One of the great tragedies in video game history is the demise of StarCraft: Ghost, a game that spent nearly a decade in development hell before fizzling completely. Although we’ll likely never play that game, there exists a decent substitute inside of a game Blizzard did release—StarCraft II.
Last year, Blizzard released a series of StarCraft II mission packs called Nova: Covert Ops. You’d be forgiven for not hearing about them, because they slipped under most people’s radars for lots of reasons (lack of marketing, a three-part release, etc.). All together, Nova: Covert Ops consists of nine missions and feels as substantial as any of the other StarCraft II campaigns, complete with its own neat ideas, unique upgrade system, and bizarre mechanics. I finally played through the bulk of Covert Ops over the past couple of weeks and am pleased to report that it’s excellent.
Nova: Covert Ops stars Nova, the Terran ghost who was meant to be the star of the ill-fated StarCraft: Ghost. Though her game never came to fruition, she popped up in 2010's StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and 2013's Heart of the Swarm before taking center stage in Covert Ops, which takes place separately from StarCraft II’s main storyline. (Don’t expect to see much Raynor or Kerrigan here.)
Nova is a bland character—her personality is best summed up as “cool” and “can turn invisible”—and her story, which involves a group of Terran terrorists, is maybe one or two notches above mildly interesting. What makes Nova: Covert Ops special are the missions. Each of the expansion’s nine campaign missions has some sort of interesting twist, whether it’s a solo stealth romp through a science facility or a traditional StarCraft II base-building exposition in which you also have to go around grabbing resources to restore Nova’s memories. You’ll get to use Nova as a hero the whole time, and you can outfit her with different weapon loadouts between each mission.
There’s some really creative stuff in here. One early mission, for example, briefly transforms the game into a sidescrolling racer:
Another, my favorite mission in Nova: Covert Ops, plays out like a legit stealth game. You can equip Nova with different gear—swapping between, say, a sniper rifle and a plasma sword—and maneuver her around the map, using her special abilities to take down enemies and avoid getting caught by patrols. It feels like an isometric version of what StarCraft: Ghost might have been. There’s even a boss battle.
Nova Covert Ops is well worth your time if you’re into the series, especially if you’re still sad about StarCraft: Ghost never happening. And StarCraft II has aged remarkably well.