If I were to pick my favourite realtime strategy game of the 90s than Homeworld wins by quite a wide margine, but Starcraft is up there in the top few. So I’ve been reading up on the remastered edition, due out on August 14th.

I think the aspect of Starcraft that particularly appeased was its range of three different armies, each with a different sort of sci-fi theme. The terrans are the most conventional, all about space marines, tanks and battleships. The Zerg are a swarm of horrific creatures, for little yappy bugs to big monsters, that claw at their foes, or spit spines and acid. The Protoss have sleeker, shinier war machines than the terrans, but in fact they’re so advanced they’ve gone full circle and use swords and magic powers too. Also big floating crystals, because that always says “magical technology”.

It does look a bit like warhammer40k sometimes but… there’s an old, well worn argument that I’d rather not revisit. It’s true that the Zerg look an awful lot like Tyranids. The Marines look like 40k marines too, but they at least talk more like guys from Alabama than heresy-chasing warrior monks. The plot is dark and ominous, but it’s not bleak at the level of 40k’s relentless grimdark.

For the Emperor you wanna piece of me, boy?

The game can be pretty intense due to the fast pace and the micromanagement involved, becoming at times a frantic exercise in plate-spinning. Apart from just moving your units around and attacking, you also have to manage the special powers that some of them posses. They have abilities like slowing down enemies, or shielding friends, that can only be used every few minutes. So you have to time these correctly, amidst all the chaos. Oh, and also don’t forget to pay attention to what’s going on back at base! Keep those build queues going.

That said, it’s really multiplayer that looks particularly-stressful, and I know myself well enough to have never seriously tried beyond a few LAN games. It was enormously successful though, and responsible (along with good support from Blizz) for the game’s great longevity. So clearly Blizzard did a lot right.

The single player campaign meanwhile is one step more relaxed. I made it through the Terran and Zerg missions fine, the former generally going by the subtle and cunning tactic known as “enormous formation of Siege tanks”. Set them up, watch stuff explode, hope to god the zerglings dont’ get close. I finally got stuck in the Protoss campaign when you find yourself fighting other Protoss. Those damn robot-woodlouse things kept demolishing my base. Then there’s the Brood War expansion, which I recall getting pretty tough in places.

The story is fairly standard “dark tide overwhelms civillisation” space-opera, although you do get to play as the dark tide itself. It’s helped along by a memorable cast of characters – represented as “hero” units in game. You’ve got reliable Jim Raynor, brooding Protoss templars and then Sarah Kerrigan and her awful fate. There are also some cutscenes that were rather spectacular at the time. While a bit plastic nowadays, they’ve aged better than a lot of 90s pre-rendered stuff.

Anyway, the remake offers sharper graphics, so you can enjoy seeing those battlecruisers and zerg ultralisks in greater detail. The promo site also says “comic book interludes tell the original story with a fresh coat of paint.” I wonder if those are replacing the original talking-head briefings, and\or the cutscenes. Just flicking through the list of other changes, cloud saves are moderately useful I suppose. Matchmaking and Leaderboards are features multiplayer fans will welcome.

Blizzard are also giving the original away for free, and I’m not sure if that’s good publicity for the remaster, or undermining it. You’re not getting much new beyond cosmetic ugprades, but on the other hand, £13 isn’t a lot either. I suspect plenty of fans will decide it’s a reasonable price to pay, and I’ll probably get it myself at some point.