Starcraft: Remastered (PC Review)
Crikey, do I feel old… There was a time in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s where RTS games reigned supreme on PC; nearly everyone who was running Windows 98 had the likes of Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Populous: The Beginning, or Age of Empires II somewhere on their 2.5GB HDD. But few series have had the tenacity to live on for so long as StarCraft has, and even fewer are as well loved even today. This has never before been more apparent with the recent release of StarCraft: Remastered, which just shows how respected a 20-year-old game can be when it is as well crafted as this one is.
StarCraft’s reputation truly proceeds itself. It has been hugely popular these past two decades, both in terms of player activity and professional competitive play, filling stadiums that rival the Superbowl. So revered an e-sport, in fact, that people lovingly joke about StarCraft being the national sport of South Korea, and viewings of tournaments have often been a mainstay of “beers and sports with the lads” for nerds. Frankly, it’s easy to see why it’s so admired. By 1998, Blizzard had mastered the gameplay balance of resource management and squad command from their first two mainline Warcraft titles, and had cemented their spot as a respected developer of RTS games before the PC was inundated with them in the years that followed. In order to keep things fresh and exciting, and to make StarCraft truly stand out, Blizzard told an intricate story of power, betrayal, revenge and the moral grey-area through three separate campaigns and the Brood War expansion, each allowing the player to take control of the three different races who all had their own identity and interesting style of play.
For those who are not familiar, StarCraft: Remastered follows a pretty traditional template of real time strategy gameplay; you are tasked to go through each mission (or online match, if you think you’re hard enough) directing individual units in order to gather resources, with which you erect structures to train other units who then, in turn, go out to attack the opposing forces. This template description is deliberately vague in StarCraft’s instance, as the three races you can play as each have different means to that end. The Terran forces will play much like any other RTS game you can get your hands on, with SCV units that gather resources and build structures like missile turrets to create a perimeter defense, or supply depots which are necessary to host your growing army. Ground units such as the Marine or the Firebat will fill the bulk of your attacking force, flanked by specialised units like the anti-air Goliath or the fast moving hit-and-run Vultures.
The organic Zerg swarm, as implied by their name, are very much a ‘win by numbers’ race, and you’ll be spending most of your time spreading creep on terrain so that your basic resource gathering Drones can spawn into other units and structures on infested land, gradually building out your empire and arming your forces with practically hundreds of Zerglings, Banelings and Mutalisks, to name a few. With the Zerg, your aim is to overwhelm your enemy with sheer numbers, and your first experience online will very probably be baptism by fire against the infamous Zerg Rush. The last playable race are the highly advanced and pious Protoss, whose playstyle is arguably the most intricate. Playing Protoss forces you to meticulously plan where exactly your structures are placed so that they are close enough to the pylons that will power them. Probes are responsible not only for collecting minerals and vespene gas, but also for warping in your buildings, units, and defense turrets to defend the perimeter of your carefully planned stronghold while your small force of adept attack units, most of which are equipped with abilities that can radically shift a fight in your favour, go out to face your foe. It seems easy enough to understand, but each race brings new ways to challenge you as you go through the campaign, and missions can be punishingly tough if you’re not paying attention. It had been a long, long time since I last properly got involved in an RTS, having only recently dipped my toe into the more beginner friendly StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty since my recent conversion to the PC master race, and I don’t think I’m much better at it now than I was almost 20 years ago. Particularly as I went online and promptly got it handed to me in a matter of minutes.
To most of us this is nothing new, of course, especially if you took the time to download the StarCraft Anthology containing the original 1998 release and the Brood War expansion for free from the Battle.net website. What is new, and what warrants the £13 price tag is the ‘Remastered’ part of the game. The biggest and most notable new feature is obviously the visuals, which are definitely cleaner and crisper than they used to look, but not exactly what I would personally call high-definition given it’s still just sprites on a 2.5D map. Not that I’m complaining, right enough. It’s nice to see character and unit portraits look like actual people/biomass insectoids/big grey space knights, keeping with the established canon, and even animated during speech (admittedly, not a perfect lipsync, more of a ‘move their heads and open their mouths’ sort of thing).
Terrain, units and structures are much easier to look at on the map too, as the sprites are properly rendered and defined, and not just a collection of pink/brown/green-ish pixels to tell you that’s where your spawning pool is, and it is a welcome change to be able to tell the difference between a live Ultralisk and a desiccated corpse strewn on the map for flavour. Even if I had real trouble finding something, I could zoom in and find the bits that glisten, glow and twitch to tell me it can move, which really gives you the opportunity to see just how detailed the updated sprite work is. For the purists, there is an option to revert the HD visuals back to the classic style, along with some other visual check boxes like an FPS cap, the option to allow units to turn in 16 directions instead of 8 for smoother animation, bilinear filtering and a V-sync option — but not a whole lot else, which might be a bit jarring to people who are expecting the wealth of graphics settings PC gamers are used to today. Similarly, there is the option to revert music and voice to the original quality, but frankly I don’t see why you would ever want to. The audio in StarCraft: Remastered uses the same music and voice clips from the classic version with greatly improved fidelity. While I was originally disappointed that some dialogue didn’t get re-recorded to sync up with the current lore, the original script was so far ahead of it’s time and the actors so good at what they did that it really did only need a bit rate update. And the soundtrack! Man, does it rock! Just take a listen for yourself if you don’t believe me – Starcraft Remastered: Terran Soundtrack
On top of that, this remaster provides support for screen resolutions and aspect ratios of today’s standard, and also includes an improved matchmaking lobby that can’t be found in the free Anthology release.
All in all, StarCraft: Remastered hasn’t really changed much outside of the aesthetics — and that is totally fine! It might be 20 years old, and with the bit of work that’s been done, it’s looking damn good for it’s age. But it’s really is a case of “if it ain’t broke…” with this one. The gameplay had been consistently good since Brood War first came out, meaning there’s a reason why pro e-sports players still play the original StarCraft to this very day. It might be a lot less easy for newcomers to get into, but if you’re patient and diligent with the campaign, that should eventually teach you all you need to know to get online and get owned by some serious tryhards with a little more dignity. If the campaign and it’s incredible story is really all you’re in it for, then maybe sticking with the free Anthology version from Battle.net is for you, but StarCraft: Remastered is well worth £12.99 for a good looking, great sounding and definitive version of the game.