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Higher and widescreen resolution. Redone character portraits. Real-time lighting. Less compressed audio. That’s about the long and short of what’s new in StarCraft: Remastered. For $15 you can bolt these nicer-looking and sounding features onto your existing copy of the 1998 classic. (Which, even if you somehow avoided buying a Battle Chest compilation for nearly 20 years, is now free in its unaltered form.)
I’ll admit that this latest excuse to play the original StarCraft and its expansion, Brood War, appealed to me. Maybe it’s because I was eight years old at the time, but the campaign’s dark, sometimes comedic, sometimes horrific tale of space rednecks fighting giant bugs and psychic plant people has stuck with me like few games of the era. It certainly made more of an impression than the nonsensical science-fantasy soup that the series became across the StarCraft 2 trilogy.
Part of the StarCraft competitive scene is in the same boat, albeit for different reasons. “Quality of life” improvements, like better hotkeys and user interface options, made SC2 a fundamentally different experience than the first game and its expansion. It’s more accessible for casual fans (like me), but high-level players have long expressed frustration that the sequels automate too much of Brood War’s hands-on design. There’s resurging interest in the original game among pro players and casters as a result.
New Zerg blood, same engine
StarCraft: Remastered feels specifically catered to them. It runs in the same client as the original game. The F5 key switches between the flashy and not-so-flashy graphics on the fly. The two “versions” of StarCraft interact with each other just fine in multiplayer. The only gameplay benefit that I can think of is that playing in widescreen might provide extra map awareness.
The rest of the remaster just gussies up the game that you’ve had two decades to make your mind up about. Longtime fans may appreciate the original gameplay’s bump to a full screen, or the ability to stream a flashier version of the game on sites like Twitch.
It doesn’t help me, however. Going back to Brood War, I sorely miss those same changes to SC2 that aggrieve top players. Control groups, capped at 12 units, feel tiny. Micromanaging my workers to start harvesting resources is painfully slow. I find myself constantly trying to queue building construction, only to remember I can’t in this game. This completely upsets my rhythm.
I could readjust to the old, limited controls if I put the time in (they worked just fine for me in 1998), but other fundamental issues and design decisions drive my older self nuts. “Pathing”—the moment-to-moment decisions units make when walking around obstacles and each other—is far worse than I remember. 15 minutes in, I saw Hydralisks split up and walk single-file around a Starport to their doom, rather than group together and gang up on the one Goliath I told them to target. Micro-managing control groups and flitting back to base is one thing. Actively and constantly babysitting your units, due to weak AI, is another.
Staying in control
Which isn’t to say I don’t see the appeal. StarCraft is as much a game of short-term skill as it is about long-term strategy. The remaster nods to that necessity with the addition of an in-game actions-per-minute counter. You can even set it to alert you if your movements drop below a certain frequency.
Watching that precision play out is impressive, and only more so with refreshed visuals. But try as I might, I couldn’t really keep up with the few thousand weapons-grade players still searching for ranked matches after all these years. In my experience, matching into games took a little less than a minute. It takes me about that long to lose to a Zergling run, too.
That leaves players at my skill level with a consolation prize: a nostalgia trip through the single-player campaign. And, hey! That’s still pretty good. User interface foibles aside, nothing has ever quite recaptured SC1’s blend of backwoods sci-fi and high-concept horror. One minute your Vulture pilot is picking his nose and balking at orders. The next, a planet-killing warlord betrays you by throwing an all-devouring swarm at your favorite psychic commando. The game drips with personality, from the stilted claymation-y cutscenes to the annoyed responses of in-game units.
Said soldiers move and act just like they always have, frozen to the same animation cycles as in the original, but they look wonderful. In fact, the extra fidelity adds even more character to the already memorable game. Cracks in the terrain, foliage on withered trees, street signs in urban centers that you can actually read: they all place the faded character of the Milky Way’s Koprulu Sector in sharper focus.
How do I look?
I’m less universally sold on the game’s character portraits—the close-ups you see when selecting units, or when talking heads spout exposition at you between missions. They’re undeniably more technically impressive than the 20-year-old models. Many of the human characters, however, look more like generic “video game” characters than their old selves. Which is to say, they look more in line with StarCraft 2’s art style.
Here, Jim Raynor isn’t a soft-edged, small-town sheriff. He’s another glowering, perfectly chiseled space marine. Kerrigan looks less like a TV fortune teller with space goggles and more like a high-tech super-soldier. Arcturus Mengsk looks at least 50 percent less like an older Kurt Russell.
Some players might like the idiosyncrasies born from the sloppier parts of StarCraft’s controls. I, on the other hand, like the awkward, dirty look of its initial character models. These cleaned and straightened-out figures just don’t quite mesh with the backwater future the rest of the game conveys.
They do spin that classic yarn about the Terrans, Zerg, and Protoss duking it out across the galaxy, though. I’m sorely tempted to replay each of the factions’ campaigns for the umpteenth time in my life. Remastered graphics were enough to spark my nostalgia for the campaign. A lack of modern conveniences found in real-time strategy games—many of which even bear the StarCraft brand and characters—didn’t exactly fan the flame, however.
I just hope those competitive players who have already dedicated themselves to Brood War get what they’re looking for.
- Higher-resolution art looks great—especially in widescreen.
- The style and tone of the campaign retain all their darkly comedic weirdness.
- You can swap between old and new graphics with the press of a button.
- It should look great for watching pro competitors.
- Some of the completely redone art is a little generic.
- It feels fussy to play after years of improved UI in RTS games.
- Unit pathfinding is all over the place.
- Getting this close to falling down the rabbit hole of caring about my APM again.
Verdict: Buy it if you’re still on the Brood War bandwagon. Try the free, old-school version if you’re just curious how deep your nostalgia is for the game.