You can never go home again…oh wait! You can!
Starcraft is a game that needs no introduction, but it is a game that might need revaluation. Given its regular inclusion on many “best games of all time” lists and the upcoming release of the final expansion to Starcraft 2, it’s important to revisit the genre titan to see if it still holds up. The short version is, yeah, it kinda does. While not the juggernaut it once was, the original Starcraft remains a fun, challenging game that remains fun, even when compared to its modern descendants.
The gameplay is the heart of the whole enterprise. The basics are familiar to any player of the RTS genre. The player starts off with a small base and a few workers and must build an economy and an army to defeat his foes. The tension in the game comes in balancing the development of an economy, maintaining an army for defense, and punishing the opponent for their mistakes. Players must adapt their styles and strategies to three different races (Terran, Protoss, or Zerg), each with unique units and buildings. The three race balance still stands out as one of the finest executions of the concept. Each race feels radically different, yet balances well with its counterparts. Much of the praise for the original game remains true, but the gameplay does suffer a bit from age. The player can only select 12 units at a time, skirmishes start with too few harvester units, and the unit pathfinding is atrocious. Fortunately, the player can adapt to most of these allowing for the strong mechanics to shine through.
For the campaign, the player takes control of a nameless commander for each race following a continuing plot from each perspective. The story has some interesting twists which the game oddly does not incorporate into the mission structure. For example, rather than play out a mission where one of the lead Protoss characters defies his superiors and defends humanity, the game only tells the player about it. This is even odder given that some of the campaign missions feel like filler and could easily be replaced. Still, the overall story is solid with strong characters, pivotal moments, and a few intriguing plot twists. Given that most RTS games push the story to the side, it’s nice to see a tale with a bit more meat. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the campaign mission design. Almost every mission feels like a basic skirmish with only a few variations tossed in the mix. Neither the mission parameters nor the level design change up the feel and the strategy of a basic skirmish. What worked on mission 3 carries over to mission 10 with little variation.
Though the gameplay and story have held up well over time, the graphics do not. Starcraft is filled with chunky pixels on top of bland backgrounds that measures up poorly against its modern competitors. Starcraft feels ugly in a way that speaks both to its age and questionable art design. Even if gaming hadn’t gone through an extended “brown plus gray equals awesome!” phase, it’s hard to imagine Starcraft’s bland aesthetic holding up. Surprisingly, the cut scenes do. While they are indisputably ugly compared to the current crop of games, the screen direction and stories depicted remain compelling to watch. I looked forward to each new video and was happy with most.
Starcraft definitely has its flaws. Considering it a classic really depends on how much the player appreciates the still compelling tight gameplay. Still, that debate misses the more important argument that Starcraft remains fun to play and costs very little ($15 gets you Starcraft and the Brood War Expansion). Whether you’re looking to relive the series before Legacy of the Void drops or just want a fun game to play, Starcraft is a fine purchase.