This is Jimmy?!

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StarCraft 2 came out last week, and statistically speaking, it’s likely that you’ve already bought a copy. But what if you’re like me, someone who hates StarCraft but hates even more getting left out of the next big thing everybody else is doing?

Maybe “hate” is too strong, but it’s fair enough to say that the first StarCraft and I have a troubled history. The troubles went way past any one game, though; this was an abusive relationship that soured me on an entire genre. Maybe an analogy will help clarify:

StarCraft : my attitude towards RTS games ::
Sybil’s mom : Sybil’s attitude towards enemas

Before I played StarCraft, it was a completely alien concept that I could be bad at videogames. I mean, I can and will lose games if pitted against another human, and there are things like racing games that I’ll never be good at because I can’t be bothered to care. But the idea that there could be a videogame with robots and spaceships and lasers in it, that I could play by myself against the computer on normal difficulty, and lose? Inconceivable!

It wasn’t a quick and merciful smackdown, either, but a prolonged bare-assed spanking. I’d believe I was doing fine and then slowly, systematically, and rigorously corrected. My breaking point? As early as the third mission in the game, where I’d have to defend a base against Zerg attacks for 30 minutes. I’d try it over and over again, each time thinking Now I know what I’m doing! and each time waiting 25 minutes until my inevitable destruction.

I don’t even want to think about multiplayer. I’ve seen otherwise relatively normal people sit down in front of StarCraft and become transformed, like a cyber-nano-hacker from a syndicated sci-fi series getting jacked into the FutureNet. Their eyes glaze over, their fingers begin furiously tapping keyboard shortcuts, things start blowing up and they’re freaking out over choke points. Even if it were at all possible for me to win against that, there’d be no joy in it, I’d be more machine than man at that point.

So by the time StarCraft 2 was announced, you’d think I’d have learned my lesson. Here was a game tailor made for the Blizzard obsessives who get obscenely fixated on damage per second. For people who’d spent the last 12 years playing this game, presumably making it past the third mission. Screenshots of the sequel were almost indistinguishable from the original (and from each other). It was, by most accounts, more of the same.

But I bought it anyway. And it is, indeed, instantly recognizable and familiar. And I did progress through a couple of simple missions that convinced me I knew what I was doing before hitting one that had me defending my base against Zerg attacks for 20 minutes.

Except this time, I did it. I definitely haven’t gotten better at RTS games in the years since the first game, so I can only figure that Blizzard applied their usual level of exhaustive playtesting to the game to make sure that people like me could play.

The single-player campaign on normal difficulty is right at my level of comfort: easy enough that I haven’t given up in frustration yet, but not so easy that I feel as if I’m being patronized. Plus, the single-player campaign feels like a real game, not just a series of levels tied together with cut-scenes that say “Look How Much We’ve Seen Aliens!” You can choose between different missions to take, there’s a little bit of character building and customization as you collect research and money to make unit upgrades, and you get to hang out in different rooms of your own spaceship.

All the cut-scenes are done in engine, too, which is kind of astounding. It’s fairly standard redneck space marine stuff, but it looks great. And the storytelling within the missions is a huge improvement on the first game’s, too. My first reaction when seeing the game in action was that I’d spent far too long seeing games with short development cycles. There’s a ton of content in StarCraft 2, and you can see all the years of development on the screen.

People better-versed in strategy games could describe the mission balance, unit variety, player matching, and multiplayer. I’m still early in the game; currently in the middle of a mission that has me defending my base against zombified colonists that only come out at night. That’s about five or six missions in, and each one has had its own hook to make it seem distinct. And even if things go downhill from here, I’m happy that the game’s already accomplished the impossible: I’m actually having fun playing the single-player campaign of an RTS. Everything looks, sounds, and feels like StarCraft, except I’m actually looking forward to getting back into it.

Now they just need to hurry up with Diablo 3 already.

2 Comments

  1. I recently got the game myself and am really enjoying it. Struggling with multiplayer though, which starts by asking ‘do you want to play some games at a slower speed to learn’ (something like 50 I think). I said no because I didn’t want to be thrown by the speed increase.
    The game then tosses you into its ‘placement matches’ to determine what league you should be in. These are against random people with no match-up of skill at all, I’ve played 3 of the 5 and been steam-rolled pretty much each time, which really kills your motivation to get to the part that smartly matches you against a roughly equal opponent.

  2. Yeah, I’ve been avoiding multiplayer myself, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get into it. I remember playing the first StarCraft and if I remember correctly, Warcraft 3 with friends, and it was just heartbreaking. I’d warn them that I’m really bad at the games, but then we’d start playing and they’d just look so sad for me. It’s the expression of healthy young people walking through a nursing home.

    But I’m liking the single-player enough to get plenty of practice, which is a first.

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