How the hell do you objectively review a game like Starcraft II? For a game that's only just come out, it's been a part of the public gaming consciousness for a decade. We've been seeing screens, gameplay previews and footage, and interviews with the devs for years now. Whole swathes of the game's tech trees and the tactics needed to utilise them have been up for discussion for the better part of this year.
Now that it's here, on our machines... how do you come to grips with a phenomenon that's just a shade below the Second Coming?
We've decided to come at this as fresh as we can. While Justin's attended Blizzard HQ and written countless articles and previews, we've only just gotten to grips with the game. We even avoided the beta testing phase, so we could really gauge the game 'out of the box'. Even that experience was totally unlike any other game we've ever reviewed - we had sweaty palms just waiting for the first game to load. It was like that giddy excitement that Star Wars fans felt waiting for that first text crawl when The Phantom Menace was released.
And then we played...
Let's get this out of the way
Starcraft II is a good game. Actually, more accurately, it's a great game, dripping with passion.
Take the weather-beaten visage of main character, Jim Raynor, the first thing you see when you spring into the game's campaign. As much thought has gone into the look and feel of this character as any Hollywood blockbuster, and as the game progresses you get a deeper and ever more insightful look into his being. He's a freedom fighter, a man of conviction; but he's tired too. He's fought, he's won, but it's the losses that are starting to wear on him. All this, you can see in that wonderfully expressive face.
Which might seem an odd thing to say about an RTS, but - for us, at least - the big surprise that Starcraft II delivers is the game's campaign. We always knew multiplayer would be good - it had to be, and, thankfully, Blizzard really does know what it's doing. But the single-player campaign is something else again, and shows off everything that Blizzard's been learning about storylines thanks to games like Diablo and World of Warcraft.
At the game's start, Jim's a rebel, fighting back against the oppressive regime of Emperor Mengsk. Joined by an old friend with a shadowy past, Raynor goes on the warpath, and before we know it his simple fight for freedom becomes one of desperate survival as a resurgent Zerg attack, and Mengsk goes hard for both defeat of the bug, and Raynor.
The first three missions serve as a pretty gentle reminder of the game's basics. There's an extensive set of tutorials for the terminally unaware, but really you can just dive right in and it'll all come back to you. From having just basic marines you soon start to open up new units, start to mess about with base-building and proper resource management, and then, after mission three, the campaign proper opens up.
Blizzard's taken a leaf out of Relic's book when it comes to the campaign's structure. You'll be able to choose which mission to take and when, unlocking new units and options as you go. Whereas the original Starcraft was very linear, this new game is all about choice, and that extends to every level of the campaign.
Not only do you have resources to manage on the battlefield, but each mission earns you credits, while side-missions unlock research points.