Developed by: Blizzard
Published by: Blizzard
Reviewed by: Zachary Rounds
Starcraft: The final word in RTS?
After moths of waiting, Blizzard has decided to finally let loose their futuristic real-time strategy game. The question is: Was it worth the wait?
The Story, or why we have single player.
Here is the 5-second summary. There is a group of Terrans in an uncharted part of the galaxy. They control a few planets, they have a few wars, and basically act like Humans. Along comes the Evil Alien Race, called the Zerg in this game, complete with standard sharp teeth and pointy claws. They are followed shortly by the Mysterious Alien Race, the Protoss, who have psi (and I don't mean pounds/square inch) abilities and no sharp teeth. Like most futuristic first (and in this case, second) contact scenarios, the three races decide to run around and blow each other up. Saying much more than this would probably give away too much of the plot, ruining the point of the single player game. Where Starcraft does manage to be different is in the way the single player campaigns are carried out. Unlike most games where you see both sides of the same war, Starcraft has one long story that is carried over three campaigns. What this means is that when you finish the Terran Campaign, the Zerg Campaign picks up where the Terrans left off. This allows for a much longer and more involved story than normal (this is good).
The Gameplay, or why we don't use the disc as a coaster.
If you've played any RTS before then you know what the basics of the gameplay are: Build, harvest, attack, repair, harvest. However, unlike most RTS games, Starcraft makes most missions a little bit more interesting by putting special requirements in. Most missions require that a certain special unit be kept alive, at the same time requiring you to destroy a certain object. There are also a few indoor missions, where you are given a set number of units and must complete your objectives without being able to build more units. These varied missions help keep Starcraft from falling into the usual "Kill the Base" type gameplay found in most RTS games.
As far as control goes, Blizzard has kept the control very simple. Most of the time you only need the mouse, using the keyboard for unit grouping. Unit production is not quite what I would have liked, as you are only able to order five units at a time(the Zerg are a bit different, allowing you to only build three units from one building, but they all hatch at roughly the same time, taking a bit longer for the more advanced units). This is an improvement over Warcraft 2, but I would have liked to have been able to order twelve units at a time. I choose twelve because that is the maximum number of units that you are allowed to group. This is one of Starcraft's (few) problems. Like Warcraft and Warcraft 2, Starcraft requires you to build buildings, or in the case of the Zerg, units, in order to produce more units. While I have no complaints about when playing as the Terrans or the Protoss, the Zerg seem designed around superiority in numbers. The base attacking unit for the Zerg, the Zerglings, are only hand to hand attackers, and as such need to attack in swarms. As a result, limiting the number of grouped units to twelve makes a mass swarming of Zerglings very difficult to pull off.
My other gripe is with the terrain. Although it is very pretty, elevation is not taken into account very well when compared to games such as Total Annihilation and Dark Reign. While there is some elevation, it is only in the form of ramps that lead from one plateau to the next. The ramps are fairly narrow and result in some unit AI problems that will be discussed in the next section.
The AI, or "Hey, I said attack, not spin around!"
The unit AI is fairly stable, doing what it is told in a reasonably efficient manner. The only time that the unit AI falls apart is when they are trying to go up a ramp. The ramps create a bottleneck for units, and instead of waiting to go up the ramp, your units will begin trying to find a different ramp to go up. This would be fine if there were a different ramp. The end result is that units become separated. This can be particularly devastating during an assault using units with short-range attacks. You want to surround your targets and beat them into a pulp, but the end result is a massacre of your units.
The enemy AI is better than most RTS games. Unlike most games where the enemy just drives up to your front door and starts shooting, the enemy units will strike at your weakest point of defense. I had to restart missions quite a few times due to my lack of good defenses, and nothing is as disheartening as having Zerg Guardians blow up your new Protoss fleet beacon. The AI will also use units together in ways that enhance their abilities, such as pairing ten Terran Siege Tanks with a Ghost, allowing for longer Siege Tank range. On the defensive side the AI is also quite strong, allowing you to get your units deep into its base before surrounding and destroying you. The only flaw I found was when I attacked a unit that was unable to fight back, such as when a Terran Wraith (a flying unit) shoots at a Zerg Ultralisk (a close combat unit). Instead of having the Ultralisk run as far away as possible (they are not cheap) the computer would just move the unit a few paces ahead, as if by moving out of range it would somehow fool me into believing that it was no longer there. This is, however, a small problem that does not really lessen the fun.
Graphics and Sound, or "Oooh, pretty!"
Graphically the game is outstanding. The units look very nice and the animation is very fluid. The areas you fight in look very nice, and usually have little details thrown in, like moving fans on the orbital platforms. However, I don't feel that the units can top Total Annihilation in terms of detail and animation. Sorry, but I really liked the polygonal robots and flying shrapnel in TA. On the other hand, the units in Starcraft have much more personality than those of TA, mostly due to the little animated pictures that appear for each unit and the endless stream of comments coming from each unit. The cutscenes are very nice and run smoothly on my 4X, advancing the plot in a very nice way.
This brings us to sound. As far as sound effects go Starcraft is top notch. The Terrans run around shooting everything with projectile weaponry, and Blizzard managed to make twelve machine guns firing at once sound the way you think it should. The other sound effects are very good as well, especially the Zerg, who run around screeching their heads off at the first sign of movement.
As far as the music goes, I found that the Terran music didn't quite fit. I would have opted for a more Techno type music but instead I got hit with a weak rock sound. On the other hand, the music for the Zerg and the Protoss is good, adding to the atmosphere quite well.
Multiplayer, or why I still play Starcraft.
Of course, the most highly touted part of Starcraft is the multiplayer. You are given the option of playing over a LAN, null modem, or Battle.net. I found Battle.net to be a very reliable service, allowing me to join games with ease. My only problem with Battle.net is that often I have attempted to join a game, only to find that the game is full or already in progress. As far as I can tell there is no way to know in advance whether a game is full or not, so it usually takes a few tries.
Battle.net also has a built in ladder so that you can rank yourself against other players. However, you are required to win ten games before you are let on the ladder. This is a nice addition to Battle.net, and allows for a bit more competition. Unfortunately, the ladder system needs some work. The reason for this is that while Battle.net records whether or not you drop out of a game before you lose, it does not take this into consideration in the ladder. As a result, the top spaces of the ladder are often filled with people who have thirty to forty disconnects. They will never lose because they never finish a game where they are losing. However, Battle.net is free, and as such is an excellent matchmaking service.
Multiplayer games can be quick, dirty little battles or long, drawn out epics. Blizzard has gone to great pains to balance the three races, and it shows. No side is given an advantage over the other. Although people will try the ever annoying "tank rush", good defenses can prevent any swarm (at first. Swarming is the prime attack of the Zerg). The interface is easy to use and I am often up much later than I should be playing against others.
Money, or why you're going to spend it on Starcraft.
Overall, Starcraft is an excellent game. There will no doubt be endless comparisons to TA, but in the end I feel that I like both games equally. There's a lot of gaming to be found in Starcraft, and as such should be purchased as soon as possible.
Our rating out of 10: 9.0
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