Published in The National on October 27, 2000

War in space


By Daniel Lam
First, a bit of history. StarCraft isn't new. When game software giant Blizzard released the game one year late in 1997, it lived up to all the hype: great storyline, excellent gameplay, impressive graphics (at the time). Blizzard had, by then, released the sequel to the highly-successful Warcraft, WarCraft II, and Diablo. But StarCraft held its own. A year later Blizzard released an expansion, Brood War

What is it about?

In the distant future, lost colonies of humans (Terrans) find themselves fighting for survival on the edge of the galaxy. They had lost contact with Earth, and had for most part given up on re-establishing links anyway.

Through military strength, espionage and deceit, the Terrans formed a unified government (the Confederacy) and managed to establish some form of peace. But when resources run short, these Confederate nations start exploring and in the process, encounter the highly advanced, enigmatic Protoss. 

Let's just say "first contact" ended disastrously for the Terrans. Meanwhile, a previously unknown and deadly species known as the Zerg (picture the monsters in the Aliens movies) enters Terran and Protoss space and is destroying everything in its path. 


What do you need?

StarCraft
runs on systems that are deemed obsolete by today's standards. For the PC, you would need a Pentium 90 or higher with minimum 16MB RAM, a DirectX-compatible video card, a mouse, a quad-speed CD-ROM drive and at least Windows 95. For the Mac, you need at least a PowerMac or better, 16MB RAM, System 7,6 or higher, a 640x480 display of higher at minimum 256 colours and a quad-speed CD-ROM drive. And yes, StarCraft is available on several console platforms as well (Nintendo 64, Sony Playstation, etc). The Brood War expansion requires you to have StarCraft


What do you get

StarCraft
features single player and multiplayer games ... the latter over a network or over the Internet (via Battle.net). Play over the Internet is impractical in PNG, but Tok IT did try playing StarCraft over a peer-to-peer network. We'll get to the multiplayer portion later. 

In the single player mode, you get to play one of three distinct races. You can choose to play a one-off session or choose campaign play. In the one-off session you choose a map, the number of opponents (controlled by the computer) and the AI's slant (Melee or Free For All ... Melee means the opponents will gang up on you, Free For All means the opponents will take on each other and you). The campaign game is superb. You start off playing the Terrans, and the game guides you through 10 missions, during which you discover the Protoss and the Zerg incursion. After three missions is a mini-movie (or cinematic), and believe me, it is worth watching. Then you play the Zerg, and finally the Protoss campaign. 


How does it play?

You start with your home base (Command Centre for Terrans, Hatchery for Zerg and Nexus for Protoss), and four "labourer" units (SCVs for Terrans, Drones for Zerg and Probes for Protoss). You use the "labourer" units to mine minerals, which are required for the basic structures (which defer depending on the race). Along the way you have more structures, which allow you to train/morph/warp in more units. Send in your troops and vapourise the enemy! In short, the game is like any other Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game. 


But there is a difference

In most RTS games, the individual races are in name and looks only ... a peasant-like unit is the same for all the races, a soldier for humans is the same as the grunt for the Orcs, etc (as was the case in Warcraft). But in StarCraft, the races ARE unique. 

The Terrans are your generic humans (albeit with a Redneck attitude). The Zerg are a reptilian species with a hive-like mentality. The Protoss are an ancient alien race with superior technology. The Terran basic unit, the SCV, mines minerals and Vespene gas, builds structures and repairs damaged buildings. The Zerg basic unit, the Drone, mines as well, but in order to build anything, the Drone morphs into something. Yes, Zerg buildings are alive. The Protoss Probe places a "beacon" and then move along doing other things (like mining), and the beacons "warps" in a building. Most Terran buildings can lift off and fly, an interesting defensive capability. Zerg buildings must be built on Creep, which is a layer of organic stuff which, well, creeps on surfaces, and they can regenerate damage. Protoss buildings must be built near Psionic Pylons, and they come with forcefields (which recharge over time). The Terrans have nuclear strikes and siege tanks. The Zerg have plague-like attacks and can infest Terran command centres. The Protoss can create illusions and render large numbers of units invisible. Cool. 

What about multiplayer? StarCraft is stable, and with the addition of Brood War, certain bugs which may have irritated some players were ironed out. You choose a map and the number of players. You can go up against your friends, ally with them against the computer, or ally with one or more against the rest, or whatever. 


And during the game....

