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Starcraft: Ghost

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Starcraft: Ghost Preview

-- November 11, 2005 by: Chris Remo

Let me be honest: I was never all that optimistic about Starcraft: Ghost (PS2, Xbox), the upcoming third-person tactical action game set in the world of Blizzard's classic RTS game. Starcraft (PC) and Brood War (PC) really owned my life for a while, as have pretty much all Blizzard titles since Warcraft, but none of the promotional media or information I'd seen or heard regarding Ghost set my gaming loins afire in the lusty way I felt a Blizzard release should. The internal word on the game must have been somewhat mixed as well, because the game was delayed multiple times and also shifted developers, from Nihilistic to Swingin' Ape--responsible for the critically-appreciated Metal Arms: Glitch in the System--among Blizzard press releases proclaiming that the game must meet Blizzard's high standards before it reaches gamers' hands.

After that happened, nobody heard much about the game until this year's E3, when it was shown in redesigned form to be a bit more impressive than previously suggested. It even turned out that Blizzard fully purchased Swingin' Ape, turning the studio into an-house Blizzard team for console development. At Blizzard's recent inaugural BlizzCon event, the game was shown in an even more finished state, with a substantial single-player demo and two playable multiplayer modes.

Starcraft: Ghost Single-Player

Starcraft: Ghost takes place approximately five years after the events of the Starcraft: Brood War expansion pack. Nobody has heard from Kerrigan in years, though the various factions of are aware that if she decided to let loose the might of the Zerg she could easily eradicate all of her opposition. The Zerg have been quiet, however, and there is something of an uneasy peace. The Protoss are rebuilding on the planet Shakuras, and Emperor Arcturus Mengsk is rebuilding his Terran Dominion.

Meanwhile, a young aristocratic woman named Nova, who happens to have been born with psychic powers, has a personal crisis that results in her recruitment into the Terran Ghost Academy, where she is trained to be among the most elite of covert operatives. At around age twenty, about six years younger than ex-Ghost Kerrigan was when she completed her training, Nova graduates at the top of her class. She is placed in the rather coincidentally named espionage unit Nova Squadron under the command of Colonel Jackson Hauler, to whom Nova's strongest loyalties lie.

Mengsk has been covertly acquiring Protoss technology for use in a clandestine experiment called Project Shadow Blade, which serves to amplify human psychic potential in order to create subservient super-soldiers. A rebel group called the Koprulu Liberation Front seeks to put an end to Mengsk's actions and the reign of the Terran Dominion. Nova, who must make choices regarding her allegiance to Hauler, Mengsk, and her race, becomes caught in the middle of a series of conspiracies involving Project Shadow Blade and galactic politics. She must confront what it means to be a soldier and what the duties of a good soldier are.

And there you have it. As best as my scribbled notes are able to inform me, that is what leads up to the events of Starcraft: Ghost. The game itself is a tactical stealth action game. Nova is a highly trained warrior and she seems quite able to take on enemies face to face, but her strength lies in taking out her enemies unseen.

The level we were shown (but sadly not allowed to play) had the player infiltrating a Terran installation on a lava planet. It was laid out in such a way that the base must be entered by crossing a large lava moat with a zipline. I assume that this was done deliberately to show off what the Terran constructions look like from a distant aerial view, which is of course the ones that Starcraft fans are most familiar with. I realized that I had never really thought about what those buildings looked like from the inside, and the way Blizzard presented that opening of the scene worked out very well.

Upon hitting the ground after a long fall, such as after releasing the zipline, Nova can execute a "silent land," meaning as she hits the ground she'll smoothly drop down to something of a kneeling position to absorb the impact, but what makes it good is how well crafted the animation is. It's a nice touch, and it produced a little ripple of "ooh"s throughout the audience.

It's tough to really give a good description of how the game feels to play, because I didn't play it, and in all honesty the guy who was playing it didn't seem too concerned with keeping to the shadows and remaining undetected. You do have all stealthy options at your disposal, however. When sneaking up behind an enemy, Nova can kick out his knees and snap his neck in one fluid motion, for example. She is also able to search bodies (which is actually animated) and hide them, of course, as well as set various booby traps. She can walk on thin rails as well as scale vertical surfaces by jumping back and forth between narrow walls. In what seems like it might be an homage to Metal Gear Solid, the personnel icons displayed on Nova's voice communicator are very much in the style of that game's.

In addition to her standard issue sniper rifle and pistol, Nova is able to pick up any weaponry she finds on the ground or acquires from an enemy--well, anything usable by a humanoid, anyway. Her equipment also includes her cloaking device, which consumes energy that must be replenished with energy canisters, a Predator-like vision mode that detects heat, and the Ghost's lockdown device that disables mechanical or electronic devices. It seems almost mandatory these days to have some kind of time-slowing gameplay device, and Ghost is no exception. It represents Nova's enhanced reflexes and years of martial training, and there's not much to say about it that you can't already infer.

Blizzard claims to have put a lot of work into the game's AI, which is something that does seem rather important considering the game frequently pits a bunch of average soldiers against an invisible psychic heavily armed killing machine. For example, once enemy troops are aware of your existence, they will try to flush you out by spraying the air with bullets in the hopes of hitting your cloaked self, or they might send out teams equipped with scanning devices to pick up invisible targets. In terms of more general tactics, they'll try to flank you or lure you into traps, and will call upon reinforcements.

At the end of the demo level, there was actually something of a boss fight, which was surprising. What was even more surprising is that the "boss" was a simple Terran marine. To a Starcraft player, a marine is basically a worthless grunt, useful only in numbers or against workers. On a real-world scale, however, a Terran marine is an enormous, ridiculously armored walking tank that outweighs a Ghost by a factor of about a billion. It was actually somewhat thrilling to watch the slow moving but very destructive marine smash around trying to take down the much nimbler Nova. Unable to meaningfully pierce the marine's armor with any of the available guns, the guy demoing the game shot open the marine's face shield and threw a grenade inside. Extreme.

That's about all there is to say about single-player at this point. Turn the page for the main attraction of this particular preview.

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