StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

Click Dangerous.

Close your eyes in a room full of StarCraft II players and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in the presence of a giant space cockroach, or a vast interstellar weevil, or something else with nasty chattering mandibles.

Idle talk is kept to a minimum when you're playing Blizzard's latest; in its place is a gentle mixture of half-formed strategic mumbling, sighs of defeat, and clicking, always clicking: clicking that's probably a dozen or so fingers frantically directing waves of Firebats, but could pass rather well for the juddering claws or antennae of some kind of horrible oversized bug.

Sure, giant space cockroaches are the stuff of nightmares, but so, for a lot of the people who play videogames, is something like StarCraft. It's a serious, heavyweight genre at its most serious and its most heavyweight. It's Korean TV channels where the crowds cheer as a mouse drags a small green box across the face of the jumbotron. It's build queues, build orders, and reverse-engineering your opponent's tech tree just by looking at what trundles out of his base.

If that sounds like the kind of thing you don't think you'd be very good at - the same way that stunt-biking, high-level karate, or a career in bioinformatics sound like the kind of thing you don't think you'd be very good at - don't give up just yet. Chances are if you're new to Blizzard's best-selling sci-fi universe you won't be very good at it at first, but with this outing you genuinely might find yourself wanting to put some serious time in to change all that.

That's not just because StarCraft II will run pretty snappily on older PCs - the beta actually runs acceptably on my ancient white Macbook, although the computer gets so hot it feels like I'm taking on the Zerg with the sun itself balanced in my lap.

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In StarCraft's brilliantly asymmetrical battles, units don't have opposites so much as they have antidotes.

It's not just because StarCraft II is rather beautiful, either, although it's filled with plenty of opportunities for a little virtual tourism as you skim through canyons dusted with bright sand and chunks of shiny rock, or swoop over the complex spouts of impossible waterfalls, and past murky rents in the earth where the twinkling points of techno-Aztec temples poke through the grime.

The reason you might want to give this one a go is because Blizzard has gone out of its way to make space for new players. There's space in multiplayer, certainly, where the traditional yet highly refined take on the 'make stuff and break stuff' approach (I am trademarking that right now, by the way, and I've asked Brian Eno to write a little bit of music that has to accompany it whenever it is said) will hopefully be tempered by Battle.net's new tournaments, leagues and matchmaking tech.

This week it was revealed that there's plenty of space for newcomers in single-player too. That doesn't necessarily mean that the series' sharper edges have been planed off, however. In fact, while the sequel's multiplayer content might be fairly conventional, the single-player campaign sees the developers expanding horizons slightly: trying new things, and reaching out in new directions.

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The single-player hub takes the form of a battle cruiser with rooms to visit and people to chat with. Load times as you move about are supernaturally fast, suggesting Blizzard is aware of how little patience some of its players have for any such indulgences.

The two missions I get to click my way through do a good job of highlighting the game's scope and playfulness. Selected from a heavily gilted space chart console, the single-player mode will generally give you a handful of objectives to choose from at any one time.

Today, I can either take on The Dig (not a reference to the LucasArts glum-'em-up apparently, but a siege-type offering centring around an unusually sizable space laser), or Welcome to the Jungle (definitely not a reference to the bizarre caper movie starring Sean William Scott and The Rock). Both are punchy little slices of action, and both play out in entirely different ways.

The Dig drops you into a dusty canyon on a world littered with ancient alien artefacts. For the first few minutes, you'll have a chance to get a feel for things as your Terran infantrymen make their way through a gently twisting maze crawling with spindly Protoss units, in numbers too insubstantial to make them anything less than target practice.

A handful of enemy gun emplacements threaten to form a nasty roadblock as you near the exit to the canyon, but they're only fodder for a new toy: siege tanks, which can either crawl around the terrain blasting away at alien menaces with their canons, or sacrifice mobility for greater firepower and range by transforming into stationary turrets.

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