StarCraft: I’m Just Going to Say It

Brood War was really bad.

The Zerg invade Augustgrad in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modAll right, let’s back up a minute. I should give some context here.

First of all, I’m only talking about the campaign, and specifically its story. Brood War helped give birth to the modern world of eSports, so obviously the multiplayer aspect was great.

The story, though…

I just finished playing through the Mass Recall mod that recreates the original StarCraft campaigns in SC2. I did encounter a few more bugs as I made my way through, but nothing game-breaking, and I stand by my original comments on Mass Recall: It’s great, and you should play it.

This was the first time I’d played through the Brood War campaign since I was a kid. I didn’t remember much about it beyond the broad strokes, and I hadn’t even played it that much back then due to the high difficulty and my gaming skills (or lack thereof) at the time. So I had little to no nostalgia surrounding Brood War, and it was almost like I had never played it before.

And as I played through it, it became clear to me: This is not a good story.

Of course, many StarCraft fans see Brood War as the pinnacle of video game story-telling, a brilliantly tragic story of intrigue and ruthless politics.

The UED occupy Augustgrad in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modI’m sorry, but that’s just baloney.

There is no intrigue in Brood War. It’s just a case of Kerrigan lying to everyone and having them all believe her because… the writers said so, I guess. It’s not like Kerrigan’s even a particularly good liar — her plots are incredibly transparent, and become more so with every passing mission. But the entire cast still swallows every word she says like it’s gospel.

I could maybe buy the Protoss being dumb enough to fall for her lies once — maybe — but they just keep making the same mistake over and over again. Aldaris outright told Zeratul that she was controlling Raszagal, and then Kerrigan proved it more thoroughly by murdering Aldaris for telling her secret.

And Zeratul does absolutely nothing. He continues doing everything Raszagal says and is utterly shocked when Kerrigan finally reveals the truth.

And for that matter, if Kerrigan had control of Raszagal all along, why did she have to invade Shakuras and take her hostage?

A carrier could arrive through the plot holes in this game.

Duran confronts Stukov in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modIt makes no sense to me, either, that Fenix would choose to go along with Kerrigan after she betrayed the Protoss on Shakuras. If the UED can have perfect knowledge of everything that’s happening in the Koprulu Sector despite having no presence there whatsoever (How does that work, anyway?), surely Zeratul could have sent Fenix a message to say, “Yeah, Kerrigan isn’t very trustworthy. Don’t listen to her.”

I don’t even buy the idea that they needed to side with her to defeat the UED. I don’t see the UED as all that big of a threat. At worst, they’re just another Terran dictatorship. Even with the Overmind under their control, they’re not all that much worse than Mengsk.

The only thing that might have justified everyone’s terror of the UED is if they were planning to do some kind of Nazi-esque purge of all those they deemed impure, but that was never mentioned in-game, and it wouldn’t make sense anyway because Brood War also retconned the entire identity of the UED by including ghosts and psychics in their ranks, when the whole concept of their culture was that they rejected all “impure” humans, including telepaths. That’s how Terrans wound up in the Koprulu Sector to begin with.

Either way, Kerrigan is obviously a greater threat than the UED could ever be. If anything, people should have been making “enemy of my enemy” alliances with the UED against Kerrigan, not the other way around.

Speaking of the UED, Dugalle has got to be one of the best examples of how bad the writing in Brood War was. The dude’s so over the map he almost comes across as schizophrenic.

Stukov's funeral in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modAt the beginning of the campaign, he goes on a rant about he can never trust Duran because he’s a traitor, but then the rest of the UED campaign up until Duran’s betrayal essentially consists of Duran saying “Jump” and Dugalle asking, “How high?”

Dugalle inexplicably even sides with Duran against his lifelong friend Stukov, despite the obvious evidence of Duran’s betrayal. He murders his best friend just because Duran said so.

As an aside, Stukov is perhaps the only character in the entire campaign who acts like a mentally sound adult, and he’s one of the few saving graces of Brood War. I am now reminded why he is a fan favourite.

Ultimately, Brood War feels incredibly pointless, as well. Almost nothing actually happens — that is, the state of the Koprulu Sector is little changed by the end. Kerrigan takes over the Swarm, and the Protoss settle Shakuras. That’s about it. The UED got roflstomped, so they end up as nothing but a strange footnote in StarCraft lore.

The only other lasting impact is the deaths of what feels like half the game’s cast, and this is perhaps the worst part of Brood War. If not for all the deaths, Brood War could be written off as a bizarre but forgettable tangent, but we lost a lot great characters.

The opening cutscene of Omega in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modDuke was a bastard who got what was coming to him, but Fenix and Aldaris are dearly missed. Looking at him through mature eyes, I’ve come to realize Aldaris was actually one of the game’s most interesting characters, and everybody loved Fenix.

They didn’t even get good or heroic deaths. They were just shanked like prison snitches and left to rot.

The only goal Brood War seems to have had as a story was to build Kerrigan up as a terrifying villain that the players will truly hate, but even there, it fails. The ten year wait for Kerrigan’s reckoning robbed Brood War of any emotional payoff, leaving it as a pointlessly bleak and ultimately depressing game.

It also fails because it doesn’t make Kerrigan seem frightening at all. All of her successes are down to everyone else’s mind-boggling incompetence rather than any cunning on her part.

Never in this campaign does one get the impression Kerrigan even has a chance of failure. She effortlessly deceives everyone and wins every battle without fail. Thus, there is no drama. The outcome seems preordained.

