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That word becomes a sentence when used to describe StarCraft 2. In part because StarCraft 2 makes it so easy to use the word to describe a wide variance of things in the context of the game. The mission structure is incredible, the cinematic sequences are incredible, the cutscenes incredible, etc, etc… In fact it seems so superfluous to even tell you that the game is as good as it is. It’s like there’s a subconscious acceptance that at the end of the day the game will be nigh to flawless, and the fewer people left saying otherwise the better. Truth be told all of those accolades are easy street for StarCraft 2, it blends sophistication, addictive gameplay, and the most diverse and emotionally engaging campaign in an RTS to date in a way that creates a game that is nothing short of a masterpiece. That’s usually the kind of stuff I say toward the end of a review, but in this case, it’s something you become aware of from the opening cinematic. The game plays, and feels more like an epic film in it’s storytelling, and elevates the genre, and StarCraft itself to a level that I hadn’t dreamed of.
Take for example the simple act of choosing a mission. Mission structure for StarCraft used to simply be playing one mass build map to the next, with an installation level thrown in here, and there. This then-revolutionary to the genre style of play still pokes it’s head around in StarCraft 2, but you’re going to be hard pressed to find yourself playing the exact same situation twice. No longer can a player Battlecruiser stomp their way through the later chunks of the campaign, or marine stomp the early game, as it will throw in enough surprises, and twists to keep you constantly having to rethink, and adapt. In some cases, these impromptu mission changes force you to redefine an entire strategy in the blink of an eye, or succumb to mission failure or death. While the moments can be tense and oftentimes frustrating, the reward that is produced for the risk that StarCraft 2 is willing to take is immense. It’s very safe to say that the RTS genre is going to be emulating and copying StarCraft for years to come all over again, with the foundation of some ideas that are just too damn good to be confined to this game.
The best thing about the mission structure, is the sheer insane amount of variety that you are provided with to even the odds against the surprising idiosyncrasies of the single player romp. As a band of rebels, you’ll have to rely on cold hard cash to turn your fighting force into a ruthless efficient killing machine. And you’ll earn most of that cash by completing missions and bonus objectives around the sector. Massing all that cash will give you access to advanced upgrades, and powerful mercenary units, that can quickly turn the tide of any battle they are deployed in. But even cooler, and more innately tied into the missions, are the research opportunities that will present themselves. Sometimes it will be as simple as killing a certain type of unit, and other times you might find yourself running a daring thinly stretched raid into an unexplored corner of the map to try and capture an artifact while waging a war in an entirely separate corner of the same map. The under the gun feeling that these scenarios provide, makes the payoff that much more meaningful when you manage to knock one of these bonus objectives out of the park.
Even more intuitive is the way that the game will weave and breathe choice and consequence into the game. Oftentimes you won’t really understand the scope of what you could have accomplished in a mission until you hit a rewards screen and realize there was a wealth of research that you missed, or a bonus objective you failed to wipe out in time. It’s enough to make you want to click “replay mission” more times than I could count, and it’s easily a reason to go back to the campaign over and over, to experience all the different potential outcomes, and play around strategically. But beyond the consequences in the context of in-game rewards and bonuses, there are two very distinct moments of moral choice (that are thankfully without a painfully obvious right, or wrong answer.) that will shape the story thereafter. Never have I felt like a bigger piece of shit in a game for making a poorly rationalized choice, than after the Haven Colonists mission. And another moment that occurs later in the game, presents another such opportunity for personal judgment, reminding you that no choice in StarCraft 2 is ever an easy one.
It’s such a breath of fresh air, to see a genre that has fallen victim to it’s own trappings be so fresh and full of ideas. The one thing StarCraft 2 has manged to do for me, that almost no RTS has done before it, is that it has given me the sensation of reading an incredibly detailed, and engaging novel… constantly turning the pages, cursing the sandman for daring to sit so heavily on your eyelids for fear of not being one of the first to be privy to it’s secrets. StarCraft 2 does that, and in such an elegant and seamless way, that you’ll almost certainly forget that you’re playing a game when you watch yet another jaw dropping cinematic, and experience all the nuances of the story in the in-game cutscenes. And the less I say about the genuinely touching ending, the better. In fact, I think I have written more about other games that smaller in scope in comparison, and in content. But this review, and it’s length seem right. There isn’t anything that demands a need to be senselessly verbose, there is simply a great game that demands to be played, and the fewer words it takes for me to get you to do just that. Experience the game. The better.
But before I sign this post off, I want to point out that it isn’t often that a game can deal with the subjects of redemption, betrayal, love, and loss, and not come off as anything other than hokey, or forced. But games that promise to have larger scope, and more emotionally engaging content will now have to take notice, step lightly, and try harder than the established paradigm that has served gaming framework for so long. It’s all so flawless, and perfect, that StarCraft 2 should embarrass anyone in gaming that has tried to deal with these issues, and make them engaging enough to break the videogame barrier and become transcendentally human, because it accomplishes so much that others have not for so long. An effort that drips with atmosphere, polish, and an efficiency that hasn’t been seen for years, and will be imitated by countless for years to come.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is available now for PC
It was developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment
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