StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty – hands-on

Only once you’ve wandered into StarCraft II’s greased-metal cantina and engaged in conversation with embittered mercenaries, or spoken to Jim Raynor’s crew about armour upgrades and the like, do you begin to understand why, and how, the Terran, Protoss and Zerg campaigns will be split into three separate titles.

The interface, the entire facade of moving your character through the world to access what are essentially fancy menu options, isn’t something that can be reskinned to work for an insectoid menace. Unless they’re more sociable than their flesh-tearing forearms would lead us to believe. The three games will be justifiably unique in their approach to fast-paced, real-time strategy, even before you’ve reached the good fight.

The real revelations had little to do with StarCraft II itself, however. It was Blizzard’s unveiling of a host of new features that seemed to excite the majority of fans. Their online gaming network, according to the stats Blizzard proudly tout, is the world’s biggest – trumping the likes of Xbox LIVE easily – though its influence has been anything but far-reaching.

The relaunch introduces integrated friends lists, structured league tables and tournament creation tools, marketplace functionality for hawking mods and map packs, and the ability to chat with your mate while they play World of Warcraft. More than that, it’s an important image refresh for a seemingly peripheral service, a distinctly ’90s feeling relic that’d be dead in the water had Warcraft III not developed such an unshakeable fanbase. The bottom line from Blizzard is this: it’s all new and shiny and we should be terribly excited. But back to the game.

The mission we were given to try out was to evacuate the planet of Agria. Hovering in space somewhere and hunched over a holographic interface, Jim Raynor receives a distress call from a Doctor Swann, a plea to rescue colonists from an incoming Zerg invasion force. Another equally urgent task pulses on our galaxy map, but the planet of Agria, when compared to the dull beige ping-pong ball of this other planet, looks to be the more interesting venture.

Raynor’s team are delivered to the map in a dropship – a handful of Firebats (flamethrower wielding, short range heavies) and the more generic marines make up your initial force. The map itself is little more than a colony and a port connected by a winding, S-shaped road, and the objective is equally basic: escort a van as it carries 50 colonists to the port in five trips. The Zerg have wonderful timing here, with each wave of attacks becoming consistently more vicious until they’re dropping in from the sky right next to your tin of defenceless civilians.

Steve Hogarty

Steve Hogarty is a London-based freelance journalist covering games and technology. His bylines have appeared in publications including GamesRadar, The Independent, Yahoo, VICE, Eurogamer, and more. He is also the co-host of the pocast, Regular Features.