I was doing a bit of math and it turns out I've played and written about more than a thousand games since the last time I took command of an army in the original StarCraft, which was released more than a decade ago. I've watched franchises (even a whole genre or two) spring to life, grow popular, and then fade in the interim between entries in Blizzard Entertainment's real-time strategy phenomenon.
You'd think that such a long space between games would result in a sequel almost unrecognizable as heir to its predecessor, but that's not the case. StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty is StarCraft through and through. From narrative and characters to units and strategy, it's impossible to imagine someone familiar with the original game to mistake this follow-up as anything but StarCraft.
And I'm pretty sure that's going to make the majority of the six million people predicted to own this PC and Mac exclusive by year's end pretty happy.
The single-player campaign is space opera of the best sort; willfully ignorant of its implausibility and loaded with rough-hewn characters that are easy to warm up to. It's also filled with enough breathtaking, state-of-the-art cut scenes (check out the cinematic trailer above) to make one wish that Blizzard's CGI team would use their down time between games to make a feature length film.
The first part of a planned trilogy of StarCraft II games, Wings of Liberty centres on the plight of the Terrans (the next two will revolve around the franchise's other races, the insectoid Zerg and the almost godlike Protoss). We take on the role of moralistic rebel commander Jim Raynor. He's still feeling the loss of Sarah Kerrigan, a woman betrayed by her emperor and left to die in a massive Zerg attack in the first game. She was subsequently infected and transformed into the insects' hideous leader, the Queen of Blades.
Raynor wages war on three fronts. He heads into space with an aim to stop a new Zerg threat being led by Kerrigan, but the Terrans have branded him a terrorist, so he must fight them as well. Meanwhile, the Protoss, who admire and respect Raynor based on his selfless actions in the previous game, are nonetheless willing to battle his forces whenever their objectives or philosophies clash.
It's immensely watchable. The game's storytellers clearly had a blast putting it all together. From commissioning original rockabilly songs for Raynor's cantina jukebox (my favourite: "A Shotgun, a Zerg, and You," performed by White Boy James and the Blues Express) to inserting knowing references to loads of other great space sagas, including Star Wars, Firefly, Alien, Predator, and Star Trek (as well as at least one obvious and satisfying nod to Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), the writing is clever, easily digestible, and will leave you wanting more-especially after the shocking ending.
And players don't just watch conversations between missions, they also make decisions. I hired mercenaries, upgraded and read about my units, examined alien artifacts, and can even played a little arcade game in the ship's pub called Lost Viking (a riff on one of Blizzard's first games, The Lost Vikings).
And yet as fun as these interim scenes and activities may be, they're all but forgotten once a mission begins. Indeed, Wings of Liberty's real-time strategy play is instantly accessible, defiantly old-school, and completely enthralling.
Over the last decade many RTS developers have moved away from base building and resource collection-once the foundation of almost all games in the genre-and have instead embraced smaller mobile forces.
Blizzard is not one of these game makers.
Rather than figuring out how to cleverly eliminate the perceived monotony of bases and resources, Blizzard's team has apparently spent its time coming up with fresh ways to make these fundamental elements a fun and integral part of most missions.
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