Requirements:Mac OS X: 10.5.8, 10.6.2 | CPU: Intel Processor | RAM: 2 GB | Hard Disk: 12 GB | Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT or ATI Radeon X1600 or better | DVD Drive | Broadband Internet Connection
Review:Ever since Warcraft: Orcs and Humans was released for MS-DOS, Blizzard Entertainment has been consistently releasing some of the best strategy games ever made. With each release, something new and creative has been added to the mix. Whether it's a multiplayer matchmaking service that actually works, a map editor, heroes, or even just a new way to keep track of the games' ladders, there's always something new to look forward to. With that in mind, fans of StarCraft have been positively rabid for the next release in the series since the original entered the market over twelve years ago. The question on everybody's mind was, "What can Blizzard possibly do to top StarCraft?"
Well, it's been a long wait, but StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (SC2) is finally here! Its release has been surrounded with one controversy after another as Blizzard simultaneously excited and disappointed its fans with the revealed features over the StarCraft II beta. One piece of information in particular is still a sore point among many SC2 players. There's neither any LAN play nor any game spawns. The reasons for this switch appear to be mostly held in piracy protection and a desire to require all players to go through the new Battle.Net system to play the game. For those used to LAN parties with hundreds of StarCraft players in a single room, this news has definitely not been well-received.
In addition, a lot of the classic Battle.Net features are absent from the new release, including chat rooms, the ability to message non-friended players if you knew their account name, and a free list of games currently running. The new setup appears to be designed to streamline the game-finding process, but runs across quite a few problems. For example, the custom games are shown on a map-by-map basis that allows you to join a game type and have Battle.Net handle gathering the players into one room and beginning the game. However, this unfortunately has the side effect of having regular instances of players disconnecting the instant they join the game room, but the game still beginning due to being full for a split-second. On certain custom maps, this can make the game unwinnable from the start.
Thankfully, once most gamers get past the highly-publicized faults of the game, there are numerous new features that make StarCraft II easily worth the purchase. The new matchmaking system on Battle.Net, for example, allows you to quickly find a match around your skill level, places you in a league, and gives you the ability to have separate rankings for team play depending on the teammate you're using at the time. This greatly enhances the multiplayer experience for those under pro level, as they generally get matched up against players that are closer to their level of skill. It also prevents the "ganking" done by experienced players who pretend to be new, as their record would place them in leagues outside of the beginner rankings.
In addition, the single-player campaign is easily one of the best ever found in a strategy game. There are 3D cutscenes before and after every mission, upgrades that can be researched or purchased depending on your success in the missions you choose to take, achievements for various challenges along the way, meaningful difficulty levels, an optional mini-campaign, and even a few splits where you have to pick one mission over the other. Everything about the campaign feels polished, and it would be good enough to stand by itself as a full-fledged game. The fact that it's only one-third of the SC2 trilogy is the only drawback, as the campaign leaves you on a note where you just want to see what comes next. You'll still have to wait, though, as the next game/expansion looks like it won't be out for at least a year.
In the meantime, there are at least plenty of missions to test your metal in. The SC2 campaign is about as long as all three campaigns of StarCraft combined, and all the missions have increased replayability due to each level's achievements and the numerous technology setups you can create as the game progresses. One time you might decide to focus on infantry by widening the fire stream for your firebats, increasing the damage of your hill-hopping reapers, adding on protective shields for your marines, and increasing the range of troops inside your bunkers. Another time you might decide to focus on your air fleet by increasing the range of your vikings on both air and ground and hiring a mercenary battlecruiser. The choices aren't endless, but they're definitely enough to get you to come back to the campaign at least a few times.