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Game Info:

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Published by Blizzard Entertainment
Developed by Blizzard Entertainment
ESRB Rating: T
Reviewed on PC
Available On: Mac, PC
Genre: Real-time Strategy
Number of Players: 1+
Retail Price: $56 new $41 used

Blizzard scored a home run on the original StarCraft, creating a worldwide favorite and seems to have preserved the best elements of the original game while also updating it. StarCraft II continues the storyline from the original StarCraft, taking place four years after the end of the Brood War expansion.

Comparisons with the original game are inevitable, although the game does stand on its own in story and playability. The flavor of the game is still solidly StarCraft. Even with new units, building traits and abilities the basics of the game remain unchanged. A veteran StarCraft player would have no trouble jumping right into this one. Some of the verbal responses from giving orders to individual units are the same even though they\'ve been re-recorded. Blizzard, as always, has added whimsical touch. Clicking on units repeatedly causes them to start saying amusing phrases.

The player takes on the role of Jim Raynor, former member of Arcturus Mengsk\'s Terran Dominion military force and current town Marshall. Emperor Mengsk is firmly entrenched in his power, the Zerg have been strangely quiet for some time, and relations with the Protoss are peaceful if not friendly. It\'s the perfect setting for a new storyline. Marshall Raynor now leads a band of rebels against the Terran Dominion, but is still haunted by inner demons, including frustration over his inability to save Kerrigan during the events of the original StarCraft. A few familiar faces from the previous story make an appearance here as well as plenty of new characters. The story of StarCraft II is strong and players may well find themselves playing the game just to see what happens next.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Strong plot, better unit variety
Weak Points: No local LAN support, micromanagement still necessary
Moral Warnings: Partial nudity, battle violence

 

Like the original StarCraft, this game is a real-time strategy (RTS) game. That means resource and unit production management is king. In campaign mode, successful missions advance the storyline and failed missions must be repeated in order to progress the story. In campaign mode, units can be upgraded with new abilities between missions. These additional units and upgrades come in three types. First, Protoss and Zerg technology captured as secondary mission objectives earn the player extra technology benefits, which can be spent on upgrades to units and buildings. Second, cash rewards for successful missions can be spent on a different set of upgrades that boost performance of specific unit types. Third, those cash rewards can also be spent on hiring mercenary units, which are essentially more powerful versions of existing units. While all of the options for upgrades are nice, having to switch between parts of the ship to manage the upgrades is a bit awkward and time consuming. A player who wants to coordinate their upgrades to support strategy has to jump back and forth between rooms to make decisions. This makes one grateful that Blizzard includes a notepad in the game packaging.

Unlike the original, missions do not follow a strict order in which they must be played. There are multiple subplots that serve as pretexts for missions that do not directly relate to each other. For example, some missions take place within the context of visions Raynor experiences from Protoss technology.

Consistent with RTS games in general where the campaign mode doubles as a tutorial, new units are unlocked over the course of the game as missions are completed. While many of the Terran units are basically the same, there are some new units or new abilities for old units that enhance the way a player has to think about the game. There are infantry that can jump up or down levels of terrain without needing a ramp. Dropships have become medivacs that can heal units as well as transport them and Barracks. Starports or Factories can get an attachment that enables them to have two units being built at once to increase the overall rate of production. A nice change in this game is when buildings or mechanical units take damage, any untasked SCVs (resource gatherers) in the area will automatically move to repair them. This alleviates some of the micromanagement in the frenzy of defending a base. The maps themselves also include features, such as areas of rock that can be destroyed to open up new travel routes.

