2010's most promising PC games

Expected: Spring 2010

Forever delayed. Nearly ready. It’s been a decade since the original RTS classic, with only cancelled spinoffs in between, and now that Blizzard are turning their attention back to the milieu, first with a campaign based around the Terrans, they’re determined to get it right. That polish is most evident in StarCraft II’s vibrant colour palette, which communicates unit types and their situation at a microsecond’s glance. When the arc welder of a boxy SCV constructor flicker-crackles and its pilot reports “job’s done” in a casual, southern drawl, you just get it.

StarCraft II’s focus is clearly on taking the kind of missions that wouldn’t have been out of place in the original and perfecting them so that every unit, every animation, every click feels great. Our concern is that by looking back and polishing what came before, StarCraft II might miss the obvious tricks strategy games have since adopted to make them less frustrating.

Jim Raynor’s battlecruiser serves as your mobile base in Wings of Liberty, with fully-rendered versions of your crew waiting inside to chat up between missions. Point-and-clicking around the bridge, cantina and other areas digs up bits of lore; you can purchase units and upgrades through your engineering deck, or pull up the galactic map to choose which mission to take next. Given these choices and the bonus objectives each mission contains, there’ll be plenty to replay while we await the release of the Protoss and Zerg campaigns.

Once you do run out of single-player fun, StarCraft II’s multiplayer awaits. The game will launch alongside Blizzard’s renewed Battle.net service, which will provide matchmaking and a social network that’ll cover all their games. Even better, Blizzard recently revealed StarCraft II’s editor, which is flexible enough to create not just new maps but to completely warp it into a top-down shooter. Make something good enough and you’ll even be able to sell it to fellow players through Battle.net.

Mafia II

Expected: May 5

20 years after the original, Mafia II stars faster cars, more powerful guns and sharper suits. Set two decades after the original Mafia, in the postwar ’40s and ’50s of the fictional American city of Empire Bay, Mafia II follows the parallel trajectories of Vito Scaletta and Joe Barbaro. These two friends find that their ascendancy within the ranks of the mob means that they’re also becoming inextricably entangled in the rivalries and betrayals of three competing crime families. For your part, you control Vito, in a story that spans ten years of beatings, assassinations, double-crosses, and the cheese-grating of fancy cars with hundreds and hundreds of bullets.

Empire Bay is an open city, sure, but its weather isn’t random -it’s used to create mood. When you’re driving, you can choose from three radio stations, but the DJ for each will play soundtracks to suit your current experience. If you’re in a chase, he’ll pump exciting (period appropriate) beats. If you’re casually cruising, he’ll play something relaxing.

The attention to detail is impressive and compelling. Missions often begin in Vito’s apartment: NPCs are talking, joking around, yelling to each other as you walk between the rooms. Leaving the apartment one day, you pass a woman being accosted by a drunken idiot in the street. You can drive on by, or you can get involved and punch his lights out. It’s a throwaway, optional scenario.

As Vito, you’re playing a young man coming into money for the first time, set loose in the city. Assuming the police don’t catch you. As in the original game, they’re a stickler for basic traffic violations like speeding or running red lights, and they’ll blow their whistle or chase you down to give you a ticket. If you happen to be carrying a gun at the time – and you probably will be – they’ll try to arrest you, too. You’ve got three options to escape: show them a boring permit, bribe them, or flee. Fleeing causes them to radio-in your description, forcing you to change your clothes to shake them off. Bribing them might work, or it might just make things worse. Honest cops, eh?

Mafia II still isn’t as anarchic as Grand Theft Auto. It doesn’t have to be. There’s room for all kinds of games in the world, but, let’s face it, there’ll never be too many that wrap steel-hearted gunplay and rampant criminality in a downright classy package. Mafia did it. We think Mafia II’s going to do it even better.