Review: Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty

August 10, 2010, Author: Ray Willmott

There was a time when RTS games used to saturate the market the way FPS games do today. Before Call of Duty and Halo, we had Command and Conquer and Total Annihilation. AAA Developers from all over the World were involved with the genre from Microsoft to Westwood Studios, to the mighty Blizzard themselves. Blizzard’s exploits in the RTS genre were particularly memorable with three titles in the Warcraft series that would later set the tone for an ever-expanding MMO World and arguably the most successful and best-selling RTS game of all time, Starcraft.

However, in recent years, the genre has lost steam with several attempts to try and reinvigorate it falling flat, and providing altogether forgettable forays. With these failing efforts and dwindling support, a quality RTS game soon became something of a forgotten relic, lost in droves of open world sandbox adventures, motion controlled shovelware and numerous takes on the ‘war on terror’. Yet, there were a few die-hard fans who would not just let the genre slip away, especially fans of Blizzard, that continued to religiously play both Warcraft and Starcraft, hoping that one day they may see a resurgence worthy of the original heyday glory. Blizzard supported the genre as much as they could through the service, but ultimately had to remain focused on allowing the thriving World of Warcraft to meet the demand of its flourishing fanbase.

Many years have passed since the original Starcraft hit store shelves; clearly something Blizzard had not forgotten either as they’ve decided to release not one, not two, but three separate instalments making up the long-awaited sequel to their Space Shoot-Em-Up Soap Opera Starcraft 2! Wings of Liberty, Heart of the Storm and Legacy of the Void will represent parts 1, 2 and 3 respectively, however in this review, we will focus solely on Wings of Liberty, a campaign based on the Terrans (humans)

I won’t keep you waiting any longer as to whether it was worth the wait or not.

Flying on the Wings of Liberty
Wings of Liberty is set in the 26th Century and focuses on the Terran (human exiles from the planet earth) campaign. The campaign is set four years after the events of Starcraft: Brood War with Jim Raynor now serving as the game’s central protagonist. Jim is considered an outlaw and a fugitive and is wanted in the eyes of the nation, seen only to deface public property out of spite and fuelled with a zest for rebellion. Jim is commanding his own ship in WOL and throughout the course of the game, continues to set examples to individuals in the hope of inspiring them to stand by his side. As Raynor continues to gain exposure, so he is approached by an old friend by the name of Tychus, who tells him that the Moebius initiative want to enlist him to do some work for them. Raynor, owing Tychus a serious debt, agrees to help, but upon doing so finds out that there is a growing Zerg presence. Worrying Jim Raynor more than anything else, however, is that the Queen of Blades is back and she does not appear to be in the mood for fun and games! His loyalties now split, Raynor’s position is left in the hands of the player to decide what should he pursue first in Wings of Liberty.

You’ve probably gained some perspective from my summary that Jim Raynor isn’t your conventional goodie two shoes character and right from the outset, I found it interesting to play from the rogue perspective. As a character, you can’t tarbrush him with a good or bad label and it’s not as straight forward as branding the man as a hero or a villian, but based on those who oppose him and the way they go about opposing him, it’s difficult not to quickly find yourself gaining some affinity for the character. Whether you played Starcraft 1 or not, you’ll find that the game does enough to give you a clear perspective of what is happening without remaining reliant on all that has happened before.

The story itself is set in space and sees characters moving from one world to the next, discovering more about the Zerg and Protoss races, helping out people in need, leaving a message for those that would oppose you all in an effort to earn money so that Raynor and his team can stand up to face the growing Zerg presence that’s got everyone worried. In some respects it bears similarities to Mass Effect 2’s mission selection system except it is much more linear in its approach. As for the story, to put it context, if you loved the crew in Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity, then you’re gonna adore the shit out of Wings of Liberty! The look, the feel, even the music is going to remind you of the best bits of the series and unashamedly so!

Fire Away!

Glide or die
If you’ve never played an RTS game then here’s a brief rundown. You are essentially playing from a God-Like point of view, and are in control of a series of units and buildings. Your main objective varies from mission to mission, but the general idea is that you stay alive and eradicate any enemies you come into contact with. The enemy, much like the missions, vary greatly, such as the Zerg, the Protoss, even fellow human beings, as do the environments. It’s not all easy sailing, and eventually you’ll need to consider unique strategies in order to adapt to the particular battlefield you’re fighting on or the enemy you’re up against.

