Fight alien scum with the rednecks of Earth!
I came into the office the other day, and on the chair in front of me lay StarCraft. Could it be that this game, which was due out several months ago, was finally released? I immediately grabbed the box and defended it with my life. I was ready to retreat away from society and live in front of my computer screen for days. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. I was just not drawn into StarCraft as much as I had been with WarCraft II. So I was left with a single word question . . . Why?
On any list of the top real-time strategy games, WarCraft II still is in the top three. I would rather play WarCraft II than most of the other games in this genre. It was obvious that Blizzard wanted to capitalize on their success by releasing StarCraft with a very similar graphics engine, which is why StarCraft is nothing particularly new. StarCraft took so long to reach the market because, supposedly, Blizzard was designing a new whizz-bang graphics engine. So, why after all that work, did I still think it was the same engine as WarCraft II? It was due to the fact that I was yelling the same things at my computer that I yelled a few years ago. "What? Don't go there!" "Stupid Unit! Go here!" "What the hell?" (Insert your own swear words here.) On one Protoss mission (designed by the folks at Blizzard), it was frustrating just to get a dragoon to go up a flight of stairs! He'd go halfway up, then decide to explore the rest of the level, inevitably getting killed. You had to find the exact spot on the screen to click to make him go the way you wanted. This was more frustrating than anything else. With a similar engine and setup, one wonders why they didn't just make WarCraft III, and save the StarCraft idea for when they actually wanted a new product.
This isn't to say that StarCraft is a bad game. In fact, most people who like real-time strategy games will get a kick out of playing StarCraft. They just might be a little disappointed at the lack of change. It is still a solid game with good cinematics and some interesting missions. However, it just seems that Blizzard could have tried harder.
"But, wait," someone in the background says, "This game has three races instead of the traditional two. That's new and different!" Well, no, it is not. The game that started it all, Dune II, had three races, each with their own special weapons and missions. The three races in StarCraft are the Terrans (the aforementioned rednecks), the Zerg, and the Protoss. One of the hardest things to do in a real-time strategy game with mutiple sides, is balance the units strengths. StarCraft does a good job with this. Each race has its own strengths and limitations. The humans can move their buildings, but their attacks are based around numerous smaller units. The Zerg can only build on the Creep, an ooze like gel that you have to grow, and all their units "evolve" from other units, even the buildings. The Protoss can only build within a certain radius of special pylons, but they have the nifty skill of their buildings constructing themselves. The three races have vastly different units, but somehow, it all evens out in the end. With multi-player games, however, someone will eventually find some trick that will make some race dominant, but I pray that that doesn't happen soon.
StarCraft has two distinct modes of play, single player and multi-player, over battle.net. There are a total of thirty single player missions. That's ten for the humans, ten for the Zerg, and ten for the Protoss. Every time you finally think you have a handle on how to play as a certain race, you run out of missions to play. One of the things that set play WarCraft II ahead of the other games was its fantastic plot. Though the plot in StarCraft has some interesting twists and turns, it is just over much too quickly. If space was the issue, they should have made a second CD. Sure, they included a lot of individual maps, but when I play a game by myself, I want a plot! Otherwise, victory seems rather shallow. I was left with the distinct feeling that the single player missions were simply training for people to play multi-player.
One nice addition is the Level editor. With this, you can be the De Vinci of StarCraft, designing levels for people around the world to play. Though a great addition that will guarantee tons of maps for years to come, the average gamer will play with it for five minutes and forget about it. For some, however, the mission editor will bring them hours of enjoyment.
Speaking of the multi-player mode, it works really well. With a 28.8 connection, you can still play in games against multiple opponents. Battle.net gives you a lag meter, telling you which opponents you will have a great connection with, and which you won't. If a person lags out during a game, the game pauses to let them catch up. If this happens too often, you can kick them out of the game for good. The multi-player is easy to use, and all you need is an Internet connection; no additional money is involved.
"So it is a good game, with good multi-player . . . What exactly is wrong with it?" Well, the problem is not what it has, but what it lacks. Total Annihilation blasted onto the scene a few months ago and is, to say the least, impressive. With real physics, tons of units, and fifty (twenty-five per side) single player missions, it truly was a step in a new direction for the genre. StarCraft is just more of the same. Though a good, solid game, it lacks the feeling of playing something new. Frankly, WarCraft II, though three years old, is still a better game.
All in all, if you buy StarCraft, you're buying it for the multi-player. The single-player is just too short and disappointing. The multi-player is a great setup, and, if you buy StarCraft, you will enjoy countless hours of gaming goodness. Unfortunately, the game just doesn't live up to the lofty goals of its predecessors, and for that, it suffers.