Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm

We are the swarm. Armies will be shattered under a wave of teeth, tentacles, acid, little locust things, and shooting spines. Aren’t the Zerg just adorable!

 

So I’ll be starting with a little apology, I haven’t posted much recently. There are a number of contributing factors to this. Firstly my 21st birthday happened and was very enjoyable but unfortunately left me with a virus that made me very ill for a while. But I am recovered now and ready to talk about the game I got for my birthday (technically I got the pre-order for Christmas but there you go), Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm.

I should stress that I am mostly going to be talking about the single player game. The Starcraft series is probably more famous for its multiplayer and e-sports community but I’ve never been a big multiplayer gamer though I might look into the new battle.net system that Blizzard has developed. So the story of Heart of the Swam will be featuring heavily though I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum.

I’ll tell you for free though that this guy is just plain awesome

I am a massive fan of the Starcraft series. Since I got a demo of the original game, on a disc containing about twenty demos, I have loved playing it. After I got the full game and the expansion, Brood War, it was pretty much all I played for a while. There are people who claim that the story in the sequels do not compare to the original, I’ll talk more about that later. But the point I am making is that this is a series I am very familiar with.

For those who aren’t my advice is this: If you enjoy real-time strategy and for some reason haven’t played Starcraft then don’t play the sequels until you play the original game. Some of the graphics may look a bit dated, especially in the cinematic cutscenes, but without a firm knowledge of Starcraft you won’t understand a lot of the sequels. This is even more true of Heart of the Swarm but that is technically an expansion (An honest to god expansion and not DLC!), so that’s to be expected.

For the uninitiated the Starcraft series is a set of real-time strategy games with an emphasis on unit management and a little bit of base building. Over the course of the games you play each of the three main races: the Terrans, the Protoss, and the Zerg. Everyone has their favourites and my favourite race has always been the animalistic hive-mind Zerg so I’ve been very excited for Heart of the Swarm.

They’re just adorable as the dickens.

They’re just adorable as the dickens.

The fact that Blizzard, the company behind Starcraft, has actually updated the engine for Heart of the Swarm surprised me a little. Blizzard is one of the major video game developers and as such has made questionable choices in the past that has left many people more than a little annoyed (Diablo 3 is an example of this). So the fact that extra work was put in to tweak how the game functions mean that Heart of the Swarm does look like a separate game from Wings of Liberty, the preceding campaign.

But the main point of this expansion, beyond the ability to play as the Zerg which I am infinitely better at than the Terrans, is the continuation of the story. The original games were highly praised for their stories but the sequels have had mixed reactions. Diehard fans frequently, and I do mean frequently, complain that the writing quality took a substantial hit in order to make room for Hollywood-esque clichés, tropes, and general cheesiness.

I respect this view to an extent. Heart of the Swarm has sweeping moments of cheesiness, generally between Kerrigan and Raynor (Yeah unless you’re a fan the history between these two will be a bit lost on you). There are also beautifully rendered cutscenes that seem to consist heavily of great Dragon Ball Z style battles that do feel very cliché compared to the more politicking plots and events of Starcraft and Brood War. The main villain of the piece has also turned from being a cold, slightly tyrannical, and dictatorial figure, into the very embodiment of evil. Oh and don’t get me started on the comedy that occurs whenever the Terrans show up, it does just seem like a high budget action film.

Oh these two(!) *Cue incidental music*

Oh these two(!) *Cue incidental music*

But ultimately a game’s harshest critic will be its fans and while I do find the story cheesy and laden with tropes I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the hell out of it. Even beyond the story the ideas behind the gameplay, the addition of the evolution missions where you choose the path of the Swarm’s evolution, the various mechanics on each mission, make it really fun to play. It was a bit sad the speed at which you can get through the campaign but it is an expansion; it has an expansion’s cost and an expansion’s amount of content.

There aren’t many twists or moments to really leave you guessing but the extra lore and the promise of Legacy of the Void, the next game in the series, is certainly inviting. Kerrigan makes for an interesting protagonist though her more human characteristics take away some of her great strengths. Nevertheless Heart of the Swarm delivers pretty much what I hoped. If you’re a fan of the series you’ve probably already got it, if haven’t got it, why not? If you aren’t a fan I wouldn’t try jumping in at the second game and its expansions. Play the first in the series, just don’t expect the style to stay exactly the same.

Other than that I just have one question for Blizzard: Will Niadra the Broodmother have significant impact on the story? Or has she just been left in space to build up the Zerg and become an enemy for Legacy of the Void like the Tal’Darim are for the others?

This guy, he is also awesome.

 

Thank you for reading and stay tuned over the next few weeks where I will be doing a review of the Blackwell series by WadjetEye.

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Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Ia Cthulhu! Ia Dagon! There, am I part of your little cult now, you crazy fish people?

