Starcraft: Ghost Impressions

We get some playtime with the Xbox version of Blizzard's upcoming console game.

It's been only six short weeks since our last preview of Starcraft: Ghost, Blizzard's upcoming console stealth action game. We have some updated impressions on the Xbox version of the game after getting a chance to look at some different levels and environments in the build here at E3 2003.

Based on the Terran special ops unit from the Starcraft RTS games, the game follows the exploits of a female Terran ghost named Nova. You'll have all the special abilities of the ghosts from the Starcraft RTS games, such as Predator-style cloaking, lockdown projectiles to knock out mechanical units, and the ability to call in nuclear strikes. Nova also has some psi capabilities and is very athletic and agile, allowing her to climb, crawl, and jump to different places. You can even hang upside down off ladders and pipes and snipe with your canister rifle from those awkward positions.

The first new level we got a look at was the Fujita Pinnacle, a Terran research facility that you must infiltrate. The level showed a lot of good detail, with parts of the base structures rising high into the sky and various weather vanes spinning wildly in the stormy night. The first obstacle we came across was a camera, which we easily disabled using the lockdown ability. As in all Blizzard games, a premium is placed on ease of use--as we examined the camera through the sniper scope, a tooltip appeared, telling us that we could press the B button to lock down the camera. Similar context-sensitive tips will appear throughout the game in different situations.

Next up, we came across a guard patrolling the walkway. This presented us with a number of options. Using Nova's sight ability, we were able to see that the soldier had two weak spots--his head, which is not protected by armor, and the grenade on his belt. If you shoot the grenade, it explodes, killing the guard and any bystanders instantly. We chose to use a quieter method to dispatch the soldier. Sneaking up behind him, we were able to knock him unconscious with a Tenchu-style stealth attack. In this case, we used the psi stun. Again we had a choice--leave him there and allow him to eventually wake up, or finish the job with a death blow and not worry about him. We were feeling sadistic today, so we chose the latter option. Like in other stealth games such as No One Lives Forever or Splinter Cell, you can pick up and move dead bodies in Starcraft: Ghost, so as not to arouse the suspicion of other wandering guards. Get careless with dead bodies lying around and you risk having other guards go into alert mode as the dead are discovered. Finally, if all your sneaking around fails, you can fight enemies in standard gun battles using your canister rifle. Simply press a button to target an enemy and Nova can strafe around while maintaining her aim.

Aside from the sight ability, which drains your psi energy, Nova has a couple of other psi-related powers that require energy. One is the cloaking, which allows you to sneak past any enemies as long as no detector units are around. The cloaking shrouds your character into an optical blur, and you can see your relative visibility via a meter in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. Cloaking while no detector units are around will drop your visibility level to the bottom. If you wander into an area with a detector, the meter rises and Nova shimmers, showing partial visibility. The final psi ability is speed, which wasn't demonstrated at the show. This will allow Nova to slow time to execute maneuvers and attack enemies with ease. On the Xbox version, each of the psi abilities is easily activated by tapping a direction on the D pad. It's safe to assume that a similar method will be implemented in the PS2 and GameCube versions.

We also got a chance to try out a couple of Nova's calldown abilities. In the RTS game, ghosts could paint a target area and call in a nuclear strike. In Ghost, you can simply aim at your target and choose from several options for your calldowns, such as comsat (to reveal nearby cloaked units), identification (to show nearby enemies), artillery support from arclite siege tanks, irradiation from a science vessel, a yamato cannon strike from a battle cruiser, or a nuke. We were able to try out irradiate and yamato cannon during our demo. The irradiate calldown targets a single biological enemy, bathing it in a sickly green column of light and killing it with massive radiation. The yamato-cannon strike is slightly modified from the RTS version, where the attack only damaged a single enemy. In Ghost, the yamato cannon hits the target for massive damage, with a red swath of destruction growing out in a large radius from the target. Not realizing the weapon effect had been changed, we targeted a nearby zealot with the yamato and got toasted in the blast radius.

Ghost is shaping up nicely, with a lot of new content falling into place. The developers at Nihilistic have done a good job of integrating familiar elements from the RTS games while not overwhelming Starcraft newcomers with unnecessary minutiae. Starcraft: Ghost is due out late this year for the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube. We'll have more details on the game as they become available.

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