Starcraft II Versus Starcraft II

You should know the drill by now: I take both sides of the argument, you decide which one carries more weight. This week, we’ll be examining whether “Starcraft 2″ lives up to its twelve-year gestation period. Let the games commence!

Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty

“Starcraft II” Wings of Liberty” is the same game as “Starcraft,” and it’s absolutely genius. Blizzard, the eternal auteur of the gaming world, saw past the temptation to muck up a formula for their own egos and stuck to the blueprints. Here we have a game so honed, so fine-tuned, so meticulously tailored down to the molecular level, that playing it is almost like having your mind controlled. Every aspect of the experience has been considered, rediscovered, refined. No, there are no hero units. No, there are no new races. But be honest here: you didn’t really want them in the first place. What you wanted is “Starcraft,” and only the geniuses who invented the greatest RTS of all time would be savvy enough to deliver the formula to you a second time, unharmed by the passing of time. Blizzard completely ignores its competition and does whatever the hell it feels like. That’s why we love them.

“Wings of Liberty” may appear like it isn’t a step forward at first, but so did “World of Warcraft.” The original “Starcraft” was only innovative in as far as it featured three races, but this was largely considered an inevitable development anyway. Blizzard has always believed that refinement leads to innovation, that perfecting a formula necessarily explodes it into new dimensions, so it’s no wonder that “Starcraft II” exemplifies this attitude. They don’t scramble for new features, slamming square pegs into round holes for the sake of press conferences. They are committed to the sharpening process, to building an architecture so sound that its very existence is an elemental wonder.

The “Starcraft” formula is a finicky thing, easily thrown off by alterations that don’t gel with its overall DNA. The success of the original can only be called “insane,” and there’s no way Blizzard intended or could have predicted the response it got. Faced with living up to that, they set aside their pride and stuck to the fundamentals. To use a basketball metaphor, it’s the equivalent of passing the ball instead of going for a dunk: it doesn’t sound as sexy, but it wins you the game.

Most people who are complaining about “Starcraft II” don’t really know what it is they wanted Blizzard to do differently. If they had messed with the formula, people would have just gone back to the original and ignored the sequel. Their gripes amount to a veiled search for their lost youth, which they try to reconnect with through a video game. This is, sadly, not Blizzard’s department. The best they or anyone can do is refuse to fix what isn’t broken, and deliver you a product that is as close to perfection as they can possibly bring it. If it cannot rekindle your childhood fantasies, then maybe you need to stop projecting wish fulfillment onto an inanimate object.

Starcraft II: Crass Disappointment

Cut scenes. In case you’re wondering what Blizzard has been working on for the last twelve years, let me go ahead and tell you: cut scenes. They have been making cut scenes. Great cut scenes, mind you, but cut scenes nonetheless. It’s my fault, really, here I was thinking they might actually build us a true sequel after a dozen years of sitting on our hands, waiting. Nope. No dice. What we have instead is a polished up re-tread, proof that time under Activision’s roof has truly converted Blizzard to their way of thinking. Don’t let all the fancy window dressing fool you, this is a “Bioshock 2″ style rip-off at its worst.

All you need to do is look at “Warcraft III”—a far more advanced game than SC2 despite the fact that it’s nearly eight years older—to see how small their ambition was. Look at the jump between “Warcraft II” and its older brother and see how much new territory was blazed. The story is sad and different here. There are no significant game play advancements, no new races, there aren’t even new resources to collect. What exactly was Blizzard doing all this time? Prettying up the graphics? Are we supposed to get excited because there are new units? There were new units in “Brood War,” I’m good on the new units thing. And does anyone really think I’m fooled by the replacement of the briefing screen with pre-rendered point-and-click adventures? Is this really enough to satiate you people? I was fine with the old briefing screen! Did you really need to go “fix” that while the rest of the bloody game remained completely unchanged?

And worst of all, these people actually expect me to accept a campaign where I can only play as one race. Are you kidding me, Blizzard? This is a paid decrease! The original had three separate campaigns, this only has one! The original gave me three dynamic new stories, this one provides only one! You aren’t actually supposed to go backwards after twelve years of development, dudes. Let me guess: we’re going to be shelling out sixty bucks two more times over the next few years, aren’t we? You clever jerks, you’ve managed to turn “Starcraft II” into an outright extortion. Maybe you’re using this “Wings of Liberty” crap just to buy yourself time to go figure out something new you could actually contribute to the game.

Or maybe you just don’t have anything new to say with this franchise. Whatever the case, you’ve lost my vote. You have no new ideas, and I’m not paying you to sit on your hands and repeat old tricks.