Not A Heinlein Future
Somewhere on earth right now there’s a downtown skyscraper with the word Blizzard emblazoned on the placard. At the top of this building is a penthouse with a golden throne, surrounded by mounds of money of every denomination. On this throne sits the emperor of Blizzard Entertainment. At the flick of a switch near his armrest a dozen space marines pour from hidden compartments around the walls, wielding real space rifles, donned in working power-armor.
Well, maybe things aren’t so bad yet. But Blizzard commands droves of monthly subscribers through their World Of Warcraft franchise, royalties from Diablo I & II sales, and now the sequel to the Korean dominated real-time strategy game; Starcraft. Their subscribership is so vast that if their next patch featured achievements for snuffing out game reviewers with chloroform and lime, I won’t be here.
Even if you’ve never played Starcraft or its successive expansion Brood Wars, Starcraft 2 won’t leave you in the dark about its past history before it shuttles you off to a future of cosmic mayhem. A soothingly robotic female voice helps catch you up on Starcraft lore with a loading screen slideshow during the hour-or-more installation. After which you take the lead of the rebel Terran forces, through war hero and melancholy space cowboy Jimmy Raynor.
The future of Steroids: So big... how did he ever fit in a vulture?
Mild-mannered engineer with 20” guns.
Specters- Seriously, how much must you bench-press to sneak up on people?
Command troops from the war-room of a starship or from the barstool in a Terran dive, through 29 diverse strategy missions that increase in complexity and difficulty, all but a few of which are played strictly from the earthling’s perspective. A series of novelty Protoss (mystic alien space-shaman) missions are available near the beginning of the game, but they offer few rewards or insights, aside from bridging the storyline from the first game to the second. The Zerg (see movie; Aliens) have no missions of their own, though speculations and teasers suggest the player will control the hive mind for the next expansion; Heart of the Swarm.
During the missions all three races, Zerg, Protoss, and Terran, are thrown together on planet-side battlefields to hash out their differences like bees in shaken jars. Between these romps are remarkable bits of dialogue, eclectic cultural references, and lively characters, which act like glue holding together violent interspecies confrontations. The storyline, while not as engaging as some roleplaying games, is better written than any RTS has a right to be, with a conclusion that leaves the player satisfied right up to the point when the credits stop rolling and the multiplayer games start.
I don’t know if I can stress enough the importance of multi-tasking in Starcraft 2, and the game itself is more than willing to educate you. Every mode of play outside the campaign seems designed to hone your skills for crushing real opponents. The challenge missions teach you how to defend against popular early-game tactics, to produce and deploy units accordingly, and how to maneuver your tiny fighting men during combat to minimize the damage they take.
The game holds your hand as you rise through the difficulty levels against AI opponents, then through practice matches with other new players, and finally, through ranked matches. And with every tiny victory you’re given a pat on the back which comes in the form of achievements; clever little merit badges with descriptions of what you did to win the match.
After all that practice and all those achievements it’s time to face some real opponents, and unless you’ve found some real latent talent for Starcraft 2 or you were a junkie of the first game, be prepared for total destruction.
The leagues in which every player is auto-separated into offer some measure of fairness. Almost the same slant as filling a soccer stadium with men, charging them 60 bucks apiece, and giving them lead pipes with the comfort that they’ll be roughly separated into divisions. The ‘gold medal’ players will do fine. The ‘bronze’ players will be brained.
I myself was humbled into the lowest possible league, having played my trial matches buzzed on whisky, and found my opponents to be grossly overwhelming or borderline retarded. One Zerg player actually apologized for beating me in a span of a few minutes. Another sent wave after ineffectual wave of the smallest, least threatening units in the game, until I carpet bombed his base. Larger team match-ups, IE; 2v2, 3v3, or 4v4, make for even greater chasms in skill.
The Final Ruling:
I don’t know if the single player campaign alone can justify the steep price of the game, especially if you don’t intend multiple playthroughs for all the achievements. But when you get down to it, Starcraft 2 was never meant to stand on single player mode alone. It’s not an RPG. It thrives as a community, an entity composed of sweaty nerds willing to commit their time and reflexes to the good of the galaxy. So unless you hate RTS’s or playing with other live human beings, pick up a copy of Starcraft 2 or abuse your friend’s guest pass, and see if you can’t lead an army of super-intelligent drooling insects.