Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tech: Starcraft II review



INTRODUCTION

Making a sequel to the original "Starcraft" is sort of like trying to paint a sequel to the Mona Lisa. The first game is such a classic that millions of people are still playing it, more than 12 years after it was released (to put this in perspective, most games don't even last 12 months before players move on to greener pastures).

The temptation must have been great to simply remodel all the units and maps in 3D, keep all the stats the way they were, and charge people $50 for it. Blizzard didn't become one of the most successful game developers on the planet by resting on their laurels, however. "Starcraft II" diverges from its predecessor in a number of important ways...

ZEN AND THE ART OF MACROMANAGEMENT

First, there is no selection limit - you can have as many units hotkeyed to a selection group as you want. This is a subtle difference, but it has huge implications. In SC2, large armies are much easier to control, leading to much bigger battles, leading to a greater emphasis on economy and unit production

Second, each race now has a "macro mechanic" that helps to separate the men from the boys, so to speak. The Zerg's support caster, the Queen, can spawn extra larvae. The Protoss can speed up unit production and tech tree research. The Terran can call down special mining units.

The upshot of these three abilities is that you'll be frantically switching from your base to battle in an effort to keep your production up - and if you don't (or can't) keep up with these mechanics at several bases at once WHILE managing your army, you'll likely lose.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Mercifully, "Stacraft II" has a host of interface improvements, some of which are cribbed from other games. There's an idle worker alert that helpfully tells you when a worker unit needs orders, it's easier than ever to queue up multiple orders, and your hotkey groups are displayed in a helpful little toolbar above the main interface.

The process of actually getting into games with your friends is streamlined, too. There's an in-game friends list, integrated voice chat, and the ability to form parties to start games. Admittedly, this is all de rigeur for any PC or video game released in 2010, but it's implemented in a clean, bug-free manner.

A WORTHY SUCCESSOR?

So is "Starcraft II" a better game than "Starcraft"? The jury is still out on that one, and Blizzard is continually changing the gameplay balance (the first patch is already out, and it nerfs some core Protoss and Terran units). Like millions of people worldwide, I'm just happy it's done.

Rating: 91/100

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