By Naveed Choudhury
The gaming subculture is littered with various little cults for all sorts of games, big or small, famous or infamous. While these cults generally remain out of the news, there are some games that just take over people's lives. The likes of Halo, World of Warcraft, Diablo, and DotA are a few that spring to mind. But perhaps the biggest fanbase of all goes to this little game called Starcraft.
Starcraft came out in 1998, and since then, to this date, has remained the most popular competitive real-time strategy game on the market. Yes, that is a 12 year reign, and now maybe its finally time for the greatest RTS game ever released to finally retire as the sequel pokes its head out of its shell. Or is it?
July 27th 2010. Dubbed by many as Starcraf-II day. The day saw the release of the sequel to one of the greatest games ever. But does it live up to its hype? Well its time to stop asking questions in the condescending reviewer-tone and jump right in.
The Good: The RTS genre has hardly seen games recently that stick to the traditional game mechanics (gather resources, amass troops, kick butt).
Starcraft II takes the leap and does just that, with much success. If it aint broke, dont fix it. It deviates very little from the mechanics of the old Starcraft. You order drones to gather minerals and Vespene gas, the games' two natural resources. You build bunkers to defend your base, while training troops till you have a large enough army and massacre your opponents. While this is a great thing for hardcore RTS fans, it might not please those who're looking for something new. That's up to the reader to decide. But while the game mechanics is simple, the game itself is far, far from simple. One of the greatest appeals of Starcraft is the perfect balance between the three races Zerg, Terran and Protoss. This balance has been carried forward to the sequel, and this results in a polished, tactical RTS that is easy to learn but impossible to master. The game follows the story of Jim Raynor, a rebel against the Terran Dominion under Arcturus Mengsk. This will all sound gibberish to you unless you've played the first game, so go and check out its story, because Starcraft II follows where the first game left off. The game's single player campaign is… well, spectacular. Level design is brilliant, varied and beautiful. The missions are fun and interesting. Blizzard has spent a great deal of time appealing to nostalgia as the whole game is littered with small references to Starcraft, Diablo and Warcraft. The missions tie well together and never make you feel you're completing something just for the sake of wasting some game time. The characters, though mostly stereotypical, play out their parts well. I shall not go into detail about them at the fear of spoiling anything. But the story is good. Great even. Do note however that Starcraf II: Wings of Liberty is just chapter one of a three part game, so the ending might leave you wanting more (and you shall get it in a year or two, hopefully).
The main attraction of Starcraft II though, is the multiplayer. And it is fantastic, to say the least. You can seamlessly join 3v3, or even 4v4 games on Battle.net, Blizzard's online gaming service. Matchmaking is quick and easy and the service makes sure you always play somebody near your own skill level. That's not to say that the game is very forgiving. Almost everybody against whom you'll play will be a seasoned veteran. And the newbies will still end up owning you. That is the legacy of the first Starcraft, and it is still held, even if the game has been out for only a few days.
But yes, multiplayer. Blizzard really focused on the community aspect of the game. You can add your Facebook friends inside your Battle.net account (at least those who have Starcraft II). You can add people by their ingame ID, if you don't know who they are, or you can add their email addresses (also called Real ID friends). There is an 'Achievements' system, like any game of today worth its salt. You can save replays of games for playback later. This is not only a great tool to help you learn what mistakes you made in previous games, but you can send the replay files to your friends to show off your pro skills (or show them how bad you are to lure them into a false sense of security before facing them in battle).
There is a great map editor and hardcore fans are always pushing out new content. There are new Tower defense games, skirmish maps, and even 2d side scrolling arcade games that come out every few days. Needless to say that with Starcraft II multiplayer, there is ALWAYS something to do. The game's novelty should not wear off for at least a few years to come.
Starcraft II is far from perfect. While not an inherently flawed game, some decisions by Blizzard do tend to keep the game down. For starters, there is no LAN. So it might be a while before us folk in Bangladesh get our crummy, piracy-loving hands on it. But the lack of LAN also means that the game might not be as popular as the first one in elitist tournament crowds. There is an online petition to ask Blizzard to include LAN in the game, but whether they are listening or not is anybody's guess.
Another major flaw of the game, depending on how you look at it, is that it is more of a derivative to the original Starcraft than some people would like. Sure the overall feel and play of the game is largely different. But you can't help but notice the painful similarities between some of the so-called 'new' units and the units of the old Starcraft. To be fair though, it probably would have been hard to achieve perfect balance between the three races if they had started completely from scratch. But one does yearn for a larger variety. The Zerg, in their current patch, suffer from a lack of variety in tier 1 and tier 2 units for example. While they are not handicapped in any way, Zerg players expect better unit variety in the coming expansions.
Starcraft II has a terrible soundtrack. The unit voices, command responses and general sound effects are absolutely brilliant. However, the music is quite appalling. It is bland, and borrows a lot from the old starcraft. While some might like this, I found the lack of a good audio track to be quite detrimental to the game's generally exciting atmosphere. But the reader might have a different taste to mine, so it is left up to their own opinions.
So, is Starcraft II worth the 12-year wait? Mostly, yes. The shortcomings that I have held up here might just be addressed by Blizzard. The games are constantly being updated with new patches. New balancing changes are applied monthly so that no strategy can be exploited for very long. All in all, if you have never considered spending some hard earned cash on any computer game, Starcraft II is your calling to start considering it. With more than three hundred thousand pre-orders (yes folks, PRE orders) Starcraft II promises to be the game to have this summer, and all summers to follow.
