Inside the ParaWorld, man and beast battle endlessly for dominance and power in a dimension stuck between prehistoric time and the 19th century. Three nations -- the Norsemen, the Dustriders, and the Dragon Clan -- are competing for resources, land, and the right to exist in this sliver of time. The Norsemen are humans from the north that command a giant Triceratops with archers mounted on its back. The Dragon Clan is equipped with a Brontosaurus carrying Gatling guns and mortar mounted on top of it. Finally, the Dustriders are a brutal group of mercenaries with a T-Rex ally that can terrorize and eat enemy infantry.
Each clan is equipped with nine heroes and has the capacity for up to 52 units on the battlefield at one time. Each of the three types of unit -- human, machine, and animal -- has its own special finishing move. For example, cavalry comes in the form of two-legged carnivorous mounts, and Brontosaurus mounts can knock over tree lines. Other units include dinosaurs that launch eggs that hatch small raptors upon impact. Heroes can construct clan specific buildings, develop new abilities, and collect different items. There are over 50 types of animal found in ParaWorld, 40 of which are dinosaurs.
ParaWorld features 15 single- and multiplayer maps, and five climatic environments including Northland, Jungle, Savannah, Icewaste, and Ashvalley. For those who seek human competition, there are three multiplayer modes for up to eight players such as "Team Deathmatch," "Defender," and "Domination." The game also includes a unique "Army Controller" that allows you to select infantry from a checklist, eliminating scrolling time spent looking for a lost unit.
ParaWorld is set in a parallel world where dinosaurs weren't wiped out. In its alternate dimension, the beasts continued to exist and evolve alongside man. In all fairness, the game tries to do a little more than show off a plethora of dinosaur models (which incidentally are very smartly rendered). It also attempts to throw a spin on the traditional interface with something called the army controller. This is a panel that sits on the left hand side of the screen displaying every unit in your army. It allows you to examine your troops at a glance, complete with health bars, so battered units can be quickly identified and pulled out of battle. It's also useful for monitoring which resources your workers are gathering, and for managing promotions.
ParaWorld has a capped army size of 52, with five different ranks. Units are promoted using "skull" points which are earned from kills, and as they rise through the ranks they become more powerful (plus in the case of hero units, they acquire special abilities). A great deal of the strategy in the game revolves around promoting the right troops and achieving a good balance of infantry, ranged, siege and naval units within your 52 limit. The army controller's handy overview of your forces definitely helps this balancing act, but it's nothing revolutionary.
Working out your perfect army is a more interesting exercise due to the variety of units on the game's three sides. Do you plump for the towering brachiosaurus catapault, which can hit buildings really hard, or the more versatile ankylosaurus siege dino, which might not pack such a punch but can switch to flinging raptors at infantry? Or forget them and build a few stegosaurus transports to carry your squad of archers, letting the bowmen rain arrows down upon the enemy as they trot along. Each race plays quite differently: the norsemen are the vanilla warrior race, the dustriders are nomads with mobile bases while the dragon clan encompass an intoxicating mix of samurai, steam-punk technology and fiendish traps.
It's a shame then that the linear campaign hasn't been designed with more imaginative flair. Overall, the mission objectives tend towards that RTS formula which is as old as the dinosaurs themselves: harvest resources, build up your base, then destroy your opponent's base. A little variance is added via some sub-quests, and it's quite important to complete these, as each objective secured earns you points to spend on extra units between missions. However, these points are awarded in a seemingly haphazard manner, as missing even one small sub-quest can lead to your score being reduced to next to nothing.
And at times, the computer's AI seems on a par with its patchy maths. It tends to ignore defensive considerations, such as staying near arrow towers or behind base walls, and just chucks everything at you. Battles often turn into a boiling and bubbling mass of beasts, particularly as there are no army formations. Actually, that's not entirely true - basic formation orders can be given, but they seem to make naff all difference and in practice, troops always move in one big lump. The real skill in combat is micromanaging your unit's special powers, but sometimes these can be frustratingly difficult to target in the chaotic swirl of a melee.
There's certainly a good whack of content in ParaWorld, with sixteen chunky single-player missions and multiplayer trimmings including deathmatch, domination (capture the flag) and defender (one resource boosted player versus the rest).
ParaWorld isn't without its charms, particularly its diverse and enticing set of armies, but it's truly a dinosaur of an RTS, bog standard in terms of mission design and somewhat messy in the combat department. Strategy gamers expect more than this now, but even so, there are undeniable nuggets of fun to be had watching giant reptiles beat the crap out of each other.
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