Jun 30, 2010

[Games] StarCraft (PC)

StarCraft (PC)Today marks the celebration of the long-awaited release of the full sequel to this game. With StarCraft II officially hitting store shelves in less than a month, it's a fun time to be a big fan of this franchise.

So I felt it fitting to revisit the past before we look to the future and celebrate why this game was so great in the first place. As much as the sequel promises new graphics, different gameplay and all that fun stuff, its truth worth can only be truly measured with a firm grip on its glorious origins.

I've been a big fan of real-time strategy games (RTS) since the Dune II days quite frankly, and the evolution and advancement of these games has been quite the fun ride thus far. But StarCraft really did something for me that not many games achieved at the time. I mean seriously, I enjoyed Command & Conquer and I got into Red Alert as well but StarCraft was a game-changer in so many ways. No wonder it took this long for Blizzard to come up with a sequel that is hopefully worthy of the name.

StarCraft is one of those landmark games that really change the way things are done. In fact, it probably has had the most impact in South Korea, a country that remains rather obsessed about the game still given the very public gaming tournaments associated with the franchise.

StarCraft was an RTS game with a very rich back story. The game follows three storylines: that of the Humans, the Zerg and the Protoss, our two alien races vying for control of the Koprulu Sector. The Humans have a rebellion on their hands as the Sons of Korhal try to fight against their oppressors, the Confederacy of Man. The Protoss enter the sector and start destroying planets and some of the Confederate colonies in an effort to deny these resources to the Zerg. The Zerg are a hostile race bend on expanding their influence across the galaxy upon the whims of the Overmind - their hive mind overlord.

A Protoss force attacks a Zerg colony, shown f...Image via Wikipedia
The humans are resourceful and industrious, relying on a lot of technology to support their efforts. Thus they end up with huge Siege Tanks, invisible Wraith starfighters and lumbering Goliath mechanized suits. The could repair their buildings and could even have most of them take off and launch in order to remain mobile. The Protoss are a highly advanced race of telepaths, manipulating exotic energies for their goals. They had very powerful yet expensive units and relied a lot stronger weapons rather than numbers. Plus they had advanced shield technology that took up half of their life bars as a replacement. And the Zerg were a purely organic race that manipulated their genetic code for a variety of purposes. Thus they had living structures, burrowing soldier beasts and giant crab-like aliens that could traverse space. They were built for speed and overwhelming numbers.

The three races represented a lot of classic science fiction tropes in a manner that worked well in fleshing out their building and attack styles. Sure, the Humans reminded all of us of the Space Marines from the aliens series, or perhaps later on Starship Troopers. Plus it was just fun having them all huddled together in a bunker trying to take down overwhelming forces. The Zerg were clearly a nod to the Xenomorphs of the Alien series or perhaps the Genestealers from the Warhammer tabletop game franchise. And the Protoss were your usual highly advanced alien race with massive energy weapons especially with the gray skin and the underdeveloped bodies in favor of mental abilities.

But all this made the game fun on so many levels.

First, the story was just awesome. The three-chapter epic told through the individual missions was a very rich tale set in a highly developed universe. It wasn't some quickly slapped together premise just for the sake of the game engine - it was an actual story with intrigue, noble heroes and surprise plot twists. Plus add in the amazing cut scenes and you get one very awesome game that was very fulfilling as a single-player epic.

Then there was the system itself, which had a remarkably well-balanced mix of units, limitations and potential combat strategies. You could shore up your defenses until you had enough resources to bring out the big Protoss guns like their lumbering Carriers. You could go for speed and rush an enemy base with your Zerglings or you could overwhelm them with hordes of Hydralisks or Mutalisks. Or you could have an advancing force of Siege Tanks bombarding a base from afar - or at least until your Ghost unit could bring down an Nuclear Missile. The possibilities were limitless.

And then there was the Multiplayer mode that brought it all together. The diverse mix and range of options the game allowed resulted in some very dynamic strategies when put into a multiplayer context. I learned a lot about serious gaming in my StarCraft years and you could never really tell what the other player was going to do. People expressed their personalities through their combat styles and strategies and this made for nearly endless replayability.

When one thinks of the games at the time, it's staggering to think about how big a jump this really. WarCraft II was still making the multiplayer rounds at the time but its two-race setup was limited and the balancing logic then was to mirror the unit types with slightly different looks and decals. Red Alert was helping make up for how slow Command & Conquer felt but its story didn't quite hold as much ground as its multiplayer mode did. StarCraft really managed to balance most of these elements out and totally redefined how we all looked at Blizzard as a gaming company. Until now, I don't mind revisiting the game if only to go through the story again or perhaps to play the quick skirmish against some AI opponents or something. It was just that good.

StarCraft will forever remain a shining moment in gaming history and not just for RTS games. It gets 5 memorable heroes like Jim Raynor, Kerrigan and Tassadar out of a possible 5.
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