Hailed by critics as merely "Warcraft in Space" back when it was released, Blizzard Entertainment's gem is a standard by which all strategy games are now judged. There are 3 playable races to choose from, the xenomorphic alien Zergs, the highly evolved technological Protoss, and the resourceful Terrans. The races are meticulously balanced, and all of them are unique in every sense of the word. The strategies you must devise to win have to be drastically different based on the race you play with, there is no single formula for success, you have to utilize your races' strengths and cover up your weaknesses against your enemy.
The story of the campaign is intriguing and keeps you glued to the screen. There are campaigns for all 3 races, with each campaign consisting of 12+ missions, varying in difficulty. Starting off with the Terrans (futuristic humans), you have to repel the Zerg invasion of the newly colonized system that the human race now calls home. The briefings before every mission are a joy to sit through, the dialogue and voice acting is superb, and it really draws you into the world and gets you pumped up for the upcoming mission. The plot is complex, with plenty of twists and turns, which is surprising for a strategy game, and there are scripted events thrown in here and there that make the missions very fun to play. In a neat twist, the second campaign lets you play as the Zerg, as you devastate the galaxy with your insectoid troops. My favorite campaign, the third, lets you play as the Protoss, and the mission design is absolutely fantastic in this campaign, with plenty of variety thrown in. You will fight indoors and outdoors, on a couple of very cool planets. Overall, the game offers well over 30 hours of single player entertainment. The fantastic cutscenes that accompany the campaigns are typical Blizzard quality and must receive special mention.
Each race gets over 10 uniquely different units to play around with, and every single one is a joy to control. The variety is astounding, from hulking Zerg Ultralisks that tear everything on the ground apart, to the Protoss Carriers that dominate the skies, and to Terran Vulture Bikes that lay spider mines, it will be a long time before you are bored with the selection. Units compliment each other in different ways, and you can concoct an astounding variety of tactics to beat your opponent. With the newer patches the AI becomes extremely potent, so it will give you a stern challenge. The game is quite difficult to master, however the intuitive interface and excellent tutorial make things easier.
Sound is superbly done. Every unit has their own sounds and respond accordingly to your commands. Hearing the battlefield echo with the spitting of the snakelike Hydralisks as they clash against roaring chaingun fire of the Human marines is certainly something every gamer that played "Starcraft" remembers. Music is appropriate to each race too and blends in well with the action, nothing too special, just well rounded and simple.
If a solid single-player narrative is not your cup of tea, then there are plenty of other options. Skirmishes can also be played against up to 7 computer controlled players, but the multiplayer options are what really give the game its longevity. Multiplayer through Blizzard's Battle.Net service has become the flagship attraction of the game, and servers (especially Korean servers - the game has become a pop culture phenomenon there) are still raging with activity eight years after the game's release. The tactical variety and perfect balance make for very addictive multiplay. Not to mention that the maps that ship with the game are top-notch, and allow plenty of interesting scenarios to unfold. LAN option is also available if you want to hook up a few PC's together.
The graphics were good for it's time, but what it lacked in cutting edge technology it made up for with personality. The races have their unique flair to them, and the 2D designs reflect the creativity of the art designers. Each unit has its own stylistic quirks and features, and the animations are in my opinion excellent. Missiles fly and impact realistically, shields flare upon contact, and Zerg acid sprays across the screen. A campaign editor also ships with the game, and it is useful if you want to cook up your own maps, although the interface is not the most user friendly.
There are minor quips here and there, such as the inability to group more than 12 units together, and lackluster pathfinding is an issue sometimes, but overall the game is impressively free of any technical glitches.
Every serious computer gamer should have "Starcraft" in their library, and if you are still one of those people who has never played what is considered by many to be the greatest real-time strategy of all time, then be sure to dive into the bargain bin and give "Starcraft" a go.