The Terrans first fight both Protoss and Zerg and naturally find themselves close to extinction. The Protoss ruling class, suffering from a major case of superiority complex, fail to see that the Zerg CAN jolly well eradicate them. Those Protoss who see the light are exiled. These exiles ally themselves with the Terrans, and they make for the Protoss homeworld of Aiur, which has by then been taken over by the Zerg. In the end, the allied forces destroy the Zerg Overmind (the brains behind the monstrosities). The end scene shows Protoss High Templar Tassadar, at the helm of a Carrier (a battleship), sacrificing himself to destroy the Overmind. 


What about Brood War?

In the aftermath of the Zerg over-running of Aiur, the Protoss fights to regain their homeworld. Then the guys from Earth turn up and demand to have a piece of the action (running tests on Zerg and all). And meanwhile, the new master of the Zerg (a former Terran absorbed into the Zerg, and who has gained Protoss abilities), the self-styled "Queen of Blades", struggles to maintain her hold on the broods. 

The player starts with the new Protoss campaign, then Terrans and lastly the Zerg. With new units and improved gameplay. And three long cinematics after each campaign. You get new units: the Terrans get the Medic and the Valkyrie (one heals, the other destroys) thanks to the United Earth Directorate; the Zerg get the Lurker (a key Zerg combat unit gets even more dangerous) and the Devourer (definitely ups the Zerg air fighting capabilities considerably); and the Protoss get the Dark Templar (invisible Zealots - cool!), Corsair (another air unit with powerful defensive abilities) and the Dark Archon (very, very manipulative chap). 


Gameplay features

What does the game offer in terms of gameplay features? Variable terrain, waypoints (multiple movement destinations), burrowing (for the Zerg) and cloaking units (invisible), ability to hotkey groups and locations, ability to train multiple units in a building (up to five at a time), game modes like Capture the Flag, Greed (who can harvest the most resources in a set amount of time), Team play (2-4 players controlling the same race - let one guy build, another guy scout, another expand, etc.), and most other features that are pretty much standard in today's RTS games (but were innovative years ago when StarCraft was released). StarCraft also comes with a Campaign Editor, so you can make your own maps. 


Does it look and sound good?

Three years ago, StarCraft won plenty of accolades for its graphics (in 640x480 mode). Today it looks a mite dated. The cinematics are still a joy to look at, however. But with pretty low graphics requirements (I first played StarCraft on a machine with a 1MB video card), who can complain? Sound-wise the game is adequate ... the background music is excellent, even by today's standards, setting the mood without being too obvious. 


Should I get the game or not?

StarCraft
, like we said earlier, is not a new game, but it certainly STILL has what it takes to stay chummy with the best. Plus, older systems can run the game just fine - no need for 3D graphics accelerators or high-end processors. What does that tell you? 


StarCraft & StarCraft: Brood War

Pros: Minimal system requirements, excellent music, good story line
Cons: Almost four years old, which means overall gaming engine is dated
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Platform: PC/Mac and most Consoles


Indispensable StarCraft units
StarCraft
's units come in different forms and sizes, but here are a few which I have found most useful:


Terrans

Marines - Marines are the first line of defence for many of the Terran colonies. Although not too impressive at first, in large numbers the Marines can be a very potent force. In addition to that, they can attack both air and land enemy units. An upgrade greatly improves the Marines' attack range, making them all the more lethal. 
Ghosts - Ghosts epitomise the height of human evolution and physical conditioning. These brave men and women, born with incredible psionic (mental) potential, are adopted by the Confederate Government and trained from infancy to benefit mankind. The Ghost can be trained to Cloak (become invisible), which makes them valuable in the field of reconnaissance. Their ability to disrupt electronic fields, a Lockdown, paralyses mechanical units long enough for them to be taken down. 
Arclite Siege Tanks - The heavily armoured AAV-5 Arclite Siege Tanks are renowned throughout the Confederacy for their cannons' unrelenting barrages of plasma-charged doom and their stalwart emplacement/advance tactics. In siege mode their cannons do massive splash damage. A definite addition to any defensive line. 
Battlecruiser - The massive Behemoth-class Battlecruisers are virtual flying fortresses, built to keep the peace within the Terran Sector. Armed with the Yamato Gun, the Battlecruiser has the most powerful weapon other than the nuclear strike. 
Medics (Brood War expansion unit) - The Medics of the United Earth Directorate (UED) follow a time-honoured tradition of selflessly marching into combat zones to aid their injured brethren. They extend the lives of Marines beyond the standard 17 seconds and can heal Zerg disorders as well. 


