StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty PC DVD
Published by: Blizzard Entertainment
Developed by: Blizzard Entertainment
With over 1.5 million copies being sold in just forty-eight hours, StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is the fastest selling strategy game of all time and the plaudits are coming thick and fast. Of course it’s easy to be cynical and suggest that some of that lavish praise is being dished out all too generously after all StarCraft II isn’t perfect. The game doesn’t really change the core StarCraft experience in any dramatic fashion and it could even be argued that it’s lacking in some respects. I have to be honest here and say that I’m not actually a big StarCraft fan. In fact over the years I’ve been rather cheesed off with RTS games in general. That StarCraft II has not only kept me glued to my computer but also rekindled my interest in the genre says a lot for Blizzard Entertainment’s latest title.
Whilst some may bemoan the fact that there’s only a single campaign in StarCraft II (after there being one for each race in the first game), no one can argue with the quality on offer here. I don’t think I’ve ever played an RTS where the single player campaign has been so varied and refreshing. The campaign puts you in control of the Terran faction. You'll take charge of Jim Raynor and his group of rebels whose ultimate goal is to depose the evil Emperor Mengsk. Of course Raynor will also have to deal with the menacing Zerg and Kerrigan, Raynor's treacherous old flame, too. The campaign really works because you get to engage in interesting conversations between the missions and see propagandist news broadcasts amongst other things, which enrich the storyline, and also because each mission is a quality experience. At no point do you feel like you're playing similar missions, or missions that are there simply to pad out the experience, thanks to the clever and original mission design from the developers.
The campaign is actually quite lengthy clocking in at around twenty-six missions. The sheer amount of variety and originality in the campaign missions is outstanding and when you throw in a highly engaging storyline you have one heck of an addictive RTS experience. To play through the campaign once is going to take you quite a long time but it also helps that the game encourages you to play through missions again on harder difficulty settings. The game has an achievement system where you'll earn achievement points for goals you complete (these are different from the standard mission objectives). The campaign isn't linear and you can choose what missions you wish to take. There are some moral choices to be made here (you'll have to decide which characters to help for instance) and this does have a bearing on which missions will be offered later on. With the money you earn from missions, you can purchase upgrades for your units and base structures and this allows you to customise your forces in a way that will suit your style of play. You can also earn abilities by conducting research. Some missions will earn you Zerg or Protoss research points which you amass to unlock these extra abilities.
In addition to the campaign, the single-player experience extends to a skirmish mode where you can take on the AI (and play as either the Terran, Protoss or Zerg factions) and a challenge mode. Both modes can be viewed as training for playing multiplayer matches. The skirmish mode allows you to become comfortable with both the Zerg and the Protoss and generally play in a more competitive fashion than you might have become accustomed to in the campaign. The challenge mode offers an assortment of challenges that are designed to hone your skills. You'll get to learn what units can counter each other and how to defend against various multiplayer tactics. You'll get to grips with the game's shortcut keys which is essential if you're going to stand any chance of success in the multiplayer mode.
The appeal of the original StarCraft's multiplayer game still endures after more than a decade so it's no surprise that millions have awaited StarCraft II simply for its multiplayer offerings. Whilst the single-player campaign is accessible to everyone regardless of whether they've spent time with the original game, the multiplayer game can be intimidating to those who haven't spent many hours with the first StarCraft. However, the game does a good job of ranking your abilities and placing you with opponents that are around the same skill level. Of course you'll need to play several games before you're rated accurately and to begin with you may come up against some opponents who are just too skilled or too easy but it's not long before you're up against opponents who are around the same level as you. Of course given the hardiness of the first StarCraft's multiplayer and the fact that there are always many thousands of players on line for StarCraft II, it's a multiplayer experience that's well worth the effort.
As excellent as StarCraft II generally is, it's not quite the perfect experience fans of the series could have hoped for. Some will point to the inclusion of just one campaign as a problem but as mentioned earlier, there are no grounds for complaint here. A more genuine complaint is the absence of support for LAN play. Whilst to many including LAN support in games is something that isn't as popular as it used to be, StarCraft II is one of those games that feels as though it would be ideally suited to LAN play and its omission is baffling. Your multiplayer needs should be well catered for with Battle.net but as good as it is, it can't replicate the feeling of being in the same room as your opponents that you are battling against. Some may also be annoyed that the multiplayer games do not give you access to all of the units you have at your disposal during the single-player campaign which is quite understandable given how good the units are in the campaign.
StarCraft II is a fine looking RTS that manages to retain the visual style of the original game. Whilst the game can require a meaty PC specification if you want all of the graphical details set to maximum, it has to be said that the graphical details are configurable and it's possible to have the game running well and looking good, even if your PC hardware is several years old.
It would have been a crying shame had StarCraft II not been subtitled but thankfully that's not the case. Whilst you're installing the game you're given some narrative to help set the scene for the game's storyline. Thankfully this narrative is subtitled, although if you're asked to create a Battle.Net account during the installation you may want to put this off until you've read all of the dialogue so that you can read the text. Subtitles for the main game are disabled by default, so you'll need to enable them to make sure you can appreciate the game's rather engrossing storyline. The subtitles display the speaker's name (and usually a portrait too) so you're always aware of who is saying what. All of the tutorials are subtitled. Both the main and bonus objectives are shown in text and displayed in the top left corner of the screen so you're always aware of what you need to do. Some missions have time restrictions that you'll need to observe and a counter is displayed in these missions so you're always aware of the time constraints that are placed upon you. Text chat is supported in multiplayer games. On the whole StarCraft II is actually a pretty impressive experience for deaf gamers. There are some omissions such as the comments that the units make when you give them orders but none of the omissions prove troublesome.
Handling the sequel to the hugely popular StarCraft must have been a difficult balancing act for Blizzard Entertainment. Create more of the same and you're going to get criticised whilst moving a little too far from the original formula is going to result in the same thing. In truth StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty does stick closely to the original StarCraft blueprint whilst doing something things a little differently and polishing to a shine those aspects that remain the same. The structure and variety of the campaign is superb and a benchmark for the genre. Yes, some may moan about the fact that there is only one campaign but it's a campaign that surpasses all of the previous StarCraft campaigns combined. Hardcore fans will bemoan the lack of LAN support (and probably other little things that only really matter to hardcore fans) but the fact is that it's one of the most thrilling RTS games I've played in long time.