The original StarCraft game came out in 1998, and part of me can’t believe that it is already that old. I adored both this game and its expansion Brood War so much growing up, and with the exception of Pharaoh and Zoo Tycoon, I probably played this game more than any other computer game. I finally got around to playing StarCraft II only recently, but the story left me realizing that I needed to revisit the original. It’s been a good ten years now since I’d played the first StarCraft, and my memory of the game had deteriorated until I couldn’t recall anything about it other than Kerrigan’s character and the infamous cheat phrases “power overwhelming”, “show me the money”, and “black sheep wall”.
I’ve yet to finish my way through Brood War again, but I did not realize how much I missed this series until this month. The first StarCraft is just so enjoyable, and hey, for a 1998 game, its graphics don’t completely suck either.
Spoilers for a seventeen-year-old game ahead.
StarCraft is a strategy game that takes place in a distant part of the Milky Way galaxy known as the Koprulu Sector, where three distinct races are all vying against each other. The Zerg make up the main evil and antagonist force. They are a hive mind of insectoid aliens that seek genetic perfection and spend their days taking over planets and either murdering or infecting any and all living creatures they come across. Battling against the Zerg are the Protoss. The Protoss are both technologically advanced and highly religious. They are also willing to do whatever it takes to kill the Zerg, including destroying whole planets they find any Zerg on, regardless of who else may be living on said planet. They’re kind of assholes. Our third race is the Terrans. Terrans are exiled humans from Earth, and like the Protoss, they are divided into different factions that not only fight the other races, but each other as well. We never really learn all that much about why they left Earth, but as one of their main factions is not only called the Confederacy but also uses the Confederate flag, I can think of a couple reasons we probably kicked them out.
StarCraft’s story is divided into three different episodes, with each species getting equal amount of attention and development. The Terrans star in Episode I, where we follow the character Jim Raynor as he battles against the Confederacy and the Zerg on a colony called Mar Sara. In order to do this, he joins up with Arcturus Mengsk and his group called the Sons of Korhal. During Jim’s missions, he also meets the Ghost—someone with psionic abilities—Kerrigan. Eventually, we learn that Mengsk is somehow even more evil than the Confederacy, but by then it’s too late. Mengsk betrays Kerrigan, leading her supposedly to be killed by the Zerg in order to fuel Jim’s manpain, destroys all the other Terran factions, and establishes himself as emperor. Mengsk also lets us know that if he can’t rule humanity, he would see it burn. This entire storyline leaves me feeling a little torn. I know Mengsk is pretty much supposed to be evil incarnate, but there was a part of me that immensely enjoyed seeing ships painted with the Confederate flag blown the fuck up.
Episode II is all about the Zerg, and this is the episode I remembered the most before my replay, if only because the Zerg were my favorite race. Here, we find out that Kerrigan didn’t die, but was instead captured. The Overmind—the Zerg leader who controls all the other Zerg through underlings called Cerebrates—had Kerrigan taken alive and infected in order to introduce her psionic abilities to the Zerg genepool. Because the Zerg are a hive mind, the Overmind is actually the only Zerg who has any kind of free will, and that includes Kerrigan. When we meet Kerrigan again, she’s without a doubt nothing more than an evil underling to the Overmind. She’s vicious, takes pleasure in killing things, spends her time tormenting Jim when she can, and generally thinks like a Zerg—she enjoys being part of the Swarm and relishes the power it gives her. Overall, her character is pretty flat in the first game, especially when we take into account that her entire arc is about fueling Jim’s pain and her losing her autonomy (quite literally). It’s not until Brood War and StarCraft II that we learn more about the Overmind’s plan and Kerrigan and the Zerg gain a lot more depth. I would even argue that Kerrigan’s storyline eventually becomes one about empowerment and not victimhood. But alas, I’ll have to go into that more in a later review.
Lastly, there’s the Protoss. Though the Zerg are my favorite race, replaying the first game really gave me a new appreciation for the Protoss. The Protoss believe they were created by an ancient race called the Xel’naga and they are currently led by a bunch of religious zealots called the Conclave. Unfortunately, the Conclave doesn’t quite know how to deal with the Zerg invasion of their home planet Aiur. However, when a Protoss named Tassador meets the Dark Templars—Protoss who were exiled as heretics for practicing dark magic—he learns how to fight back against the Zerg. With the Dark Templar Zeratul at his side, he attempts to do just that. This does not go over well with the Conclave, and leads to Tassadar being branded as a traitor. The Conclave is eventually destroyed, and the Zerg take over Aiur. When the Overmind travels to Aiur, however, Tassadar, Zeratual, and Jim Raynor work together and manage to kill it.
There’s a whole bunch that goes on this episode and it was awesome—religious fanaticism and persecution in direct contrast to other religious Protoss who are not fanatics, just to start. Then, there are the Dark Templars, who are a horrifically and systematically oppressed group—though they willingly help their Protoss brethren fight against the Zerg, Zeratul says that they can never forget what the Conclave did to the Dark Templars in the past. We also see some xenophobia in reaction to Tassadar’s alliance with Jim Raynor. Unfortunately, not all these issues are resolved by the time the game ends.
StarCraft finishes on a cliffhanger—we don’t know what happens to the Zerg without the Overmind, Kerrigan’s storyline is nowhere near resolved, Mengsk is still alive and being evil, and Aiur is still overrun with Zerg. It makes me want to hurry up and finish Brood War.
Though I have grievances with Kerrigan’s character being the only female character of note, StarCraft is an amazing story. It is very in depth and thought through, and you do get a sense that the races could be real societies. There are very few things about the characters that are simply black and white. Even though Mengsk is annoyingly evil and flat, the game goes out of its way to develop just about everyone. While you play as the Terrans, for instance, not only are both the Zerg and Protoss antagonists, but so are other Terrans. There’s a giant political divide, and it makes the story so much more intriguing. Incidentally, all the different Protoss and Terran factions could probably solve their Zerg problem if they would stop fighting each other and work together.
The reason why the Zerg are so formidable is that the different Zerg factions are not divided and wish to be one Swarm with one goal. Even though their hive mind mentality and lack of free will is not a good thing, their ability to coordinate with each other is in direct contrast to the other races and their internal conflicts. Even though the Zerg are the one species that we could probably designate as evil, their episode does kind of paint them in a more sympathetic light. As I said, other than the Overmind, the Zerg do not have free will and are not consciously making the decision to attack people the same way someone from another race would. Most Zerg are not even people, so much as they are animals. Only the Overmind, Kerrigan, and the Cerebrates are intelligent and person-like. Even then, however, Kerrigan and the Cerebrates are still slaves to the Overmind. They can only do or want what the Overmind tells them to do or want. As such, all the different Zerg broods that the Overmind controls through the Cerebrates don’t fight each other, and instead get along with near perfection. This situation is what makes the Zerg so terrifying and also so pitiful.
StarCraft is one of the better games from my childhood, and it’s a game I definitely recommend playing. Even if you’re not a big fan of strategy games, I’d still recommend it for the story and world building (and you can also just use those cheats I mentioned earlier to speed your way on through if you really want to). The first game certainly has its faults, and as I just got done with the sequel, I can assure you that it has its faults too. Despite that, it does give us a really good story that you can have a lot of fun with.