The Zerg

Zergling - The small, savage Zergling is one of the few breeds that a core species has been found for. Mutated by the Zerg to be efficient killers, the voracious Zergling are capable of ripping a larger creature to shreds with their razor-edged forearms and sharp fangs. Use in large numbers for a true horde-like effect. 
Hydralisk - The Hydralisk is easily the most versatile breed for the Zerg. With the ability to strike both ground and air targets, Burrow (once evolved), and health regeneration, the Hydralisk is a force to be reckoned with. 
Queen - The Zerg "Queen" (a misnomer, as it does not produce Larvae) is capable of producing biotoxins that have dramatic effects on both Zerg and other lifeforms. The Queen's most useful ability is its Parasite power. With it the Queen infects a target. Thereafter (for a long, long time) the area around the infected victim can be seen by the Zerg. 
Defiler - Vaguely resembling a scorpion in appearance, Defilers are veritable cancer factories. They can cause Plague, which eats into armour, flesh, anything. But their most useful ability is to unleash the Dark Swarm, which is a cloud that prevents ranged attacks from causing damage. Create the Dark Swarm and send in the Zerglings.... 
Lurker (Brood War expansion unit) - One of the newer and deadlier Zerg Strains is the Lurker. These creatures serve as defensive warriors for the Hive Clusters and outlying Zerg colonies. They can only attack when Burrowed, but once they are, they cannot be detected (unless by those with Detector abilities). Place them at the entrance of your base or your enemy's, and watch them spike opposing forces to oblivion. 
Devourer (Brood War expansion unit) - Bred from the Mutalisk strain, the Devourers are a deadly addition to the Swarm. These large, flying behemoths are capable of spewing their vile acid at any airborne ships or creatures, causing significant corrosive damage. Their splash attack also reveals "invisible" units and weakens armour. 


The Protoss

High Templar - The High Templar are seasoned, veteran warriors of the Protoss armies that have walked far down the path of Khala. Those who choose to accept the mantle of the High Templar set aside the frenzied rage of the Zealot, and instead use their highly potent psionic abilities to bolster the warriors of Aiur. Use the High Templar to create an illusionary double of a unit, then send it in ahead of the rest of your army. While the enemy is busy firing at the illusion, your troops can wreak some major havoc! 
Observer - These small drones are employed to survey vast wasteland areas or observe and record battles for study. Their complex sensor array leaves little energy for defences, but they can detect cloaked or concealed units with ease, making them invaluable on the battlefield. Observers are Robotic spies for Protoss forces on the battlefield. Their huge advantage is the ability to stay permanently cloaked. 
Carriers - The massive Carriers serve as both command centres and devastating weapons of war. Heavily armoured and shielded, the Carrier mounts no weaponry but instead manufactures and launches flights of robotic Interceptors at vital enemy targets. The computer-controlled Interceptors are capable of quickly tearing apart even the largest of vessels with their relentless strafing runs. 
Arbiter - The only warship to be crewed exclusively by non-Templar, the mighty Arbiter is used to provide special support for assault groups. Psychic Judicators crew the Arbiter ships, and they use the Arbiter as a focal point to project a reality-warping field that serves to conceal all friendly units within close proximity. Since the Arbiter must be anchored firmly in space-time to safely generate such a large field, it is immune to the effects and remains visible, even when surrounded by the field of another Arbiter. 
Dark Templar (Brood War expansion unit) - Banished from Aiur for refusing to submit to the Khala, the Dark Templar have wandered throughout the far reaches of space for generations. These mighty warriors, drawing secret powers from the cold void of the cosmos, are able to bend light around themselves, which renders them virtually invisible (yes, they are permanently invisible). Armed with modified Psi-Blade technology, the Dark Templar relentlessly strive to protect their race and the ancient secrets of their tribes. 
Corsair (Brood War expansion unit) - These fast, medium sized warships were built by the Dark Templar to safeguard their wandering fleets. Employing a devastating Neutron Flare in a ship to ship combat, the Corsair is a versatile addition to the Protoss fleet. With its powerful Disruption Web, the Corsair can even prevent warriors deployed on planetary surfaces or defensive structures from attacking. This ability, when used as part of a large siege, is an invaluable asset to Protoss warfare. 
Dark Archon (Brood War expansion unit) - During their long exile, the Dark Templars have faced many challenges. Struggling and adapting their arsenal of skills and converting their biology to suit their harsh environment has ultimately resulted in the Dark Archon. Like their High Templar brethren, two Dark Templars sacrifice themselves in a Psionic melding giving rise to the Dark Archon. The powers of these avatars of Psionic might extend well beyond those of the regular Archon, more than compensating for their lack of any physical attack capability. With the ability to control the minds of the enemy, the Dark Archon is a fearsome Protoss indeed.