A carrier hovering over Aiur in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modThe only good thing about Brood War — aside from Stukov — is the Dark Origin secret mission, which is a brilliantly chilling piece of foreshadowing and has more relevance to the greater arc of the StarCraft universe than the whole remainder of the Brood War campaign.

All in all, Brood War is one of Blizzard’s all-time worst stories, rivaled only by Burning Crusade in its destructive pointlessness. The original StarCraft and Wings of Liberty both had their stumbles, and Heart of the Swarm was very disappointing, but all of those are still much better than Brood War was.

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My latest contribution to Nexopia is Sci-Fi Novels That Changed the Face of Literature. From War of the Worlds up to the Hitchhiker’s Guide.

I wonder if the war with the Martians would have gone better if the humans had more towels?

StarCraft: Engaging Mass Recall!

The secret mission Biting the Bullet in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I talked about a mod that adapted the original StarCraft campaigns to run in StarCraft II, an impressive and incredibly faithful effort guaranteed to send a powerful jolt of nostalgia through any StarCraft fan.

After I wrote that, the mod’s creators continued to expand, iterate, and improve upon it. The last campaign was completed, and it gained the much fancier title of “StarCraft: Mass Recall.”

As of a few days ago, the latest version of Mass Recall was released, updated for Heart of the Swarm. This version contains many more improvements. I’ve been playing through it again, and I am once again blown away by the quality of this mod.

Shiny:

One of the more obvious changes is the level of polish that now exists. When I first played Mass Recall (back when it was just “StarCraft remastered”), it was an impressive accomplishment but obviously non-professional. It had various bugs and rough patches.

However, I’ve yet to encounter any significant bugs or hiccups in this version. You’d never know it was made by amateurs.

The briefing room in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modWhat impresses me even more is their dedication to keeping true to the original campaigns. Not only are there now many more custom models for all of the units and buildings that don’t exist in StarCraft II, but even many units that appear in both games now have updated models to more closely resemble their original incarnations. These include everything from marines, to SCVs, to battlecruisers, to evolution pits…

There are now custom unit portraits, as well, and these are fully animated.

Everything is so true to the original. It really is just like playing StarCraft I with better graphics and more polished mechanics.

They’ve even improved upon the original in some areas by adding more details or new cutscenes. This isn’t a Lucas-esque rewrite — nothing substantive has changed about the gameplay or story. But there are little extra touches to make it just that much cooler.

For example, in the first mission on Antiga Prime, Kerrigan’s assassination of the Confederate officers now has its own cutscene. It uses the original audio, but we are now treated to the visuals of the Confederates being gunned down.

Extra details have been added to hero models to make them stand out more. You can now see that it’s actually Raynor on his vulture, not just some generic dude. The Norad II now has a custom model.

A mission from the original StarCraft campaign

Before

A Terran mission in the StarCraft: Mass Recall mod

After

They even made their own road sign doodad for Backwater Station!

I wish I could go back in time and tell my eight year-old self something this cool was coming. He’d have had such a nerdgasm.

Of course, then I’d have to tell him to avoid all my mistakes, and then use my time machine to kill Hitler, stop the invention of the atomic bomb, prevent the harmonica from ever being invented, and deal with inevitable temporal paradoxes created by my own meddling.

But I digress.

Difficulty:

One of the big issues with the original version of the mod was that the difficulty was rather over-tuned. Even on the lowest settings, there were some missions that practically required GSL-level skills to defeat.

In the new version, difficulty has been heavily retuned. I’ve only played the first Terran campaign so far, but from what I’ve seen, the new settings are a lot more sane. Playing on normal, I’m finding it challenging enough to be interesting, but not truly stressful.

A cutscene in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modThere’s also a new easy setting for those who wish to focus on the story rather than on challenging themselves.

Bonuses galore:

Something I’m also enjoying about this version of the mod is the amount of bonus material they’ve crammed in.

The campaign includes several secret missions I never even knew existed. I’ve completed two so far — Biting the Bullet and Operation Silent Scream — and both turned out to be quite fun. Maybe it’s just the novelty of never having played them before, but I think they were actually a bit more inventive in their design than most other campaign missions of the time.

I haven’t played it yet, but Mass Recall also includes the Resurrection mission which explains the continued existence of Stukov in the land of the living, which has been declared canon by Blizzard.

There are also little bonuses for those who aren’t too concerned with being perfectly true to the original. You can still use certain Brood War units, such as medics, in the original campaign — though that can be toggled off in the options if you’re a purist.

The Jacobs Installation mission in third person shooter mode in the StarCraft: Mass Recall modWhile you can now play the dungeon crawl missions as they were in the original, it’s still possible to play them as a third-person shooter.

I am still blown away that this is even possible, and these missions have been greatly improved from their original incarnation. When I first played the shooter missions, they were horribly buggy and awkward, but now they’re much smoother, and it pretty much feels like playing a real shooter — albeit a stripped down and basic one.

I also quite enjoyed the number of Easter Eggs snuck into such missions. Apparently people will still be playing World of Warcraft and Diablo III in the 26th century.

An Easter egg in the StarCraft: Mass Recall mod* * *

All in all, Mass Recall is an incredible effort, and far better than we have any right to expect from unpaid fans tinkering in their free time. I’d consider it a must-play for any StarCraft fan.

Get it. Get it nao.

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I’ve got a new article up at Nexopia on Great Songs From Wicked Games.