Shorty, Go Long
By S. N. Rasul
My foray into animation shorts was accidental at best, not by any chance a force of my own willing, a matter pure of coincidence and Fate or some other such deistic belief. It started with the five-minute-fifteen-second Pixar film Presto, a hilarious and charming little tale of a rabbit, a magician and his magic hat, and then, when I Wiki-ed it (as I'm now prone to do everything new I come in contact with, it has gripped me like the plague), I found out it had been nominated for an Academy Award. And thus, I was in possession of a list of possibly the best of the genre, and though, as I make this list, I profess no claims of self-serving expertise, just my own preferences from the ones I have been lucky enough to watch.
5) Balance: Directed by brothers Christoph and Wolfgang Lauenstein, most people probably wouldn't enjoy this but for someone who enjoys the different, the unique, the sheer brilliant of this piece was hard to ignore. It's basically about five faceless people living on a platform suspended in space, perfectly balanced. Then, randomly, one of the habitants brings a box onto the stage and each of the people, curious to inspect the box, try and get to it, while striving to maintain the balance of the platform. An interesting watch.
4) Charade: Possibly the funniest of the list, this is about two guys playing charades, with an unseen audience behind the camera, trying to guess the respective movie. The first guy goes to great lengths to portray the title of his movie, from unrealistic stunts to improbable feats of nature, only to fail against his opponent's simpler (and with immediate effect) tactics.
3) Father and Daughter: An allegorical representation of a daughter's relationship with her dying or dead father, this Dutch short animation encapsulates the emotions of parental intimacy with miraculously subtle intensity, portraying the growth of the daughter against backdrop of an ever-changing lifestyle which is punctuated with sorrow, happiness, reminiscence and longing.
2) The Man Who Planted Trees: Based on the four-thousand-word short story of French writer Jean Gino, it tells the story of an extraordinary shepherd's plight to afforest a barren valley in vividly touching detail, shown through the perspective of a passer-by soldier who witnesses this remarkable deed. It runs about thirty-minutes long, with the animation being a smooth changing landscape of brushstrokes set to the narrating voice of Christopher Plummer. This amazing short story has the potential to move you beyond your expectations. And leave you there.
1) La Maison En Petits Cubes: The title literally translates to 'The House of Small Cubes.' This was the second film I stumbled upon, accidentally in love with the sheer subtlety of the message that the piece carries. Set some time in the (possibly near) future, when global warming has shown its ugly horn in the form of floods, people are forced to build a level on top of the previous one every time the water level rises, a man drops his pipe down the hatch of his house all the way to the bottom. As he goes down each level, he is reminded of the times spent on each floor, in each room, as we are taken down a backward reminiscent journey through his past. Ten-on-ten, any day.
These might not be the best out there, but from what I've seen, these do get under your skin and into your bloodstream, and have the potential to touch you more than you'd presume. But this is a list to encourage you to get going, because once you realise to what heights these works of art can take you, you'll be taking out that Academy Award list yourself and Youtubing each and every one of them. You'll have to bear the buffer, but it's worth it. Too bad you haven't experienced the amazing occurrence of knowing me.
The Bounty Hunter
By Professor Spork
Starring Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston, The Bounty Hunter was a movie that promised to deliver with the cast, genre as well as trailer, despite having a less-than-interesting storyline. Milo Boyd (Butler) is a bounty hunter tasked with bringing in his reporter ex-wife, Nicole Hurley, for skipping out on bail over a minor traffic offence as she instead chose to follow up her story. What ensue are a chase, struggle and cupid trying desperately to aim left, right, up and down, all at the same time. There is, of course, a bad guy and background music, not to mention an underlying storyline of corrupt cops and loan sharks.
The result of spending a lot of money?
A not-even-comic disaster.
Aniston's gift with comedy still shadows her, but paired with Butler, even she seems at a loss for anything remotely funny, thereby providing as much fizz between Milo and Nicole as a week-old bottle of Coke. It was a decent concept, really, but the execution is where everything fell apart. It provokes no vehement hatred or even dislike, but the extreme annoyance it can bring on is quite long-lasting. Butler is miscast and Aniston isn't, and therefore her talents are entirely wasted on playing a woman with no memorable dialogue, when it's quite possible that the best thing about the Friends character Rachel was the way she delivered her comebacks.
The side characters are the only entertaining aspect of the movie, even if they're as useless as Nicole's stalker. About this unnecessary presence, being pathetic attracts as much laughter as pity, and after the initial smile you'll just feel really, really sorry for the guy. If you happen to find anything comical in the first 100 minutes of the movie, someone up there will without fail realise you're having too good a day, 'coz this is when they bring on the action.
Reporters try not to wear high-heels when they're trying to be stealthy. Also, pumping your own gas in New Jersey is illegal. First glitch forgivable. Second tolerable. Nineteenth “Maybe they're showing Twilight on HBO again.” That's right, Twilight. Hey, it's hilarious. The Bounty Hunter? Not so much.
This movie has about four genres, of which it manages to fail in action, comedy, crime and romance. As a wise man once said: Sometimes a truly horrible movie comes along to remind us all what good movies are. That would be The Bounty Hunter in a nutshell. You can take a wild guess and assume that both Butler and Aniston were high when they accepted this one. Suggestion: Watch the trailer, leave the movie. Wasting RS space with this and the images that come with it just happens to be a job.