Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Game Review: Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm

I've been in a very Blizzard mood of late so I've spent what little free time I've had playing the single player modes of StarCraft II (Specifically 'Heart of the Swarm') and Diablo III. While it didn't seem like all that much time, it was apparently enough to beat Starcraft II and get more than halfway through Diablo III...  I'm not sure if that makes them both short games or if perhaps (more likely) that I'm having so much fun playing them that the time I've spent doesn't seem like nearly enough... This comes as a great relief after my last few modern gaming experiences left me feeling dissatisfied.

Plot: The story is presented in a mix of in-battle cutscenes (ala Starcraft or WC III), cinematic scenes and mission briefings (ala Starcraft), and through walking around your "ship" and chatting with the relevant parties that interest you between each battle (kind of like Mass Effect but with faster navigation). I'm going to skip any sort of detailed plot synopsis to avoid spoilers by just saying that you play as a solid protagonist fighting against an enemy that's easy to hate. It immediately brought me back to Brood Wars or the original Starcraft Zerg campaign (in a good way). The plot is well crafted, extremely linear, and is about what you'd expect from Starcraft. Despite being about one of the most ruthless characters in the series this installment of SC II has some of the most moving moments in the series, some really likable characters (some of which don't even speak), and even had me close to tears at one part. In short it's got a well constructed story that is expressed through a fantastically semi-interactive manner. You're not just watching a movie (Metal Gear), you really feel like you're taking part in the story. I should also mention that in the very beginning of the game (while it's installing) you have the option to watch a series of videos that give a synopsis of the entire series thus far.

"Freedom": There are a few times where you have 'options' that don't really affect the plot. These options are generally "do the mission," "don't do the mission," or "do the mission later" but they don't have an effect on the main plot beyond causing you to miss out on some of the finer details. There are also a lot of secondary objectives in each mission that give it something of an RPG element (they give you extra XP/advancements for your leader) and the new system of upgrading your minions by play-testing both types of upgraded minion in a brief skirmish is enjoyable. Despite being pretty much linear, that didn't bother me because I had the illusion of freedom and the story behind it was solid.

Zerg Rush!
Gameplay: It's an RTS and plays exactly like what you'd expect an RTS to play like. The difficulty slider should make it easy/hard enough for the most casual or hardcore of gamers who are interested in the series to enjoy it without the need for "On Screen" or "Zerg Free Radio".

Feel: This game also brought back the "Destroy and Conquer Worlds" feel of the original Starcraft that Wings of Liberty just didn't have. To explain, Wings of Liberty (Starcraft II, part 1) was more of a tactical game where you enter missions with a strike force mentality and complete your objectives before the enemy catches on to what you're doing and destroys you. Heart of the Swarm really feels like you dominate just about every battle you get involved in (though there are still a few tactical missions) and that's something I missed about the series. Though it certainly felt like a "New Blizzard" (anything post WC:III sort of feels a bit like WC:III) game, it felt like they were true to the original series from my childhood. Your Hero units are still super-powered, the missions stayed true to the original style of the series, and the physics and visual effects were solid.

Art: This is a Blizzard game and that means quality as far as i'm concerned.
It feels like it doesn't even need to be mentioned that Blizzard has once again produced a visual and audio masterpiece. Any problems I might have visually had with the game could be fixed by going out, buying a better graphics card, and scaling up the effects. Period. The audio was fantastic, the music felt right, and they met or exceeded all expectations I had. Some might complain about how the color scheme or effects resemble the ones from Warcraft III but it's a stylistic choice they made that I felt was fitting and in line with the series.

The Bad: I don't like the internet connection required to play the game but don't have a mobile computer good enough to play it on the run so I can't really complain...

Closing Thoughts: While the game felt brief, it completed the main story arc in something like 20+ missions. I don't know how many hours I've spent on it but I enjoyed every minute of this game. Where I casually liked Wings of Liberty, I love Heart of the Swarm. This is a solid game!

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