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StarCraft II Heart of the Swarm review: The Jim and Sarah show

Blizzard's long-awaited StarCraft 2 expansion puts the AAA into B-movie

Sarah loves Jim. Jim loves Sarah. Sarah and Jim hate Arcturus. Sarah and Jim are seriously confused by Zeratul. Yet, despite their mutual love, hatred and confusion, Sarah and Jim just can't get it on.

Possibly because they're shy; possibly because they were once enemies; or possibly because Sarah is the Queen of Blades, the prime agent behind a genocidal alien rampage that killed half the galactic sector.

Or, rather, she used to be. At the outset of Heart of the Swarm, Sarah (Kerrigan) has been deinfested by the Xel'Naga device that the Terran players (painstakingly) collected during the Wings of Liberty campaign. These days she is just a powerful psychic.

In Heart of the Swarm, Kerrigan takes on the role of antiheroine

"StarCraft is the prime example of the old adage; if it ain't broke, don't fix it"

But as the game starts, Jim (Raynor) is attacked and presumed killed by their mutual enemy, the leader of the Terran dominion, Arcturus Mengsk. Cue murderous rampage, reversion to type and moral questions about humanity while Kerrigan's monstrous protégés rally round.

StarCraft is the prime example of the old adage; "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." The original game fairly crudely mingled the Warhammer universe with Command & Conquer's innovative new genre, the RTS, and threw in some campy, schlock sci-fi as a justification for Space Marines, Eldar and Tyranids killing each other in their hundreds.

Yet what differentiated Blizzard's games, then and now, is polish. Blizzard is willing to polish any game until its shines like a skinhead's bonce, like a 100 watt light bulb, or like an overused joke. And Heart of the Swarm has been polished to an unhealthy degree.

We know a fair few journalists who were surprised the game had actually come out at all, having given up on it completely. After all, Starcraft II was originally one game and it was hard to stomach Blizzard's decision to differentiate the campaigns; it always seemed like a fairly cynical cash-grab.

So the central question is: Has Blizzard added anything to justify buying this as another full-price game?

Well, the key changes are in the multiplayer. This, after all, is one of the world's biggest, most addictive strategy games (though the supposedly-still-in-beta DOTA 2 has crept up on it in the intervening years.)

For non-hardcore players, it may seem like little has changed; there are a couple of new units for each side, a better training mode for the multiplayer, AI allies and a few tweaks to the interface and social functions that should have been in the original game. But for the hardcore, the seemingly insignificant additions (such as extra units) have completely revised the structure of how Starcraft 2 is played.

The ability to drop into any replay seems useful for high-level training. The upgrades to the map editor look powerful, even if a tile-based 2D map editor will hit its limits fairly soon. The changes seem to push the Terrans towards flexibility, the Zerg are left unchanged and the Protoss become even more air-centric. Indeed, Blizzard has deliberately changed it so much that hardcore players will have to develop entirely new tactics.

Our only comment, at the moment, is that the newly buffed Terran med-evacs seem slightly overpowered - but we shouldn't say more than that. That's because, though the game has been through an extensive beta, parameters are still going to get changed and tweaked now the game is live, and we'd be mad to predict the effects.

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