Aug 31, 2010

[Books] StarCraft: Shadow of the Xel'Naga

StarCraft: Shadow of the Xel'NagaBooks based on game franchises are definitely a mixed bag, but at least they have a higher success rate compared to movies and TV shows based on video games. I suppose it's because the who written medium provides the authors a lot more leeway in making sure they capture the feel of the original game compared to the budget-conscious studios. So in this regard, I suppose I tend to expect more from such books compared to their more visually-inclined cousins in other media. I just hope I don't end up being too harsh.

StarCraft remains a franchise that is near and dear to my heart. After they totally changed the gaming landscape back in 1998, I was hooked not just on the amazing gameplay but on the rich story as well. This has always been one of the reasons that Blizzard is such a succesful computer game studio - they know how to spin a great tale that really gets the players immersed in the games.

Thus the StarCraft novels have been an interesting way for me to further explore the rich universe that was created for this game. Despite my love for the series, I've come to not expect too much from these titles since they're written by many different authors and thus each brings a different perspective to things. And sometimes, they way they handle things just doesn't work for me.

StarCraft: Shadow of the Xel'Naga is set between the events of the original StarCraft and StarCraft: Brood War. It was written by Gabriel Mesta, which is a pseudonym for husband and wife Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta Anderson.

The story brings us to the outskirt world of Bhekar Ro which has long escaped the attention of the Terran Confederacy given its lack of tactical value. The human colonists have been doing their best to make a living despite the harsh environment of the planet. But everything changes when a storm reveals a long-forgotten Xel'Naga artifact buried beneath a mountain. The artifact becomes active and sends out a summons that every Protoss and Zerg in the area can hear. At the same time, the frightened colonists send a distress call to the Terran Government only to get a response from Arcturus Mengsk's new Terran Dominion instead.

Kerrigan, the Zerg Queen of Blades dispatches the Kulkulkan Brood to investigate the source of the signal. A Protoss fleet that had escaped the horrors of Aiur also sets course for the planet in the hopes that they will find something of value to make up or their failure to defend their planet. And Mengsk sends out General Duke and his Alpha Squadron to respond to the call of the colonists. Thus all three forces make their way to the ones ignored planet. At the same time, a fourth individual, the Dark Templar scholar Xerana, hears the call and realizes what it truly means. She races to the planet as well in the hopes of averting a possible catastrophe.

A Protoss force attacks a Zerg colony, shown f...Image via WikipediaIt's highly evident in the writing of this book that the author/s wanted to capitalize on the game as much as possible Perhaps it was all done for the love of the game as well but in a way it came out somehow wrong. Now instead of focusing on writing a good story, there were all these interludes to introduce new units being added to the battlefield or have characters use special abilities that are strongly identified with the game. I'm sure they meant well and for all we know this was all because of meddling from the higher executives or something, however in the end it felt cheap and underdeveloped.

Plus it probably didn't help that the characters all felt somewhat shallow and one-dimensional. The only thing that really helped distinguish them from one another were their roles and races instead of their personalities. The Zerg was just the Zerg and thus they only deserved to be a big mindless bug army. The colonists were scared, backwards Terrans who really couldn't contribute to the story much. The Protoss were typically arrogant and the Terran Dominion forces were overshadowed by General Duke's combat antics.

In the end, the story really didn't feel like it was adding to the already rich back story behind the StarCraft game. In some ways, one could equate this with a randomly generated mission with three players hard at work and with some quirky mission objectives set. And what's more annoying is that ultimately, these virtual players don't win and we're all left scratching our heads, trying to figure out what the heck happened.

StarCraft: Shadow of the Xel'Naga is a good attempt at a StarCraft book but one that got too distracted by the game system instead of the game universe. It gets 2 Zerg-infested blue dogs out of a possible 5.
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