In order to build your forces, you’ll need Minerals and Vespene Gas. Minerals are gathered by your SCV units who will enter the field, collect them and take them back to your Command Centre. Vespene Gas is obtained in a similar way but slightly differently as you will find a Vespene Gas mine which will need a building placed on top of it in order for your SUV’s to gather it. You’ll need to keep an eye on SCVs as they aren’t very kitted out for defence and are easily overrun by enemy units. Once enough Minerals and Vespene Gas have been obtained, you can start building. Each unit, each building, everything you want to build in Wings of Liberty has its own set criteria, so while a unit may cost 100 minerals and 150 Vespene gas, a building may cost 1000 minerals and 2000 Vespene gas.

Starcraft 2 supports a wide range of units. So, you have marines and commandos that are just armed to the teeth and do their combat on foot, such as regular infantry, those wielding flamethrowers and even mini-guns but you also have those that are more heavily secured in vehicles and can perform a wide variety in functions. What’s great about Starcraft, and has always been the case with the series, is the excellent balance between units. So while you may think Terrans would be indestructible with this kind of weaponry at their disposal, you’ll soon be made mistaken when they come up against a rush of Zerg creatures that swarm upon you and soon eat through that ‘ impenetrable’ armor. Strategy is key to your success and survival in Starcraft and the sooner you come to terms with and accept that, the sooner you will see results as opposed to the defeat screen.

The campaign sees Raynor leading his ever-expanding outfit through whichever missions you deem the most important. The game’s interface takes place aboard Jim Raynor’s ship in the form of four screens, The Bridge, The Cantina, The Laboratory and the Armoury. Each of these areas offers something different to the player and serves as an interactive menu for the game. The Bridge is where you can select the missions you want to take part in, whether that means replaying an older mission on a higher or lower difficulty set or choosing a mission from one of a set batch is entirely up to you. You can also interact with your First Mate, Matt or other crewmates you pick up along the way. The Cantina is where Jim can sit, have a drink, watch the TV to see what the news is saying about him and recruit new units for his cause. The armoury enables you to upgrade the buildings you create, as well as your units. So for example, by using the armoury, you can upgrade the amount of people that can fit into a bunker unit, and also increase its range. You can also upgrade the firepower of units, as well as their health and armour duration.

Finally, there is the laboratory where you can take all of the Zerg and Protoss relics you find in missions and combine their technology with your own in order to have an added advantage on the battlefield. Which mission you undertake, depends on what line of technology you will gain, and that will, affect your play style. So, choices are certainly very important in Wings of Liberty and you will need to really consider what it is you want from your battlefield output as you won’t be able to upgrade everything and you won’t be able to change what you’ve already decided to upgrade. This is a new feature in Starcraft 2 over the original and adds yet another strategic layer to an already strategic game. Brilliant work here from Blizzard!

As always, your mouse is the primary controller in the game, but you’ll also need to use the keyboard for some hotspot keys. You can manoeuvre your way around the map using the arrow keys, but can also highlight and select units with your mouse. By holding in the left mouse button and dragging the mouse, you can select your units and then right click to direct them where you want to go. Right click also works as an attack if your cursor moves over an enemy unit. Each unit is also capable of something exclusive to their class, so some units can actually heal themselves if researched, whereas others can use different weapons if the fight is getting furious. By scrolling in the mouse wheel, you can get a close up look at your units and by scrolling out, you get a great overview of the map again.

It’s very straight forward to control, but while it’s easy to grasp, it is also very difficult to master as there are a lot of variables and dynamics in Starcraft 2 that will need to be considered the deeper into the game you get and the more you explore the online modes. For example, upgrading certain buildings will enable you to build new forces, or upgrade your stronghold. This is especially important when playing online as more often than not the rule of thumb is, he who builds the most units in the fastest amount of time wins. That’s not always the case, but it’s generally a good strategy to follow.

War Ensemble!!

System specs for this game are achieveable on most PCs but obviously the more your system is capable of, the more you’re going to get out of Starcraft 2. However, you’re going to need an internet connection to play this game, so if you don’t have that (although who doesn’t in this day and age?) then don’t even bother buying the game, it won’t work, not even for single player.

I played SC2 on my Sony Viao FW51JF/H laptop and it runs very smoothly and very efficiently. The game will detect your systems capabilities and optimise the game to give you the best possible performance, but you can obviously tweak that as much as you like, making more high detail character models or lighting, whatever you feel would make the experience better for you.

Unfortunately, as I’m sure you can tell from my brief summary, it’s difficult to envisage SC2 ever gracing consoles; the controls simply wouldn’t work to the benefit of the 360, Wii or the PS3, although Blizzard may yet prove me wrong. For the foreseeable future however, don’t hold your breath.

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