As it’s been the world’s most popular RTS game for over 12 years and created a shockwave of adoration that’s rocked every corner of the planet – especially in South Korea where professional players compete in televised tournaments – the follow-up to Blizzard’s mighty StarCraft is one of the most anticipated sequels in gaming history. And while Wings Of Liberty follows the same structures and strategies as its hallowed predecessor, it’s still an ocean deep, beautifully presented and utterly irresistible piece of software, and the most perfectly crafted RTS in recent memory.
As a single-player game, StarCraft II introduces its familiar RTS challenges with sublimely scripted mission briefings that seamlessly wind players into the experience, and make it feel as if your decisions as an armchair general really matter, and will have universal ramifications if you cock it up. The gentle introduction of new units and objectives as the missions unfold also creates a gentle learning curve that’s hard to resist, while credits earned for completing missions that can be used to customise units add a deep sense of reward when working through the explosive story.
The real meat of the game, however, is the delirious multiplayer mode. Like the one-player game, Wings Of Liberty’s multiplayer component doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it does offer a more refined and streamlined experience that will delight old hands and gently ease newbies into the StarCraft universe. The clever ‘placement matches’, which ensure you’re pitched against players at a similar skill level, are an excellent way of ensuring fresh faces aren’t instantly flattened by hardcore experts, and the carefully balanced units and weapons at your disposal mean that battles are always won by skill alone, with no frustrating spawniness to leave bullied players chewing their mousemat.
In a similar vein to Super Mario Galaxy 2 on Nintendo’s Wii, what makes StarCraft II so compelling is its familiarity; a game so close to the original that you feel as if you’ve never been away from the interstellar world it offers, but which still offers enough new content to make it feel as if you’re playing something completely new. And in a gaming world where developers have a nasty habit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater when tuning established licenses for a more fickle modern audience, the superb StarCraft II is on the money at every turn.
Reviewed by Dave McComb