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StarCraft: Ghost: The Kotaku Review

In a parallel universe, where Blizzard Entertainment is primarily a console developer instead of a computer one, we would've gotten this game earlier. But we still would've gotten the same game.

It all seemed like a dream when news spread in 2011 that the game is still in active development. Then there was a period of silence with only a few rumors and the leaked intro, but nothing official yet. Then there was the announcement of the game being slated for a late 2012 release. It was pushed back for half a year, but the fact remains that the game was real.


And here we are now. StarCraft: Ghost is installed on my Mac, ready for use. I wasn't sure what to expect from the game at all, it was originally announced 10 years ago after all. Different hardware, different console generation, shift in genre popularity, different demographic – a lot could've gone wrong, and there exist plenty of games whose long development cycle proved to be their doom (Daikana and Duke Nukem Forever come to mind).

But Blizzard, it seems, can make everything work out in the end.

The game puts you into the role of Nova, a special agent known as Ghost in the StarCraft universe. These Ghosts are, to put it frankly, a futuristic version of Sam Fisher but with a cloaking suit and psionic abilities.
Being a black ops agent, any of your missions are top secret, so secret in fact that the memories of each Ghost unit is wiped clean. As a result, the agents become less and less human since they only live for the mission. They become highly-efficient killing machines, and that's exactly what Nova is.

The game occasionally touches upon the subject of the Ghost program and its inhuman results. The fact that Nova seemingly can't remember anything that's being thrown at her tells a story on its own. Even so, it only plays a secondary role in the game's plot. If anything, all those of you who've read the novels and manga surrounding her will appreciate the nods, but nothing more. This is a game that stands on its own, it doesn't even require much knowledge from the main StarCraft games as all important plot points of past games are explained when needed.

StarCraft: Ghost: The Kotaku Review

The game asks you a simple, yet far-reaching question: What is one man worth on the battlefield? What can one man do, and how well can he survive all on its own?
In the past StarCraft games, one Marine alone is nothing but cannon fodder, and only in masses can they hope to survive. Same goes for the Zerg whose whole strategy is quantity over quality. A Ghost unit in these RTS games can cloak and fire a nuclear missile right into the enemy base – in practice this rarely works out, but if it does it's glorious. But a Ghost is just as fragile as a Marine: one unit or building that can reveal invisible units is enough and a Ghost is dead faster than you can type “gg”.

In StarCraft: Ghost, this aspect of mortality is stronger than ever.
You're only given a Sniper Rifle and a knive. The ammunition for your rifle is limited and you rarely can restock on it during a mission.
Your cloaking device can run for 1 minute max and then requires a cooldown (overall energy lasts for 10 to 5 minutes total per mission, depending on the difficulty you're playing on).
Your psionic abilities like telekinesis are limited by a device because they're too strong to control otherwise. Even then, using them will alert at least one sensor or enemy psychic unit and causes quite an uproar.

In other words, relying on your gizmos alone won't work. Instead, you must rely on your sneaking skills and the tools your enemies are using. Each human weapon can be used when dropped – they don't have silencers like your rifle, but can get the job done. Same goes for vehicles and remote-controlled robots which may not be subtle, but are sometimes necessary to take out a large group of enemies.

StarCraft: Ghost: The Kotaku Review

The enemy arsenal isn't the only liberty you're given in this game: Your approach for completing a mission is entirely up to you. You're being dropped in a location behind enemy lines and are given your instructions. After that, you're on your own and must find your own path to the objective.

There are several paths you can take, each of them requiring a varying amount of combat, sneaking and hacking. But ok, We've seen optional paths as early as Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. What makes this really special, however, is how the enemies react to various signs of danger.
By default, an enemy installation is in in Normal Mode by default. If you sound of the alarm, the installation changes to Alert Mode and various air vents and doors become shut tight. What's more, there are between 1 and 3 enemies in one hallway or room, but if they know you're here, they'll increase the guard count and actively search for you with infrared sensors, drones and other means.
On the other hand, if you cause some ruckus without being seen (use a remote-controller robot for instance) you might get lucky and the enemy soldiers think it's just bad luck. Or they go into Caution Mode, which is a step below Alert Mode and thus not quite as dangerous.


Another unique thing are the conflicts: Occasionally two races with face off each other on the battlefield, trying to kill each other. In such a case, Nova can either sneak past them or help one side, this helping them to destroy a fortified location somewhere else. There's no greater feeling than taking out a bunch of siege tanks and watch how a Terran base is being overrun by a Zerg rush, while you watch everything from a safe distance.

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Of course, such a game stands or falls with the variation of its enemies, and with this the developers used the StarCraft lore to its full potential. Each race has its own way of doing things and thus require their own strategy.

The Terrans (or humans, for the non-StarCraft fans among you) rely heavily on their sensors and machines. If you can bypass them you're good to go. Their buildings allow for a lot of sneaking and hacking, but their soldiers are rather well-armored against your rifle.
The Zerg are quite lethal due to their hive mind: If they spot you, the entire army in that area will move to your location. Their Overlords fly high in the sky, impossible for you to kill them, but they can spot you in the open are. However, they only have two eyes, so if you're behind then you can bypass them. Their structures are either infested Terran buildings or hive clusters which can sometimes be very confusing to navigate through. The Zerg themselves are rather weak against your bullets and psychic powers, so unless you're up against a Zerg rush or an Ultralisk you can defeat them.
The Protoss are the strongest in one-to-one combat which makes them almost impossible to kill. In fact, combat against them is suicide. On the other hand, some of them can sense your presence, but without a Probe – their only anti-cloaking device – you can sneak past them quite easily.


For all the things the game does well, there are a few points that can be seen as debatable at least. There's no way to save during a mission, when you die you're gonna have to replay the entire mission. The missions themselves are not too long, and it has its advantages to start fresh when sending the entire place to Alert Mode. However, especially the computer folks out there will complain about this mission feature quite a bit.
Also, the multiplayer sadly had to make the cut. Then again, considering the game would've been up against Halo and Call of Duty (not to mention the countless Free-2-Play games out there), the multiplayer component might've died faster than usual, so maybe the resources were indeed better invested into the singleplayer experience.

At the end of the day, there's only one thing left to say about StarCraft: Ghost – Happy April's Fools Everyone!

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