FutureFive NZ - Review: Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm

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Review: Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Real-time strategy games make me happy. That’s the first thing that should be noted.

I love the idea of building up an army, training a legion of soldiers with pimped out weapon upgrades, and killing another legion of soldiers with slightly less pimped out weapon upgrades.

Impossible Creatures was my jam for a ludicrously extensive period that spanned much of my young life. I was making lobsters breed with rams before I even knew how weird that concept is.

I damn nearly cried when Arthas did Frostmourne’s bidding in Warcraft 3 (I’m such a good dude keeping it spoiler-free for a game that’s like ten years old, you’re welcome).

I can remember playing the original Starcraft while my cousin’s parents held dinner parties and drank wine (I had a weird childhood), so to an extent nostalgia makes this review biased as hell.

So I figured I’d just embrace it: it’s science-fiction, it’s real-time strategy, and there was exploding Zerg-babies. This was never going to be a bad review.

Blizzard raised a few eyebrows by giving us one campaign with each new release in the Starcraft series, but it has turned out to be a move that will eventually provide us with three great games instead of one original campaign with two pansy-ass add-ons.

Instead of a small release of a couple of levels, we’ve been given a solid, twenty-mission campaign, lots of new units and some really cool new features. It’s the same approach that made Warcraft 3’s Frozen Throne expansion so popular: lots of content, all at once.

There’s less dead people, but with this second instalment of the planned trilogy the original story from Wings is expanded nicely and the Zerg side of the story fleshed out, even if that flesh is slimy and disgusting.

If you didn’t play the original and are intending to buy the two campaigns in one fell swoop like some sort of bargain-hunting kestrel, beware of SPOILERS IN THE NEXT SEGMENT THAT WERE UNAVOIDABLE OR THAT I WAS TOO LAZY TO FIND A WAY TO OMIT.

Ready to kill! At the end of Wings of Liberty, the Terrans had punched a hole in the face of the Zerg and caused Kerrigan, Queen of Blades, to revert to a humanoid-ish form.

Before you can begin your quest, which inevitably revolves around Kerrigan’s quest for revenge against Emperor Arcturus Mengsk, you must become acquainted with the ugly little, and sometimes not so little, beasts that will be helping you tear his limbs off.

The new campaign begins with lab testing on Kerrigan, which is the cleverly disguised tutorial for Heart of the Swarm. You learn to control each new unit available to be spawned into the Zerg army, and learn how evolve your units in certain ways for different effects.

This is where it becomes apparent Blizzard has put a good deal of thought into this new expansion, as the evolutions can in theory be utilised in a vast number of ways for a different method of playing through the game each time.

Of course, some of them are clearly far less useful than others, and you can figure out pretty quickly which evolutionary combinations will wreak the most havoc and melt the most faces.

Once you’ve caught up on the new features, you’ll start realising this game has a story. It’s fairly standard Blizzard fare, which is fine and expected; I wasn’t really waiting on a ‘he IS Keyser Soze’ moment, so running with a story that’s predictable is fine for a Starcraft game.

I’m not sure if that’s a really depressing sentence or if it just shows that I play too many video games, but a lot of the missions in Heart of the Swarm are similar to other RTS missions.

There is room for improvement in that sense, but in the same way that every Grand Theft Auto game between II and IV used pretty much the same formula (oh look, some fanboys coming to slice me and tell me how wrong I am), so too does Heart of the Swarm stick to Blizzard’s tried-and-true mixture of gathering, defending, and spawning a massive amount of Zerglings to kill everything on the screen.

The story is not particularly strong, but it does what is required of it and provides a canvas on which we can splatter as many brains as possible, in as strategic a fashion as we can.

There are some unique missions in here, and some plot points that are interesting and pay homage to some classic sci-fi (think a singular Zerg wreaking havoc aboard a ship, Alien-style. It’s cool, and Mr. Scott should be proud).

If you’re a seasoned Starcraft vet, odds are the campaign will fly past all too quickly and with no real challenge, but I suppose if you’re a seasoned vet, odds are your interests lie elsewhere anyway.

Jacked up and good to go Aesthetically, Heart of the Swarm is as nice as Wings of Liberty was. You’ll travel to a number of different worlds in your intergalactic quest to infest everything around you like space-herpes, and all of them are gorgeous, even when they’re meant to be hideous and barren.

You’ll tear through jungles, icy wastes and city streets, and all of them look and feel legitimate. The cinematics are still a strong feature of the franchise, and at times you’d wish they were longer – it’s like watching Prometheus, except everyone speaks in one-liners and the ending is inevitable and obvious. It’s still pretty to look at, though.

Sound is sound; I’m no expert but everything sounded like it should and I’m not about to start criticising what alien monsters would sound like in real life so we’ll leave it at that before someone starts having a go.

LIVE FOR THE SWARM! To stick with my honest approach to this review, I’ll let it be known I don’t play Starcraft multiplayer. It’s too hard, and I’m too lazy to get good at it.

The introduction of Heart of the Swarm to the mix will aid some players and hinder others, in the same way that introducing four alien chess pieces to the board would mix things up considerably.

Friends who play online assure me it’s changed drastically, and I’m not inclined to agree nor disagree because I have literally played five online games, all of which were highly embarrassing.

That’s either a testament to the extreme skill of some online players, or to how badly I suck at a genre of games I love (I’m just like Salieri in Amadeus, except instead of being a slightly less-gifted genius I’m a blind carpenter with no ears and a face melted on the hot-plate of life) but in either case it’s obvious there’s a serious gap between players new to the online warfare in Starcraft and those battle-hardened millions who have calloused clicking fingers and eyes so accustomed to the dim light of their computer screen they are closer to bats than humans on the evolutionary scale.

If you’re planning to play online, now is as good a time as any to start – the new options and tactics made available by the expansion will serve to level the playing field, at least a little bit.

The multiplayer remains as expansive and deep as you are willing to make it, and the more time you invest in it the greater your rewards will be. Scouting report complete.

Conclusion: fun. A fitting and accomplished addition to the Starcraft franchise, Heart of the Swarm will provide plenty for fans of the series and add yet another layer to the multiplayer game.

If you were originally disappointed by the lack of Zerg activity in SC 2, the new generation of Zerglings will provide you with plenty of swarming potential in classic, disgusting, insectoid fashion.

A worthy expansion to an already great title. Buy it if you haven’t already.

Gameplay: 9
Graphics: 9
Replayability: 8 if you hate multiplayer, 10 if you love it.

Overall: 9

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