80MB hard drive space
The shelf life of a Computer game is nasty, brutish, and short. They have to compete with other titles to squeeze onto some of the few precious slots on retail shelves. They often have less than a month before they slip quietly into oblivion, never to be heard from again. But there are those rare titles that transcend their shelf lives.
Even after two years, which is an eternity in the lifespan of a Computer game, Starcraft is still one of the consummate real time strategy games. In fact, it is perhaps the consummate real time strategy game. The RTS genre was pretty well established with Blizzard's Warcraft and Westwood's Dune II, but it didn't change significantly until Starcraft came out in 1998, pioneering the concept of dramatically different races in one game. Other games had toyed with this concept by giving each side different units, upgrades, and spell effects. But Starcraft made the gameplay mechanics fundamentally different for each of its three races, giving them unique paradigms for base building and unit limits.
The Terrans are the most familiar and accessible, almost to the point of being vanilla. Imagine one of the races in Warcraft set a few hundred years in the future with a bit of a trailer park sensibility. The Zerg are vicious slimy organic entities with teeth and carapaces, controlled by a hive mind. They need Overlords to reign over their armies. Their creatures and structures heal over time and they have to build on a blanket of primordial ooze. The Protoss are ruthless interdimensional robotic entities with powerful shields and energy weapons. Their Carriers and Reavers can unleash swarms of attack drones to compliment their smaller numbers of juiced up units.
What is perhaps most remarkable about Starcraft is how well balanced, yet different, these three races are. There are no uber units that will rampage across the map once they've been researched and built. Units do not become obsolete, as is the case with most RTS games. The Zergling, Marine, and Zealot are just as important during the endgame as they are when you're first scouting the map. This is due in part to the way you improve your existing units rather than move past them. But it's also a matter of the way the units' attacks are balanced so well, taking into account how far they can shoot, how quickly they can move, whether they can attack airborne units, and so on. And once each race's spell effects are available, these unit interactions increase exponentially.
This movement towards radically different races has been attempted in other games, but not with the degree of success we saw in Starcraft. Most often, the differences are just in the statistics rather than the way the game is played. The mechanics are the same whether you're Core or Arm, Nod or GDI, the Vikings or the Franks, the Borg or the Federation, the Empire or the Rebels. To most other developers, making each side equal means making them the same. Blizzard showed not only a lot of courage in making them so different, but also an extraordinary amount of patience in balancing them.
Starcraft also did an excellent job of folding its story into the gameplay, inasmuch as this is possible with a real time strategy game. Sure, most of the story is told in the cutscenes, but things happen in the context of the game itself, too. Different kinds of mission objectives are used throughout the game, so it's not always a simple matter of wiping all your enemies off the map. Who can forget Kerrigan's fate in Starcraft, her loss and chilling return? There are missions where you cannot attack your enemy. There are tense timed missions. Some of Starcraft's scenarios are annoying puzzle missions, but the game by no means relies on these. It has a strong enough AI to hold up without heavy scripting. In fact, skirmishes against Computer opponents are notoriously difficult, even through the Computer has a hard time recognizing chokepoints and calculating pathfinding over long distances.
The graphics are relatively lo-res sprites, but they hold up because they're so well animated and conceived. Sure, Total Annihilation was a better game graphically, but Starcraft has personality to spare. Although more recent games look much better, no other real time strategy game has come close to creating the unique and fully fleshed out universe where Starcraft takes place. The excellent sound effects and voiceover work get much of the credit for this. Blizzard has always paid special attention to sound and in this case, it more than makes up for the primitive visuals.
The terrain in Starcraft is simplified; it's composed solely of ground on one of two levels (you have an upper and lower level, connected by conspicuous ramps) or open areas that can only be crossed by flying units. Since there are no naval units, rivers and seas may as well be open space. Trees offer cover for smaller units by giving them a defensive bonus, but this is one of Starcraft's better-kept secrets; you'll find people who've finished the game and never knew this. Also, units firing from above get a bonus. Otherwise, the maps are merely colorful backgrounds. While this could be perceived as a shortcoming, I feel it streamlines the game by allowing players to concentrate on unit management without suffering from task overload.
The interface is missing some things we're used to these days. A key to find the next idle worker, Age of Empires style, would have been very helpful. And since certain units' spell effects are crucial to doing well, they should be more accessible; Activision's Star Trek: Armada has the right idea in this regard. One of the most annoying things about Starcraft is the limit of twelve units to a group, especially if you're playing the Zerg, who rely on unruly swarms rather than, say, the Protoss' small groups of powerful crack troops. But it's fairly easy to get around this; instruct your groups to follow each other and just control the lead group.
Finally, Starcraft is still a thriving multiplayer game. Consider the numerous third party maps, scenarios, and even campaigns that are available for download. Consider, too, the game's phenomenal sales. There are still people playing Starcraft all over the world. Just log onto Blizzard's battle.net and you'll find thousands of them.
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