StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
Let's get one thing perfectly straight from the outset: A swift perusal of the reviews I've penned in five years of working with Play.tm reveal one damning constant, I don't do PC games. And, if that weren't enough of a red flag for expectant StarCraft fans hoping for a favourable appraisal of Blizzard's latest offering, I don't do real-time strategy either. Oh dear.
Call me a shallow and unimaginative console whore, but I'm most comfortable submerged in my Fatboy beanbag, controller in hand, enjoying the visceral thrill of first and third-person shooters and the occasional action RPG. Indeed, the very idea of hunching over a keyboard and monitor while suffering through countless hours of rinse-and-repeat resource management and point-and-click strategy fills me with dread. So, bearing my obvious PC prejudices in mind, how on Earth am I supposed to do anything but despise every facet of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty?
Although unleashing a tirade of vitriol from my pro-console fanboy gland would be the easy option at this point - and so very tempting - there's an annoying choke point preventing such an outpouring, and that's mainly because StarCraft II happens to be the single best gaming package I've seen since Valve's Half-Life 2: The Orange Box.
Considering 12 years have passed since Blizzard's original game, and the sequel was released to retail on July 27, chances are the vast majority of existing fans are already well aware of just how good the StarCraft universe is - be that through first-hand experience or content provided by other review outlets. But what of those prospective players who, like me, are staunch anti-RTS console gamers or are perhaps intimidated by the prospect of approaching such a colossal PC franchise and its long-standing hardcore community?
Yes, StarCraft II boasts a superbly satisfying single-player campaign, not to mention an immense multiplayer component that could easily last gamers through another 12 years of torment. Yes, it also offers a great variety of mission types and planetary battlegrounds, and an accompanying storyline the equal of anything that's gone before. Yes, its presentation is faultless, its graphics and music are unfailingly top drawer, its attention to detail is unrivalled, and its level design is never anything short of wonderfully clever and inventive. Trust me, this unbridled rush of ebullience fits perfectly with the current Metacritic average of 93/100 assigned to StarCraft II, I'm not looking to controversially kneecap a game that's perfectly deserving of its critical adoration.
What I do want to convey here is just how damn accessible StarCraft II is, and why that accessibility should allay the fears of players who'd otherwise back away in favour of sticking to tried and tested experiences. First off, while I'd heard of StarCraft ahead of the sequel's arrival, I'd never even been tempted to play it. Yet the lack of association didn't matter in the slightest due to masses of intriguing backstory and character information provided through both the Quickstart Guide and also during game installation. Blizzard certainly provides no end of opportunity for new players to familiarise themselves with their surroundings before sending troops into battle.
Once the game has loaded up, players can of course choose to jump straight into either the extensive single-player Terran campaign or the more unpredictable world of multiplayer. However, caution may yield better long-term results thanks to an in-depth Tutorial system and a Challenges mode that combine to explain the execution of basic gameplay elements and allow players to practice and hone valuable strategies and tactics. There are even handy Tech Tree research overviews for the game's three core species (the human Terrans, the technologically advanced Protoss, and the savagely alien Zerg).
But what of trepidation regarding hardware compatibility, which often hinges on whether a host computer is sufficiently tooled to meet the demands of those intimidating lists of 'minimum' and 'recommended' system requirements? From a personal perspective, my modest three-year-old Dell Dimension 9200 copes admirably well with StarCraft II. Granted, it only has a 2.13GHz Intel 6400 Core 2 Duo processor, 2GBs of RAM and NVIDIA's GeForce 7900 GS graphics card, but the game's automatic optimal settings feature ably dances around any possible shortfalls. As a result, gameplay rarely stutters or slows (even when faced with large groups of animated sprites), and presentation remains utterly impressive despite the majority of audio and visual options only being set to Medium.
Having seen the game played on its highest possible settings through a friend's new oomph-tastic rig running Intel Core i5 processing technology, there is a definite step up in texture detailing, light sourcing, surface reflections and such like. But, on the whole, I'm still more than pleased with the results squeezed from my little Dell.