A flawed masterpiece

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By Alexander O. Cuaycong

THERE’S SOMETHING to be said about StarCraft. This real-time strategy game was released by Blizzard in March 1998 to critical acclaim, and was followed by three expansion packs, all in the same year.

StarCraft: Insurrection and StarCraft: Retribution served as add-ons to the story, fleshing out the universe and giving more life to the galaxy that StarCraft resides in through the use of story-driven map packs.

StarCraft: Brood War upped the ante not just by adding a new set of campaign maps, but by also adding in new units, putting in balance changes, and later on, fixing glaring issues in the game’s netcode and replay system. That’s to say nothing about StarCraft: Brood War’s own popularity in countries such as South Korea, where, even up to this day, it is considered a spectator sport, with players playing daily on television and in tournaments for hefty cash prizes.

Given StarCraft’s continued mass appeal, it’s no surprise to find Blizzard re-releasing the old-but-gold strategy title. StarCraft: Remastered debuted on Aug. 17 as a visual update for Brood War. A veritable makeover, it features retouched graphics and audio, as well as additional support to the options menus and multiplayer functions. It is a perfect recreation of StarCraft: Brood War, and, thusly, carries with it a slew of things both good and bad.

For starters, StarCraft: Remastered looks and sounds amazing. Everything has been enhanced and brought up to Blizzard quality, and while the retouched sprites look good, it’s the little details that make the game stand out. Light shines off the barrel of a marine’s gun, photon beams illuminate the ground as they travel to eviscerate foes, and the grotesque pulsating core of the Zerg buildings are drawn in 4k resolution.

Combine this with the zoom feature, an unneeded but very welcome touch, and there’s no real visual mark that can be made against Remastered. The audio too, has been reworked. The original voices, tracks, and sound effects have been retouched and enhanced to sound better; the difference is subtle, but noticeable, and much appreciated when combined with better speakers or headphones, as they eliminate the old grit and hiss of the lower quality audio Brood War used to have.

That said, what makes or breaks StarCraft: Remastered is not its graphics or sound design, but how it’s played. StarCraft: Remastered boasts of its origins and sings its praises, which is to say it boasts of the exact same type of gameplay revolving around one core objective: Build a base and destroy your enemies.

You begin by choosing one of the game’s three unique races, and each come with their own strengths and weaknesses. The Terran, with their battleships and siege tanks; the Protoss, with their psi-powers and technological advancements; and the Zerg, with their feral swarms and mutated breed. The intricate balance between the three is highlighted not only by how they work in-game as they’re played, but also because of the engine’s limitations.

Fundamentally, StarCraft: Remastered works well because of its philosophy of play and counterplay. In pseudo rock-paper-scissors manner, every unit has something it’s strong against, and weak against. Units are categorized into three sizes (small, medium, and large) and each do differing types of damage based on their attack type (normal, concussive, piercing, explosive and special).

Special types of units also exist, such as those that do splash damage, or those that can attack only flying units, or even those with game-winning abilities. At no point is there ever a feeling of helplessness when playing StarCraft: Remastered; there’s always a way to get past a problem, as long as you’re smart enough and skilled enough to surpass it. In other words, it works extremely well, and its balanced gameplay design, based entirely on StarCraft: Brood War, is why its lauded for being so good.

Then again, StarCraft: Remastered works both well and badly because of mechanics that, while finely tuned, ultimately show their age. Featuring an engine unchanged from its source material, it brings along the same unwanted baggage; a lot of StarCraft: Brood War’s nuances came from its 12-unit selection limitation and its wonky pathfinding.

StarCraft: Remastered brings them back in all their nostalgic, frustrating glory. Large units, such as Dragoons and Goliaths, path and block into each other with frequent regularity. Buildings cannot be grouped together, and rallying and macro-managing units can be painful and tedious unless one gets to know the best ways by experience and rote, and moving up and down ramps will screw formations (and armies) unless handled with the utmost of care.

Considering these issues, StarCraft: Remastered can be fairly described as a flawed masterpiece. The core design is still simple and attractive. Its story is still the same old, cheesy-but-entertaining space-operatic drama.

And given the stunning visual and aural enhancements, it’s certainly quite enticing – an enjoyable, nostalgic romp that fans of the series (and of StarCraft: Brood War most of all) cannot but pick up. StarCraft: Remastered is a love letter to them, and it shows. With its core gameplay philosophies untouched, it gives them the opportunity to bask in StarCraft: Brood War on a modern PC, and at a relatively cheap price, too.

Meanwhile, those looking (and willing) to wrestle with an older real-time strategy title will find it an attractive prospect, as it features rebindable hotkeys and supported matchmaking that give it great value for money. All told, it’s a blast from the past that deserves its place in any contemporary gamer’s library.