Genre : RTS
Release Date: Q1 2006
I was sold on ParaWorld almost from the word "go." A real-time strategy game from the German developer Sunflowers, it features, among other things, the ability to field an army of heavily-armored dinosaurs, several of which have siege engines or companies of archers strapped to their backs.
ParaWorld was about half-finished and unnamed at last year's E3. Now, it's about six months from completion, as the team tweaks the balance and completes its character animation. It's really more of an issue of their having a perfectionist streak than anything else, as to the casual observer, ParaWorld looks complete. It's got a pulp-scifi setting all its own, it's got a few quirks and features that set it apart from the RTS pack, and it's got great bloody dinosaurs that stomp people. It deeply appeals to my inner twelve-year-old.
The titular "ParaWorld" is a parallel dimension to our own, discovered by the scientist Charles Babbage in 1846 and accessible during a certain astronomical convergence. In the ParaWorld, the Earth is still in a roughly prehistoric state. Its human population is divided into tribes, who live and fight with the help of tame dinosaurs. So far there are three races revealed, each with their own strengths, strategies and weaknesses, but as we come closer to launch date, more will be unveiled. The first race we saw was based on the Nordic culture, close allied with the Vikings, and has the ability to construct big bases, focused on defense. The second race was obviously inspired by a more Asian culture and had a more "explosive" focus, while the third population were more Nomands, with mobile bases and the ability to move around quickly.
In ParaWorld's singleplayer campaign, three scientists from "our" world--an American, a Dane, and a Hungarian--discover a way to cross over to the ParaWorld. They soon discover a conspiracy that threatens the alternate planet, and being heroic sorts, are unwilling to let it continue. Over the course of more than fifteen combat-focused missions, each of which are divided into five or six sublevels, you'll organize the barbarian tribes into an organized, effective combat force. Some of the mission objectives are straightforward, such as organizing a nighttime assault on an enemy base — others are a bit more “out there,” such as having to fix a plane which belonged to Amelia Earhart (yes, that one) in order to escape the current battlefield. ParaWorld is spread out over various climatic zones, Northland, Jungle, Savannah, Ice Waste and Lava, each with a totally unique setting, environment and atmosphere, and as in most RTS titles there are also resources to be gathered, food, stone and wood, but this is not the focus of the game.
Individual combat units in ParaWorld are a bit more personalized than the disposable troops you find in most RTS games. Your characters will earn scars as they fight, kill enemy units, and survive battles, and you can trade in these scars to level up and learn special attacks. This applies to all your soldiers, from your heroes on down; you can create and improve units like archers, Amazons, spearmen, raptor handlers, mammoths, allosaurs, sailboats, and brachiosauruses.
In singleplayer mode, you can use up to seven heroes, who're powerful units on their own and who have special talents that're unique to them. The American, for instance, can attack with a shotgun, and the Hungarian can use his bow to snipe distant units, killing them instantly. There are a few other heroes who can only be used in multiplayer mode, for a total of nine.
Upgrading is done quite easily, simply move the units up in the on-screen Epoch interface, although there is a drawback as there are only a limited amount of unit slots available, and you can not downgrade, unless said units expires, so plan ahead and upgrade the units required for that particular mission or battle. Each tribe also has access to a special, powerful unit: a "giant." One tribe's giant is a triceratops girded with heavy metal armor, which plows through enemy fortifications like they aren't there; another's is an angry tyrannosaurus rex with a team of soldiers clinging to its back.
Each unit is heavily animated. As I mentioned above, ParaWorld's not quite finished yet, but the onscreen action is as detailed as anything you'd find in many complete RTS games. Each unit will also have a special, gory finishing move, such as bloody decapitations, quick impalements, or an allosaurus tossing a dying human opponent up and catching him in its mouth.
Units also have rudimentary AI assigned to each of them; for example, some dinosaurs are actually mothers who must protect their nests, and will do so with ferocity when attacked. Other dinosaurs are simply wild creatures which roam the forests, covered by the fog of war. If the player doesn’t take care to watch lone units or hapless travelers, the dinosaurs will gang up on them. Paraworld will also have a day/night cycle, which impacts the behaviour of the dinousaurs; for example, the T-Rex sleeps during certain parts of the day making it safe to travel through otherwise impenetrable parts of the map. However, not all animals in the game are dangerous as they basically split in two categories, herbivores and carnivores, the former mainly eats plants and will not attack unless provoked, while the latter, a meat eater, will charge if you come too close. Too balance this out, there will be units that have the special ability to control certain animals.
In multiplayer mode, you can play games like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, or King of the Hill. There's a fourth game, Defensive, where one player must build and reinforce his stronghold to keep out the others. ParaWorld will also ship with a built-in level editor, so that should open up some possibilities once the community gets involved, extending the life cycle of the game.
This isn’t a particularly revolutionary game, but it does a few new things, and it does them in such a cool way that it’s hard not to sit up and take notice. (It has dinosaurs with ballistas strapped to ‘em! Ballistas!) Some people are going to try to write this off as just another RTS – call it StoneCraft -- but they will be mistaken and also possibly foolish. ParaWorld has a lot of style and craft going into it, and it looks like a great PC title for 2006.
Thomas Wilde also contributed to this preview.
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