Single-player, Online Multiplayer
How to make a good game and create a Korean national sport
Strategy games are as difficult to make as they are to master because they are built around the premise of balance, and in order to have a satisfying strategy game there must be enough difference between the chooseable sides to make picking one over the other a preferential choice rather than a tactical one. Starcraft managed to create three completely unique factions that acted as videogamings closest imitation of ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ to date, arguably more so than its sequel. This can be seen not only in the main strategy that each force encourages but as strands within technology trees and abilities, making this a game for players of all competences.
At its heart are the three controllable forces: the Terran, the humans and most balanced team, the Protoss, elf-like aliens who enjoy the most powerful units at the expense of cost, and the Zerg, the now obligatory insectoidal species whos emphasis on numbers invented the term ‘Zerg Rush’. The campaigns are a good way to get to grips with each species and also to break you into Starcraft’s world, which is surprisingly well characterised for a strategy game. Briefings between missions showcase acting talent beyond the hamminess of Command & Conquer and give some context to the units you control as well as the places you fight in. The game never feels epic though as each battle is mostly self-contained and never has any actual bearing on the rest of the game (an aspect that Starcraft II has implemented since) save for story developments. The background is sufficient enough to enable fans to keep up with the lore while also allowing for some of the more outlandish elements of Starcraft.
The game itself maintains a constant flux of ebb and flow that changes as the game turns from base-building to squad management: most missions contain the basic elements of building, recruiting and assaulting and while the formula is altered ever so slightly to allow for escort, territory and other similar variations the most interesting departure is for squad-based missions that do away with building management completely. Heroes also play an important role, especially during such missions, and though it doesn’t go to quite the same extent as Blizzards other strategy franchise Warcraft the same elements of managing individual characters’ skills, abilities and strengths becomes vital to your success. To that extent there are enough variations and riffs on each of the common and uncommon RTS sights to further develop the tactics that you’ll use for these missions: each faction has its own basic ranged and close-quarters unit but some are more suited to all-out rushes while others benefit from placement. The same tactical nuances are still present on the regular maps but not to the same extent. At least, not so far as the campaigns are concerned.
As soon as you venture into online territory you’ll know you’re dealing with a different beast entirely: here lies the pit of death that immediately sorts the wheat from the chaff as every tiny inch of the game is plumbed for the smallest scrap of information that will garner the slightest advantage and render victory, and you walk right into it like walking into a pane of glass. The Starcraft online community is renowned for treating the game like an art form and have turned it into a highly competitive arena, so much so that it has become a national sport of South Korea. And it shows: take a glimpse online and you’ll see just how seriously the game is taken and just how seriously those people mean business. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for beginners, just that it is an unforgiving experience and can easily put you off with your first match. On the lighter, less serious side it is also a fantastic showcase for what people were able to achieve with Starcraft’s retrospectively deep map editor with community-made experiences ranging from full blown campaigns with their own characters and narratives to minigames and one-off missions with game-changing mechanics. Of course, with the advent of Starcraft II almost the entire compilation is moot because you can now do so much more than just take advantage of the games bugs, but all that inspiration was built here and it would be amiss to disregard it.
Starcraft was released in 1998 and can be picked up here in the UK for under £3, which, while underselling itself, is very much worth it if only to witness history. And while the online community may have all but vanished, migrating to its flashier younger sibling, there is still a heady amount of narrative-driven campaigns to get through (especially if you include the Brood War expansion which adds lots of new missions and units). It was worth it back then and it’s still worth it now.
- Extremely well-balanced factions
- Good solid narrative
- Tactics go beyond a simple three-way triangle of power
- Online aspect mostly dead now
- Graphically dated
Were you a fan of Starcraft before Starcraft II was released?