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A child born on the day the original StarCraft was released is now a gawky, braces-wearin’, growth-spurtin’ 12-year-old. While that’s a sobering thought for us older gamers, and a ridiculous time to wait for a sequel, the fact remains that StarCraft and its Brood War expansion pack helped define the real-time strategy genre, and the long-anticipated StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is absolutely worth the wait.
The battles look almost as great as the cinematic cut-scenes.
Set four years after the events of Brood War, Wings of Liberty follows Jim Raynor as he leads an insurgency against the oppressive Terran Dominion and wrestles his own guilt over former ally Sarah Kerrigan’s transformation into the Zerg’s Queen of Blades. A combination of a space western and galactic opera, the game introduces new characters, story arcs, and goals. The original StarCraft’s story unfolded in between-mission cut scenes, but StarCraft II raises the bar with top-notch graphics, incredible modeling and textures, and spot-on voice acting that delivers a story you can’t help but become involved in. Occasionally having to choose the next step in the plotline just adds to the impact.
A wretched hive of scum and villany.
And the gameplay has only gotten better, too. Blizzard pulls in new and veteran players alike with a variety of upgradeable units to choose from; active tutorial movies that show you how to best use them; terrific pathfinding (your units cleverly nudge each other out of the way to get where they need to go); and custom difficulty settings for each mission. It’s as customizable as you could ask for--if you’re going to slay your opponent, you’re going to do it your way.
Blizzard raised the bar on StarCraft II's cut-scenes.
All of this is nothing without multiplayer. Even though Blizzard rolled the dice and decided against including LAN support, they’ve substantially overhauled the Battle.net gaming network to make it friendlier to new faces, as well as to incorporate cooperative modes. Enter Battle.net for the first time and you can expect a series of unranked, beginner-friendly training matches, the system later matching you against similarly skilled opponents in ranked ladders. Co-op matches allow you to train when your friends are offline; just choose a map, decide how many bots to fight with and against, adjust the difficulty, and you’re set.
Adjust the difficulty level before each mission.
As fun as multiplayer StarCraft II is, remember one thing: you will get owned. A lot. At its heart, StarCraft II remains about either getting a powerful fighting force out the door quickly, or amassing an unstoppable force while harrying your opponent with raids and skirmishes. To the winner go the spoils, and there will be times where you’ll wonder how you possibly died that quickly. It comes down to tactics--if you can take your opponent’s ideas and add your own touches, you might just have something.
That’s not to say Wings of Liberty has no room for improvement. The game crashed Mac OS 10.6.4 twice (once during single player, once during multiplayer), requiring a reboot of my Mac Pro. The lack of LAN support in multiplayer modes is frustrating. And Blizzard’s decision to strip some campaign-mode units out of the multiplayer does add balance, but makes you want those units back.
In spite of a few kinks, Wings of Liberty is an incredible start to the StarCraft II saga. The story draws you in, expands on the game’s universe, and leaves you wanting to see how it ends via the upcoming expansion packs. Which hopefully will be out before that 12-year-old kid learns how to drive. StarCraft is back.
StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty
COMPANY: Blizzard Entertainment
REQUIREMENTS: Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later, Mac OS X 10.6.2 or later, NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT or ATI Radeon X1600 graphics card or better, 12GB available hard drive space, 2GB RAM, DVD-ROM drive, 1024 x 720 minimum display resolution.
Amazing graphics, sound and voice acting, immersive story, fun campaign and multiplayer gameplay, cool unit unlocks/upgrades, good replay value.
Occasional crashes, no LAN support for multiplayer gameplay, some units stripped out of multiplayer mode to provide game balance.