Unfortunately, it\'s still possible for an SCV to build a building in such a way as to trap itself and be immobile. On the upside, supply depots can now be set to drop underground to allow units to pass over them. They still remain fully in play when hidden, so a player can choose to simply keep his or her supply depots underground full time if desired. Also disappointing is the fact that the maximum unit population at any given time is still fixed at 200. This seemed a reasonable limitation due to technology in 1998 but seems strangely limiting now. On the upside, control groups are now much larger than the original limit of 12.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 78%
Game Play 15/20
Graphics 8/10
Sound 8/10
Stability 5/5 
Controls/Interface 3/5 

Morality Score - 78%
Violence: 7/10
Language: 7/10
Sexual Content: 9/10
Occult/Supernatural: 9/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 7/10

Micromanagement is still a major feature of StarCraft II. Units can be selected as a group or assigned to hotkeys but there is still no way to coordinate a large battle in any real sense, nor can unit formations be controlled. A stream of Zerglings will still march right up to their deaths in a single file line, unless the player moves them as a clump a little at a time. This problem is mitigated somewhat by the ability to use macros (a series of instructions given to a particular unit) to direct a unit to fire on a sequence of targets, moving from each target to the next as they\'re eliminated.

Gone is the old interface between missions, depicting briefings with multiple characters speaking lines to advance the story in preparation for each new mission. Now, the player can explore several sections of the Battlecruiser Hyperion to gain insights into the background story, watch cutscenes, purchase upgrades and research, and choose which mission to attempt next. A variety of characters can be interacted with to give mission briefings, information or to simply advance the story. As is typical with Blizzard, there are whimsical bits of background fluff that are worth the time to watch for.

The ship\'s Cantina also includes a jukebox with a mix of real life tunes and some in-universe music, a television monitor offering amusing glimpses into the universe of StarCraft, and the mercenary hiring interface. The Bridge contains the map used to select missions. The Laboratory allows the player access to technology research based on captured Zerg and Protoss tech, as well as a way to perform missions related to one of the game\'s subplots. Finally, the Hangar provides the interface for upgrading units with cash as well as detailed information on some of the Terran units added during the campaign.

Macros are a little better, expanding on the ability to instruct workers to build multiple structures that existed in the original game. Things like unit production, target selection, even orders that are non-repetitive can be given to a unit in sequence. An SCV can be ordered to build a set of Supply Depots then return to gathering resources. A unit can be ordered to attack targets in a specific order or move about the map using waypoints. This is another welcome reduction in micromanagement.

A map editor is included with the game. This allows the player to create custom maps and even heroic units. Unlike standard multiplayer, all units from the campaign mode are available in custom maps, which can be created to allow up to 12 players at once. The flexibility of the new map editor is impressive and offers the player a wide range of options to tinker with the gameplay.

Multiplayer is available through Battle.net in a new ladder system that matches players with similar levels of skill. This is an improvement as the quickest way to discourage a new player is to match them up against a veteran speed player. This system is similar to that in use by Xbox Live in ranking players. It is worth mentioning that the first five matches a player is involved in aren\'t necessarily matched to an opponent of similar skill. Those are for establishing a baseline. Up to 8 players can join a standard multiplayer game. Sadly, gone is the ability to set up Local Area Network (LAN) games. This appears to be part of Blizzard\'s effort to control piracy, more on that below.

Not all units that are available in campaign mode are available in Multiplayer (Firebats, for example.) Presumably this is an effort to improve balance. There are special units that can be called down and exist only for short duration that allow faster gathering, for example. The upgrades and enhancements that can be purchased during campaign mode are loosely translated into multiplayer mode and can be researched at specific buildings, similar to how it worked in the original game. Not all campaign mode upgrades are available this way.

As with campaign mode, multiplayer mode includes new map elements like destructible barriers and higher value yellow mineral fields. One of the nice features of the multiplayer maps is the Xel\'Naga watchtowers.  These can be captured to clear the fog of war for line of sight, as long as a unit remains near them.

StarCraft II now includes an achievement system for completing bonus (and sometimes arbitrary) objectives during the missions. While this can be a great motivator it does have some oddities. For example if an achievement is unlocked at "Normal" difficulty, completing it on "Hard" difficulty doesn\'t credit the player for it.

