System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7/Mac OSX 10.5.8 or newer, 2.6 GHz Pentium IV or equivalent CPU, 128 MB GeForce 6600/ATI Radeon 9800 Pro or better graphics card, 1 GB RAM (1.5 GB for Vista/Win 7, 2 GB for Mac), 12 GB hard-drive space, broadband Internet connection, 1024 x 720 minimum screen resolution
Release date: Available now
StarCraft II continues the saga of Terrans, Protoss and Zerg, the three space-faring races that plot (in real time) each other’s demise. The original StarCraft (1998) took the world by storm. Although it was somewhat lacking in terms of technology and advancement of the RTS genre, its sheer polish, for which Blizzard is so famous, has made it one of the best selling games ever. Some claim that it went further than all others and became something more. For example, when traveling in Korea a few years ago, I fell sick and had to stay at home for a few days. During that time, I entertained myself by watching non-stop StarCraft matches on four channels of Korean national television.
On the surface, SCII is a fairly standard RTS. You gather supplies, build a base, train an army and duke it out with your adversaries. Dig a little deeper, however, and you find two completely different experiences. The campaign mode builds upon and further expands the lore of the game. Important characters reappear, new ones make an entrance, much is revealed and yet more is left uncertain. The narrative sucks you in and, although it could be argued that it’s a little cliched at times, the presentation is so great that certain cheesy lines are easily forgiven (if noticed.) And if, like me, you are a sucker for achievements, then prepare to be blown away.
Single-player SCII is much more than a series of missions. Between them you can visit different locations aboard your ship, talk to your crew, and make further strategic decisions, such as which units to upgrade, what research route to take and which mercenaries to hire. All these changes persist throughout the campaign, and paired with the ability to choose the sequence of missions, there are quite a few roads to victory. The missions themselves are full of “easter eggs,” and the difficulty settings are meaningful. Beating the game on Hard is actually quite hard, while Casual is well suited for beginners. The Brutal setting can make you throw up your arms in frustration more than once, while Normal feels pretty average.
The multiplayer mode is a whole other game. The skills you acquire in the campaign are quite useless when it comes to playing against another human being. The units available to you are but a fraction of what you see in the single-player mode, and the pace is something else entirely. To ease you into the multiplayer mindset, a collection of “challenges” is provided to help you learn to function more or less effectively in online combat. Ultimately, however, only practice can make you improve. More information about multiplayer and the new Battle.net are available here and here.
The technical aspects of SCII are perfectly solid. The graphics might not utilize the latest advances in technology, but the art direction and the clever use of available resources make the game look very, very good. For example, I consider Supreme Commander 2, a game with a far more-advanced graphics engine, to be visually inferior to SCII. The controls are as precise as you would expect from an RTS, the music and sound effects are top notch, the online lag is minimal and the overall experience is a vastly positive one. My only complaints: sometimes (very rarely) the Vespene geyser is rendered without any color, and during very large battles it’s often difficult to find the mouse cursor. That’s it.
I bought StarCraft II with my own money, and it was one of the best investments (gaming-wise) I’ve made in a long time. The game is easily worth $60, and I’d like to recommend that everyone buy it. It doesn’t matter whether you are a twitchy veteran of the original StarCraft, or someone who has gotten into playing World of Warcraft in college. It doesn’t matter if you’ve haven’t played any of Blizzard’s games before, or if you’ve never tried any RTS titles at all. You can find something in SCII to make sure you’re glued to the screen for hours.