Ages ago, Blizzard revealed Starcraft: Ghost, a Splinter Cell'ish game set in the Starcraft universe. You'd play as the ghost trooper Nova and use a mix of sneaky stealth moves and psionic powers to fight your enemies. The game looked immensely promising, but development went off the rails and Blizzard eventually shelved the project.
Since then, Nova has appeared in a minor role in Starcraft II, and she's also playable in Heroes of the Storm. But it's been 11 years since Ghost got canned, and only now does Nova get to be the star of her own release.
That release is Starcraft II: Nova Covert Ops, a stand-alone DLC mission pack that you can play regardless of what Starcraft II games and expansions you own. It features a total of nine missions split evenly across three packs, the first of which is out now.
Nova Covert Ops is pure Starcraft II. As in the main game, missions vary between the type where you build up your base to mass an army and defeat the enemy, and the ones where you control a single hero unit, maybe alongside a few basic units as well.
The base missions typically feature some sort of gimmick - like having to defend against waves of attacking Zerg, only the Zerg are moving through narrow canyons, letting you use the high ground to your advantage. It's a recipe you'll know well if you've already played other Starcraft II releases, and it's easy to understand why the designers have stuck with it. Because as obvious as these gimmicks are, they ensure variety in a game type that could otherwise get very samey.
So far though, the best missions are the ones where you control Nova alone. As mentioned she's a character with roots in a Splinter Cell-like game that never happened, and those roots become immediately apparent. Starcraft may be labelled a real-time strategy game, but Covert Ops has proper stealth missions where you're sneaking around undetected, keeping an eye out for units that'll see through your cloaking, and avoiding their fields of vision.
There's also a couple of neat moments where the devs get to show off the Starcraft II engine's flexibility. For instance, there's an escape sequence that could easily have been done as a cutscene, but instead the devs have opted to turn it into a shoot 'em up-like sequence. Again, variation seems to be key to the designers.
Like in previous SC2 games, you have the option of modifying your units between missions. Both Heart of the Swarm and Legacy of the Void came up with their own twists on this idea compared to the base game Wings of Liberty, and Nova Covert Ops does the same. By going for secondary objectives and exploring the map, you'll come across equipment that can change the abilities of different units. One of them lets you put rocket boosters on siege tanks, making them able to scale cliffsides, which is massively useful. You can switch around this equipment between different unit types when not on a mission, and while not every piece of gear fits with every unit, there are still plenty of options.
The first chapter of Nova Covert Ops only boasts three missions, making it a rather brief experience that you can finish in about an hour and a half to two hours. But given you can buy all three packs for a total of 12 quid, we're fine with that.
Nova Covert Ops maintains the level of entertainment value set out by the three Starcraft II games, and closely resembles their production values even though it's "only" a DLC pack. If you enjoyed the single-player campaigns of Starcraft II, this is a must-have.