|Jeu de Semaine, no. 7
||[May. 30th, 2011|09:23 pm]
Suit up, son! You're going to Mars!
StarCraft III was a little too busy getting married when this first came out, and finally had time to play just recently. What's striking about this game is the meticulous brand management going on. Making a sequel to Starcraft requires navigating the dire straits between the Scylla of hardcore eSports players and the Charybdis of casual gamers. The former group is not just a small vocal minority, they are aspirational role models; lots of players look up to these guys, the same way that many amateur poker players lose their shirts trying to become pros. So keeping both groups happy is vital to the longevity of Starcraft.
To that aim, Blizzard seems to have made two separate games, an eSports-worthty multiplayer game for the hardcore, and a metagame-rich, cutscene-fortified single player campaign. They've dropped any pretense that the single player campaign will train you to play multiplayer. In fact, I felt like the single player was training me how not to play the multipayer, by giving me all sorts of units and powers not present in the multiplayer game. My one attempt to play "multiplayer" against the AI proved that out. It crushed me several times in a row.
The single-player metagame offers a couple different advancement tracks for your army. Missions earn you cash an research points that you can use to buy unit upgrades, hire mercenaries, or upgrade your tech. Most of these upgrades are purchased off of a big menu, but the technology advances are offered as strict tradeoffs; you can take item A or item B, but not both. Obviously this can lead to an "uninformed choice" problem, where the user doesn't know what he's getting until he's already bought it. Blizzard uses an interesting technique to try and minimize this problem: every upgrade you can earn has a short gameplay video that demonstrates the upgrade. These videos can help you decide whether a particular upgrade is right for you.
I found the narrative elements of the campaign to be massively overproduced, with too much cutscenes and dialogue. I don't want to watch news reports from back home. I don't want to click on random characters to learn more about their life stories. It's a frickin' strategy game, get on to the next mission already. The one brightside to the storytelling was that the established "space redneck" theme for the Terrans has been improved by its obvious homage to Firefly, which came and went between this game and the original.