Cthulhu is practically a household name. So many people know or have heard of H.P. Lovecraft and his series of stories about the strange inhabitants of Earth before the age of man. Cthulhu is the most famous among these but if you read enough of the stories you can see almost all of his creations have been a huge influence in many designs in games, books, and films.

Released in 2005 for the Xbox and 2006 for the PC, Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth was one of the very few games released by British developers Headfirst Productions. The game was a critical success but unfortunately not a financial one and though a sequel was planned, Headfirst was dissolved before any work could be done.

Or could it have been the work of eldritch monstrosities? Only time will tell.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth is a first person action adventure, stealth, puzzle, horror game. It’s quite the mash of genres really. The player is put in control of Detective Jack Walters, once a police detective but now a private eye after a mental breakdown. The first scene shows Jack in Arkham while a brief bit of narration hints at the terrible horrors he has witnessed. It then flashes back to Jack’s time in the police and a raid on the home of a cult that have planned a mass suicide. Jack has been asked for specifically by the cult leader and is forced to investigate the strange house.

During the events of the raid Jack suffers a mental breakdown. We re-join him a number of years later, though he suffers from amnesia and cannot remember the events after the cult raid. He has become a private investigator and gets called to Innsmouth to investigate the disappearance of a clerk. Innsmouth, as Lovecraft fans will know, is not a place to visit, you don’t want to be there unless you are a local as Jack soon discovers. Following an assassination attempt Jack is left with very few allies, trying to escape the town and its strange, violent people.

There’s something fishy about these people (Yes the joke made me feel smug)

The game is an odd blend of good and bad mechanics and story. Visually it hasn’t aged fantastically well but the overall design, with washed out colour and very foreboding locations, stays pretty fresh. It also features a pretty well realised sanity system, as one would expect from a Lovecraft inspired game. Though there isn’t quite the depth to it that some of the early trailers suggested, no hallucinations of people turning into monsters, it is still very well done with camera distortion, muffled sounds, and the very unsettling things Jack starts saying to himself as he gets crazier. The combat in the game is designed to be realistic with no heads up display (HUD) at all. When using guns you have to either judge the shot or aim down the sights for accuracy and if you are injured you don’t have a health bar telling you you’re about to die.

In fact the health system is one of the things I really enjoy about the game. It’s a blend of regenerating health and a health bar. When you are injured your character suffers actual injuries, broken bones, lacerations and such like, which you have to heal using various medical supplies, bandages, sutures, splints, and antidotes. It means you can generally ignore lighter injuries but if you take a bad fall or get hit hard by a bullet you’re going to bleed out or be seriously affected.

The overall feel of the game is pretty great. There is a sense of wild desperation in combat and when you’re trying to sneak by enemies the tension is palpable. The storyline is pretty good and deep but there isn’t always a great deal of time dedicated to helping the player know who this ally of theirs is. I suppose it’s part of the realism, it’s implied that Jack already knows about most of these people and so doesn’t need expository dialogue to identify them.

Besides, they probably have more important matters to deal with, like finding that missing tooth of theirs.

I’m not wholly fond of a game that grades you at the end on how well you played it but I am ok with that. What does annoy me is that the game basically punishes you for saving, if you save your game more than a certain number of times then it penalizes you on your overall grade. I suppose the idea is to increase tension, so when you mess up a certain bit you can’t just reload to five seconds beforehand, but if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t always have the time to sit down and do a good few hours of gameplay then you’re not going to find out or unlock everything in the story.

The stealth mechanics can also be a little bit dodgy. It could be another attempt at realism which is a very strong possibility but as it stands the stealth sections can be a little bit fiddly to navigate without being spotted almost immediately. If you think about it as realism, however, it takes a bit of the edge off the frustration.

Unfortunately for me the biggest complaint I have is the story and atmosphere in the second half. It is still good, don’t get me wrong, but once J. Edgar Hoover turns up with the FBI and Innsmouth is now being raided by the government you lose a bit of that tension that the game has been so good at building up to now. It by no means ruins the experience but it makes it feel less like a Lovecraft story.

Although I suppose when you’re fighting nightmarish monsters from the sea having an armed squad of FBI agents is quite appealing.

If you’re a fan of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos you’re going to get a lot out of this game, lots of extra details and references are all gained from reading the stories and it’s good to see some of Lovecraft’s work realised on screen. There is still some very good gameplay here but some people might find the combat and the health management system frustrating. If you’re a fan of survival horror you’re going to have a good time because unless you’re careful Jack’s story is going to end in suicide or bleeding to death with broken limbs in an Innsmouth alleyway. So enjoy and remember, if you’re staying in a creepy town full of hostile people, bolt the door before going to bed.

Available on Steam for: £5.99

$9.99

€9.99