Finding a good balance between the multiplayer and single player aspects of a game is tricky. Few manage it; indeed, even Bungie only managed it once (ooh, controversial!). It's unfortunate that multiplayer often feels tacked onto a single player experience, but in Starcraft Ghost's case, Blizzard plan to bring us something that will entertain on every level. From what we've seen so far they may just to it, and then some.
Starcraft Ghost has been a game on everyone's radar for a long time. It's had problems though, being thrown from team to team, due to a variety of issues. This didn't bode well for the full game, so it was with a nervous anticipation that we approached it. Fortunately it delivered, in spades. The first aspect we had a chance to play through was a large section of the single player game, allowing us to see both the stealth and action elements of the game. The first thing you notice is the graphics- all three consoles make SG look fantastic. The character designs and levels just look right. It's obvious a level of polish will need to be applied, but even at this stage it's very impressive. The developers, Swingin Ape, have certainly done a great job, despite the fact that they took the reigns mid way through development.
The game itself plays in a similar fashion to many recent third person shooters. A default over the shoulder view is used throughout the game, though an optional first person view is also available. The first level we saw showed our titular ghost heroine, Nova, tackle a group of particularly nasty Zergs with a big, meaty shotgun. The controls feel a little floaty, but the action is intense and still enjoyable - though this is another element that is bound to be improved upon. The stealth sections really do show the game's true potential, however. They actually look quite fun for a start, which is a nice change from the majority of other po-faced stealth games. Obviously the key component of the stealth sections is the cloaking ability. It also has one of the most sensible implementations of a cloaking device that I've ever seen. You see, it only drains the cloak's energy when you move, allowing you to wait indefinitely for enemies to drop their guard. It's brilliantly effective, yet still allows a whole set of more unconventional manoeuvres. One of our favourites was the ability to jump onto a moving hover bike and stay cloaked for as long as possible. A great way to get past guard check points, and if you decide that you just want to steal the hover bike, you can always smash the guy's head against the handle. The great thing is that this is just one of the genuinely inventive ways to get through that situation. Playing through that section again allowed us to deal with it in a variety of different ways. Indeed, Blizzard have promised us that many of the game's problems will have a number of approaches. The game just seems so chock full of ideas, even at this incomplete stage.
Of course, the biggest surprise was the multiplayer, which, although only recently implemented, already plays like a dream. We played an eight-player game of an unconventional capture the flag type game - except it was more of a 'capture the base' type game. As you may be aware, in the original Starcraft, their were flying Terran buildings, something which has become the core of one of the most inventive multiplayer games we have ever seen. In this game type one of these enormous bases is floating in the middle of the map; your mission is to capture it and fly it back to your spawn point, with the aim of holding it for 10 minutes. Like a cross between capture the flag and king of the hill, then. It was tremendous fun and made us want more almost immediately. That's without even mentioning the wildly different character classes, such as the Firebats, Marines and Ghosts. The vehicles on offer were also excellent, with a nice range of scout vehicles, tanks and flyers. Not bad at all for something that many thought would be tacked on to the single player game. In fact, pretty damn far from not bad.
It's hard to contain our excitement about Starcraft Ghost. We're fans of everything Blizzard and despite the development problems, this seems like it's going to live up to their high standards. By far the worst thing about the game was that no firm release date has been set, but Blizzard have promised an announcement soon. In the meantime, this really does look like it may be one of the finest action games of this generation, and it can't come quickly enough.