When we left off, in 1998, the insectoid Zerg had just betrayed the technologically-advanced Protoss and Terran armies, wiping out all life on planet Char. The Protoss homeworld of Aiur had been thoroughly ravaged, an infant Overmind had been destroyed, and renegade Terran hero Jim Raynor was fleeing the might of the oppressive Dominion forces led by backstabbing sod Arcturus Mengsk. Also, I was 11.
These days, Jim Raynor is a broken man. His waking hours are spent sitting alone in bars, knocking back bottles of whiskey and listening to a cover version of Free Bird. At night his dreams are haunted by the Zerg rushing his one-time love Sarah Kerrigan, back when she was still human and not an oddly attractive Zerg Queen – one that resembles a cross between Tricia Helfer (who now provides the voice) and the work of H. R. Giger. Also, I am 24 in a month.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The StarCraft of 2010 is not the StarCraft of 1998, but it does such a good job of respecting its source material you might end up thinking you're basically playing the same game. You'd be wrong.
Crucially, there's an all-important divide between the single and multiplayer components. The former's campaign, the heart of StarCraft's burgeoning space opera, has you controlling Raynor's renegade forces on the Hyperion, his personal Battlecruiser. Keeping the narrative grounded to Raynor's perspective, with the majority of levels based around the Terran race, gives Blizzard's designers the chance to breathe, to let the game unfold at a more comfortable pace and create levels that bring out the best from each unit. New toys are introduced into the game on a one-by-one basis; each mission encourages you to your latest prize to accomplish the demands of each particular scenario.
Levels are glued together by impressive in-engine cutscenes, the occasional lavish FMV sequence and plenty of pottering about on your ship to spend money and research points – we’ll talk about the latter in a moment. The Hyperion is far more than just a giant spaceship with a massive pew-pew laser: it has its own laboratory, armoury, bridge and cantina, with each RPG-lite area presented as a moving image rather than as an interactive environment. The effect ends up feeling like a screen from a 90s adventure game, only with fancier technology.
A renewed focus on plot, atmosphere and setting is complimented by the fundamental mechanics of the game. Blizzard's often-criticised decision to focus on the Terrans actually pays dividends when it comes to tailoring a squad over the 16-odd hour duration of the main campaign. Giving 29 lengthy missions to one race grants the supporting cast time to develop, resulting in a cohesive narrative that turns the experience into far more than a disconnected series of missions linked together by a loose plot. The ending's not bad, either.
The last 12 years has seen the original StarCraft lifted to untouchable status in the gaming canon - and deservedly so. Cast the nostalgia to one side, however, and you'll realise the story, especially some of the stuff introduced in the Brood War expansion, was a bit silly: fluff, filler and intentionally vague topics about Protoss/Zerg clones, an Earth faction and a Xel'Naga disguising himself as a Terran. StarCraft II has its own daft moments, but it's a tighter, more controlled storyline that distils and expands upon the core elements that proved a success in the original: Raynor, Kerrigan and Mengsk.