Starcraft 2: Single-Player Campaign, a Review

08022010

I finished the single-player campaign mode of Starcraft 2 yesterday. Apparently I did miss some of the missions going through and will end up trying again to figure out how that was possible. I am not often one for partaking in replay value, however.

I will remark that the cinematic feel to the game was intense and extremely well-done. The in-between-missions segments were a pleasure to view. I’m not a fan of the “country” feel they implemented as it’s just not a genre I favor, but it fit well enough. It is unfortunately sexist in my opinion, as just about all of the prominent characters are nonsensically wide-shouldered males. It almost fails the Bechdel Test but for one part where a Protoss that is probably a woman (a differentiation difficult to make save for the voices and subtle appearance differences) offers the Dr. Ariel Hanson a remark about the necessity to purge Zerg-infested humans instead of trying to cure them. It is a video game and as such an entertainment niche with a long-standing propensity to cater to male interests, but I merely wish to point it out.

All that said, it does not do much to change the basic RTS formula. You maneuver units in combat, create buildings which create those units, and gather resources to supply both. The game uses the top-down view characteristic to the genre, and maps are clouded with a fog which hides the presence of enemy units that are out of “sight range” of your own.

Retained is the spirit of rock-paper-scissors. There are three factions, each with a varied set of units, and every unit has strengths and weaknessess against many of the others. Additionally, the importance of micro-management is underlined; many units have abilities that can be activated, exponentially varying gameplay. It is a daunting experience for new players especially.

On that note, the single-player campaign offers a course for the new players to take, lowering the learning curve substantially. Throughout the campaign, players are given the opportunity to learn and use one new unit per mission, allowing them to fold each in to an overarching strategy. There are tips on the loading screens and tips offered during the missions, as well as a fairly robust help menu which offers possible unit counters for each faction. However, the campaign is primarily focused on the Terrans and there are some side-quests wherein you can play the Protoss, but there is no opportunity to play as the Zerg. There is an “expansion” being released next with further campaign gameplay called “Heart of the Swarm” which, if the name is anything to go by, should feature the Zerg at the forefront.

Moving on, the graphics are superb, and the level of detail is surprising. For a brand new game, on my 4-year old machine I was able to run with just about everything set at the highest settings (the main exception was Texture Detail, which was at one step below the highest) and it ran quite smoothly throughout. There was only one time the game seemed to out-do my computer: the final Protoss side-mission where you field a large Protoss force against an endless swarm of Zerg and “the Hybrid.” The Protoss have an aerial unit called the “Mothership”…in addition to a Vortex ability which offers some crowd control by removing opponents from combat, it cloaks all nearby friendly units such that they cannot be detected except by certain other units with the specific ability to do so. The effect is a sort of vibrant blue sheen on the units cloaked, and having a hundred or so units all glowing in that way really affected the game’s performance. Otherwise though, as I said, it ran very very well.

Very pretty graphically, there are many minor details that add to a very lovely overall picture. There are often animals moving about, and birds will often be seen taking to the air when you move your units through an area. Notably, there was a level where “the floor became lava”; lava would surge upward and make large areas of a map unsafe and you had to get your units out of the area or they would die (as, well, lava is kind of warm). On this map, set on an obviously volcanic rocky world, there were these little crab-like creatures roaming about. When the lava came in, they would skitter up to higher ground as well, moving back to the lower elevations when the molten rock receded. A very minor detail but one the developers added in nonetheless, the experience made better by it.

The sound quality, too, was excellent, even in spite of the country music in the Cantina. The mission music is still stuck in my head and particularly, the explosion sounds struck me as very well-done. The Protoss building explosions had a great deal of bass to them that felt really immersive, somehow.

Frankly, I may not do much with this game beyond the single-player campaign. I have never been strongly into competitive multiplayer. That said, I very much liked what I played.