If you haven't heard of WarCraft
by now, you should go jump in a small
lake. Go on, I'll wait . . . Finished? Good. WarCraft II
is to top down
strategy games as Doom II
is to first person shooters. While they weren't
the first games of their genre to come out, they were the hits that defined all
the games to come. Now, two years after its initial PC
release, WarCraft II
has finally made it to the console systems. To some
this may be a blessing, but to others, a sad and bitter end for such a fantastic
Basic plot synopsis: Orcs Good, Humans Bad. (Oops, switch that.) If you're the Orcs, kill all the Humans you can find. If you're the Humans, kill all the Orcs you can find. Simple, eh? As with all top down strategy games, you have various units that you control and use to kill the enemy - one of my favorite genres of video games ever created. You've got to use tactics to overwhelm your opponent. A video game that requires brains? Surely you jest.
Perhaps the best thing about this latest release is that WarCraft II: The Dark Saga contains not only the original missions, but also the missions from the expansion set Beyond the Dark Portal. That's 52 missions altogether. On top of that, they added the maps that were included with the original game if you want to try your hand at a custom mission. All in all, this one CD is chock full of more wholesome WarCraft goodness than you're able to eat at one meal. It'll take a long time to finish all that this CD has to offer.
The graphics are poor; not bad, but definitely not good. They look absolutely nothing like the PC version, and that is not a good thing. Very pixelated and small, the graphics are a big letdown for anyone who has played the PC or Mac versions. All the FMV is still there, however, and it looks the same as before. If they were having a problem porting the game graphics over, I'm sure no one would have minded if they simply dropped the FMV. It's a game, not a movie. If you're running out of space on a CD, skimp on the movies, not on the gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, here is where the game is the most disappointing. Instead of having the old, tried and true control panel that has been used on top down strategy since Dune II (the granddaddy of them all.), they used individual panels that have to be called up by each unit. At the office, we have a 27" TV that we play most of the games on. We realize that many people have smaller TV's. Apparently, the designers didn't realize this. On our TV at the office, it was hard to see the individual panels. I would hate to see it on any TV smaller than ours.
Besides the lack of a control panel, the control is still a little wily. Control of a character is absolute. In order to stop controlling him and start controlling another character, you have to hit the cancel button before you try to select the next unit. This slows down your reaction time greatly and can cost you some serious losses.
An added feature that has not been included in any previous version of WarCraft II is the ability to auto-build units. This means that you can purchase more than one unit at a time and simply let the building build it when you have the resources. I'm glad that the designers saw a flaw with the old programming and attempted to fix it. Though it does not make up for the graphics and the control, the auto-build feature is fantastic and should be included in all future top down strategy games. (Did you hear that game designers?).
Another feature that is apparently only available on the Saturn version is the ability to change languages. You have the choice of French, German, Italian, Spanish, or English. The units will then respond to you in the language of your choice. Something about a soldier asking "Sus Ordenes?" somehow warms my heart. Me gusta WarCraft.
Admittedly, this review has been fairly harsh for a game that I still enjoy playing. Unfortunately, I loved the computer version and am sorely disappointed by what they did with the port to the consoles. After seeing Westwood Studios do an almost identical port of Command & Conquer for the console systems (even improving some of the control), I was saddened at this apparent half-hearted attempt with WarCraft II: The Dark Saga. They have a saying where I come from, "Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes to the bone." The poor gameplay and difficult control have successfully reduced one of the best games of all time to slightly above average. Regrettable, but still playable.