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StarCraft II, part two

So anticipated, it doesn't need a subtitle: Jon Blyth reports on the game that will thrill the strategy world

Below is the second and concluding part of the StarCraft II feature that we kicked off last Thursday. Should you have missed the first instalment, then this link will send you over to its delights...

The fact that skill and timing beats straight statistical advantage is a running theme. The new Phoenix ship - a fast, flying Protoss unit - has the capacity to Overload. This is a powerful attack, discharging the Phoenix's energy in an explosive burst - but it's balanced by the need to sit down, recharge and have a think about what it's done. Used with skill, the Phoenix can wipe out entire ranks; used at the wrong time, Overload will leave you prone, stupid and dead.

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The new Protoss Colossus - a spider-like unit that houses its control centre atop four spear-like legs, seems more than equipped to deal with your everyday Zerg Rush, using a beam ray pointed at the floor. Preoccupied with ground threats, the Colossus is hugely vulnerable to air attack.

You get the idea - it's a game of counters, as is every RTS out there. Blizzard's point is that you get good by learning the counters - you get great by developing your reflexes and making eight decisions at once. The Protoss also have access to Phase Prisms - mobile shields that can float around and protect areas as you see fit. When you combine this with the ability to 'warp in' your units, you can more or less create a Protoss army anywhere in the field.

Obviously, get too gung-ho and you'll leave yourself wide open to attack.

As for the Mothership, this is the most expensive and powerful Protoss unit, with a Planet Cracker attack to destroy ground troops, a Black Hole to draw in air units and Time Bomb to slow down all enemies in the area. This includes the cool ability to stop missiles, and it's a nice way to show off the Havok physics engine when the missiles drop harmlessly to the floor when the field wears off.

Warcraft 3D?
Another concern among our Korean pals was that, with the move to 3D, StarCraft II would be too much like Warcraft III, but such worries were soon dismissed. Warcraft III was a deliberate attempt to distinguish the two RTS franchises - it had a slower pace, fewer units, less focus on game economics, several skills per unit and a focus on RPG heroes.

StarCraft II, meanwhile, is a sequel to StarCraft in every way. Massive armies (think huge Zerg swarms), fast action, a strong emphasis on resource management and definitely no heroes. If you're looking for direct first-person unit control like Rise & Fall, or innovative display options like Supreme Commander, then take your ass to the back of the queue.

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TV Appeal?
This might not be an issue of direct interest to the UK, because the limit of our TV gaming coverage has traditionally been someone on QVC playing a PSP, screwing up their face and saying: "Well I don't get it, but apparently it's all the rage with the nippers." But it's all-important to the Korean pro gaming circuit, and we'll definitely feel the impact of this.

For a start, the graphics will be clean. Particle effects won't be used for the sake of it, as all they do is obscure the action, and beam weapons won't be overdone for the same reason. It's not only the players who have to be able to see what's going on, it's a stadium full of oohing and aahing fans. Expect distinct, sharply animated units and vast, swarming battles - just don't expect daft amounts of bloom, massive beam weapons and smoke all over the place.

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