-punk mechanics and guns; the Zerg, hive mind Giger-esque insectoid monstrosities; and the Protoss - telepathic, telekinetic aliens with hyper-advanced weaponry and the smugness to back it up.
As RTS games go, StarCraft II is a very traditional affair. The basic mechanics will be instantly familiar to anyone who's ever played a game in the genre. If you exist in the tiny demographic of PC gamers that haven't, it goes like this...
Originally published on CVG here: StarCraft 2 review
In almost all scenarios, you start with a command centre and a few worker units with which to mine resources - in this case diamond-like minerals and vespine gas. You use these to construct buildings, which in turn produce military units.
You then use said military units to blow the enemy into its component atoms before tapping out one of many fine 'noob' based insults you've been working on.
StarCraft 2: The plot
The plot picks up where the StarCraft add-on Brood War left off. Set around 500 years in the future, you play through the eyes of Jim Raynor - a refugee and with a cowboy's swagger who's been on the run causing terrorist/freedom-fighting shenanigans since the events in the first game, where he fell out with the tyrannical emperor of the human race.
Raynor has a bit of a chip on his shoulder. In the last game the love of his life, special ops assassin-type Kerrigan, got captured by the Zerg. She was brainwashed and then physically mutated into a super-strong villainess, who then took over as ruler of the insectoid race and stopped just short of wiping out all human life in the galaxy.
The emperor himself, Mengsk, is a sort of space hick with a Texan drawl, who was busy spending the empire's resources on tracking down Raynor - until the Zerg menace reared its salivating head again after four years of remission. As a result, everyone goes for their guns.
The storyline is pretty complex for a video game, and while it is sometimes blighted by the usual cheesy dialogue you'd expect from the medium, it's engrossing enough that the frequent CGI movies which roll the story along throughout the campaign never feel like an imposition.
Wings of Liberty's single-player campaign is mainly concerned with the Terran perspective, and the 30 or so missions will see you defending convoys, holding out from invasion until an evacuation can be arranged, espionage into enemy territory with a couple of elite units, or just levelling an Zerg base Raynor doesn't like the look of.
StarCraft didn't remain one of the most played games for 12 years because of its single player campaign. The real meat of StarCraft was, and remains, the multiplayer.
StarCraft 2: Mulitiplayer
Even in early stages of combat with the game's most basic units, the three races manage to remain so utterly distinct, yet perfectly balanced.. Whether you choose Terran, Zerg or Protoss, it's always a fair fight.
It's here that your own interpretation of play becomes all-important. You'll get to learn which tactics work best for you. Will you concentrate on building a lot of barracks straight away and rustle up a massed marine/marauder strike force quickly? Or will you turtle up and sit behind your defences until you've prepared a devastating fleet of massed Protoss Void Rays? Either way, prepare for it to be countered. If there's one this thing the multiplayer game isn't, it's forgiving.
The best players learn to adapt quickly, and take full advantage of some of the more powerful unit's special abilities in the heat of a battle. These include the Protoss Templar's psyonic storm, which can cause havoc in the middle of an enemy rush, and the Terran Ghost's ability to laser in a strategic nuke attack at the heart of an enemy's defensive line. It's tough to start with, but you don't mind losing - with the replay functions there's always something to learn in defeat.
StarCraft 2: Future games
There are two more SCII expansions coming down the line - one focusing on the Protoss and one on the Zerg. Blizzard has taken a bit of initial flack for providing a 'third of a game,' but these complaints are somewhat less valid.
The single-player offering features a 30 mission campaign representing many, many hours of gaming. On top of that, there's full working multiplayer, a complete map editor and even more far-reaching customisable features. Only those with disproportionately high expectations could consider Wings of Liberty anything other than a full game.
The other main genuine complaint is that the game has the potential to be a bit buggy at times. This is a fair point, though really it's very rare that a software crash occurs - and we understand Blizzard are working on it
StarCraft 2: Conclusion
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is in many ways is the culmination of the RTS genre to date. It takes the best of what has come before, and tightens it up into a totally accessible, yet deceptively complex pinnacle.
Like all great games its easy to learn, and very difficult to master. It's traditional, slick, accomplished; perfectly balanced gameplay will likely keep it on the competitive gaming scene for many years to come, and with good reason.
As one of the most anticipated games of all time, it doesn't disappoint.