Ten years after its release, Starcraft continues to be enjoyed by multitudes of gamers all over the world. Arguably the greatest RTS ever made, it established a new benchmark for balanced gameplay, tactical resource management, and offensive/defensive combat strategy.
Add to the mix free online play and a vigorous community of modders creating additional functionality for the game - not to mention South Korea's cultural infatuation - and it's easy to see why Starcraft has continued to engage its devoted audience for a decade.
Multiplayer modes and community maps may explain its longevity, but the most underrated of Starcraft's many attributes - and least remembered ten years later - is its ambitious and potent narrative. Unlike nearly every RTS before or since, Starcraft set out to tell a mature story driven primarily by politics and competing ideologies, set in a world populated by complex characters motivated by conflicting goals, sometimes noble, sometimes base. Heroism and sacrifice are possible in Starcraft, but so are duplicity and greed - all within the same character.
In certain ways, Starcraft's narrative is typical of its genre: epic, fast-paced, and full of violence and abrupt plot twists. Punctuated by cutscenes and menued screens with dialogue exchanges, the game's story delivery may feel dated by today's standards, and the RTS gameplay can feel stylistically disconnected from the narrative.
But in many other ways, Starcraft's story feels utterly contemporary, reflecting the complex and fearful post-9/11 world we live in today, where easy answers are hard to find, and the lines between ally and enemy can quickly shift. Consider the world of Starcraft:
Scores of innocent lives are lost waging ideological wars. Citizens are coerced through fear and xenophobia to surrender their civil rights to a supreme leader. Rebels are celebrated as freedom fighters in one land and condemned as terrorists in another. Alliances are formed between unlikely groups united by common enemies. Civil conflicts rage among warring factions. Ethnic cleansing (called "Project Purification") kills countless men, women, and children. Starcraft understood more about the future than its makers could possibly have foreseen.
What's more, the game makes room for characters that can't easily be classified as good or evil. The very forces that drive Mengsk to liberate his people later become the forces that drive him to acts of violent extremism. Kerrigan's war initially exists only within herself, as her neural implants both empower and imprison her. The moral authority she wields to condemn Mengsk's use of the Zerg against the Confederacy echoes loudly when she later turns to deceit and betrayal. Raynor's infatuation with Kerrigan turns to vengeful hate after she kills his friend and betrays the alliance. Blowback is a major force in the world of Starcraft.
It is this refusal to classify men and women, races and nations as inherently good or evil that sets Starcraft apart from so many games, and Blizzard's insistence on this wide view is manifested in the game's narrative/gameplay structure. In episode one you play as a Terran; in episode two you play as a Zerg; and in episode three you play as a Protoss. In the expansion Brood War, the order is reversed. All points of view are presented, and the player is left to draw his own conclusions.
In the world of Starcraft, platitudes like "you're either with us or against us" have no political viability because the realities of confict and the complexities of war make such blanket statements impossible. No game brings this reality home more clearly than Starcraft. Ten years after its release, it still has much to tell us.