The license key for the game is tightly coupled to a Battle.net account, presumably for anti-piracy. This means the game wants an account login to install the game. It is possible to play in Campaign Mode offline. It\'s also impossible to install the game without having or creating a Battle.net account. The upside is if you lose the disks you can download the game again. Somehow that just doesn\'t seem to offset the invasive feeling of Blizzard forcing the player to be a part of the online community like it or not.

Possibly the most glaring gap in the game is the fact that only the Terran campaign is represented here. The original StarCraft, as well as the Broodwar expansion, had three separate story threads, one for each of the three main factions. Wings of Liberty is the Terran campaign ONLY, leaving the Zerg and Protoss for later releases. All 3 factions can be played in multiplayer mode, but Protoss and Zerg fans are left to learn their units through the small peeks offered in the campaign and through trial and error.

After such a long delay between games one would expect there to be a dramatic improvement in graphics. They are indeed much improved and much has been made of the new look and effects. Animations on unit movement are much more natural. An example is the Siege Tank, which trails dust as it rolls across the field and rocks on its suspension when coming to a halt. While these enhancements are quite nice they don\'t really add to gameplay at all. This is understandable, after all RTS games have a fairly standard template which StarCraft II does follow, but it is a reminder that on some level the RTS interface is aging.

The background music is excellent and similar to StarCraft but without repeating the same tunes. It continues to be a nice accompaniment to gameplay without becoming annoyingly repetitive. The sound effects, like the graphics, have been updated but again, don\'t contribute much to the game itself. It\'s still perfectly playable with the speakers turned off.

StarCraft II\'s system requirements are steep, and if you\'re playing on anything less than a 2.6 GHz processor (the minimum required) be prepared to turn the graphics options way down and still sit through lag.

Is the game appropriate? The short answer, as always, is "maybe." StarCraft II is aimed at the young adult demographic and while it doesn\'t contain any total nudity or explicit language, the cantina background has a holographic exotic dancer. The image isn\'t of a nude woman, but she is scantily clad. In cut scenes where Kerrigan is shown up close in her Zerg-modified form, it\'s unclear whether she\'s wearing clothing or if she\'s covered in some sort of Zerg-skin but in any case her body shape is meant to be pleasing to the male eye. Nothing suggestive takes place. The most questionable example is during a cutscene where a woman is completely nude with the sensitive parts obscured by shadow or a strategically placed arm.

Being an RTS game, naturally there\'s steady, sustained onscreen violence as the various units do their very best to blow each other to bits. Some of the cutscenes also show combat between characters and depending on the choices the player makes over the course of the game, can get intense with humans being "infested" by Zerg and having to be put down in person. The language in this game includes the complete set of PG level expletives in campaign mode, and of course during multiplayer gaming there\'s always the risk of being exposed to the laguage of others. Some of the humorous replies by units after clicking on them repeatedly get a bit suggestive, although this would probably go over the heads of younger players.

While there\'s no occultism in the normal sense, the alien races to have their own sort of spirituality and beliefs portrayed in game. As with most games of the genre, any sense of human spirituality is completely absent. While there are decision points in the game, the choices really aren\'t a balance of good and evil. Raynor is a heroic character in any case, although the player\'s choices can go along either idealistic or more pragmatic lines. (Save the human colony that\'s been infested by Zerg, in so doing breaking the truce with the Protoss, or allow them to purge the colony, killing everyone in it?) Most of the game focuses on Jim Raynor and as such he\'s the persona taken on by the player. Raynor drinks whiskey, smokes and at times has a short temper, although he\'s portrayed as a man with a good heart, haunted by his past. This is dealt with in the cutscenes and between missions, so while it can\'t be completely avoided the player can skirt most of it by not stopping to experience all the story fluff.

StarCraft II is a good sequel to the original classic, but feels like an expansion that only took two or three years to create, not a standalone sequel that took twelve. Other than the ability to upgrade units and abilities between missions, there really isn\'t much new added to the experience. For every game improvement there seems to be a corresponding step backward, or worse, an item that could easily have been improved and wasn\'t. Is StarCraft II a disappointment? No, but neither does it feel like it was worth the long wait.

 

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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