Starcraft

Overview

This is a real-time strategy game like Age of Empires, Total Annihilation and some of the other titles, such as the Warcraft series, that Blizzard has produced. You play one of 3 races: the humanoid Terrans, the bug-like Zerg or the reptilian Protoss. Each race has its own advantages, with unique units, graphics and personality. There’s actually a fairly well-developed storyline for the game in the players’ guide, with histories of each race and run-downs of the characters you’ll encounter in the campaigns. The setting is 24th-Century futuristic, after Earth citizens have burned themselves out and have migrated to other parts of the galaxy. They run into the Zerg and the Protoss while fighting for planetary dominance on the Galactic Rim.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Like most games of this type, gameplay is on a playing field, with controls and a mini-map at the bottom of the screen. Units are controlled via mouse or keyboard shortcuts. You gather resources, in this case minerals and Vespene gas, to afford to produce workers, military units, buildings and upgraded technologies. You can play as a single player on different campaigns and scenarios, or multiplayer via network or on the Internet at Battle.net. Play, especially in battle situations, is very fast, although games themselves can last quite a while (hours, even) especially if the players are evenly matched. If you’ve already played this type of game before, you should be able to adapt to the feel of play fairly easily. Some units move so fast that it can be quite a task to follow them quickly enough with your mouse to select them. You can also self-design single or multi-player scenarios, or modify design on some of the already-installed scenarios.

Graphics

Overall, outstanding -- some of the best out there. The little movies that they play during some of the campaigns and right after installation are amazing. They do restrict you to a certain screen resolution (640 x 480) but because of the smallish size of the units, this makes sense. Some units, particularly Terran buildings, look so much alike that it can be difficult to tell them apart until you have played for awhile and get used to the subtle differences. The whole visual effect is very dark, which can make units difficult to see sometimes, so you may want to turn up the brightness on your monitor if you are having trouble. The control panel, while graphically nice to look at, takes up a bit too much screen real estate and could have been made smaller in relation to the playing field to avoid having to scroll so much during play. Map borders on the playing field also could be better defined, as it seems as if there is more map to look at when scrolling to the novice player, and you just run into a frustrating dead-end.

Audio

Very good and clear. Distinguishing between some of the odd sounds the units and buildings make takes experience, and sometimes the noises seem a bit incongruous with what they are supposed to represent. Music is very good. Definitely a game to buy good speakers for.

System Requirements

Windows 95/NT 4.0: Pentium 90 or higher, 16MB RAM, SVGA video card, Microsoft-compatible mouse, 2X CD-ROM drive (Quad-speed for Cinematics).

Macintosh: PowerMac or compatible, 16 MB RAM, System 7.5 or higher, 256-color, 640x480 display or better, 2X CD-ROM drive (Quad-speed for Cinematics).

Documentation

There is a tech tree chart of the buildings and a good manual that comes with the game. Reading both before play is a good idea. The manual gives background on the storyline and each of the three races, plus gives more specifics about each unit. Considering that many units look similar and there isn’t a lot of on-screen information about what each unit is and does, the printed material is a big help.

Parental Warning

This game, while not as graphically violent as many games out there, is still fairly raw and also includes a fair amount of off-color language. Parents may want to restrict this game to older children.

Bottom Line

Aside from a few minor gameplay and graphics problems, Starcraft definitely ranks at or near the top of the heap for games in its class. The inclusion of female characters is welcome and mostly well-done, if a bit on the just-there-for-decoration side. The cinematic animations are outstanding, dramatic and funny. Even the voice-over acting is really good. Multiplayer games are fast and furious, though it can take a while to get used to how alliances and teaming works. Scenarios are fun, but unless you’ve played for a while already and are familiar with the game, the computer players will come in and kick your butt. Save those for when you’re used to playing. The major complaint so far is with network gaming, as the game doesn’t allow for direct TCP/IP networking, so if you want Internet play you have to use Blizzard's Battle.Net. A great game with lots of replayability and hours of time-consuming fun.

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