All jacked up and good to go.
Imagine that you could actually buy a working pair of those fabled rose-colored glasses people are always talking about. Booting up StarCraft Remastered isn’t too far off from living that nostalgia fantasy. It takes an all-time classic RTS and makes it look like my fond memories of it, rather than how it actually looked. Other than that, the amazing campaign and competitive gameplay are almost completely unchanged, which is exactly what the esports community wants, but slightly annoying for casual players accustomed to modern conveniences like working pathfinding AI.
When I say StarCraft Remastered looks really good, I don’t need to qualify that with: “Good for a 19-year-old game.” Blizzard’s art team has created units and maps that are about as detailed as I could hope for from a sprite-based isometric style. Even common units like Marines pop against the background, easily mistakable for full 3D models in their shining, bulbous armor. Zooming in – which is now a thing you can do! – lets you count the spines on a hydralisk’s head. Modifications to how terrain is rendered give a depth and sense of place to aged maps. And with Dynamic Lighting turned on, the glow effect on an archon’s attacks actually casts light on nearby units.
You can zoom in now!
That new art is applied to all of the modes from the 1998 original and its Brood War expansion, which have been expertly updated. Campaign missions are preceded by new, full-3D talking portraits in the ready rooms, each of which has also gotten a spectacular makeover. A functional improvement over the original version is that ranked multiplayer has added a visible ELO number that goes up and down after each win or loss. Matchmaking, at least in these first few days, has been more stable and much, much quicker than ranked play in StarCraft 2 currently is. And most importantly for me, the hundreds of amazing and hilarious custom maps that used to take up most of my StarCraft time are compatible with the Remaster, and it’s never hard to find a variety of maps to play.
The downside of Blizzard’s dedication to reproducing a better-looking version of the original StarCraft is that it didn’t fix any of the long-standing quirks. The unit pathfinding is still frustratingly bad, especially for large units like Protoss Dragoons and Zerg ultralisks. Certain aspects of the interface haven’t aged that well either. Trying to select 12 specific units out of a larger group rarely gets you the result you wanted, and you still have to open a separate menu to see mission objectives in the campaign.
The story holds up surprisingly well.
I also found myself missing some of the better features of StarCraft 2, like Protoss warp-ins and the ability to cue up building orders. In some ways, like general balance and its de-emphasis on death balls, the original is still superior to the sequel. But ultimately, while I’m having a ton of fun playing, I don’t think it will replace StarCraft 2 as my go-to RTS of choice for everyday Zerg-blasting. I understand why adding quality of life features that alter the gameplay would have been a disaster for the established esports scene, where managing the old interface is part of the challenge competitors have trained almost 20 years for, but as a less competitive RTS player I’m also pulled in the opposite direction every time I have to painstakingly set up six control groups just to move my army across the map.
The story, on the other hand, holds up really well. While it lacks the high-grade presentation of StarCraft 2’s campaign, it also feels grittier, grounded, and unique. The issues at play are made more compelling for not revolving around the fate of the entire galaxy and an interdimensional demon… or something… and the focal point is instead on the grunts in the mud. The politics and turns of fortune that weave through each of the six episodes reminded me that setting the stakes to something other than 11 can often allow you to tell a better tale.