65 Million years in the making
With the plethora of WWII or modern warfare RTS games hitting the PC, it was about time that we got something a little bit different and Paraworld from SEK is about as different as it gets.
The story revolves around 3 scientists and their involvement in a particular event that changes their lives. They end up in another world, one that's similar to our own but has real, living and breathing prehistoric creatures on the surface. They are soon drawn into a much bigger conspiracy that threatens both worlds.
It sounds the classic clichéd stuff, but the Paraworld story brings together elements of the Lost World with Jules Verne style steampunk. It does it rather well and tells a decent tale along the way.
Paraworld stands out amongst the slew of other RTS titles because it doesn't try to do anything too spectacular. It doesn't over complicate things with a clunky interface or a vastly different build style for the 3 major factions. Each mission of the singleplayer campaign tells a little bit more of the story and introduces you to a new feature or a shift in the technology.
Before the map loads you're given the chance to customise your units with points earned from previous battles, this allows you to start with a sizeable force of workers if you're into rapid expansion, or a smaller force of more powerful units if you prefer to attempt to turtle.
The game will be familiar to anyone that's played a RTS since the days of Command and Conquer or Warcraft. Build up a base, do a bunch of upgrades and defend it against persistent AI attack. It is a tried and tested formula and works very well.
You have several resources you need to collect: food, wood and stone, to enable you to build up your base and defences as well as amass a powerful army. There is a pretty stringent unit cap and you will rapidly find yourself throwing weaker units into a war of attrition with the enemy AI.
There are also skulls from battles, but we'll come to that later on.
There are 3 factions on offer:
The Dust Riders: Nomadic wanderers that can quickly transfer their base of operations from one place to another. They use mobile resource collectors and can tear down their buildings, recouping any resources used in the construction.
The Dragon Clan: Oriental style pirates, they have access to gunpowder and are probably the strongest of the 3 factions. They require pretty solid tactics to beat.
You have a town centre, except for the Dust Riders as they use the mobile resource collectors as ways to increase their storage and as mobile headquarters. The town centre is used to build workers, your primary staple unit for resource collection and building.
The town centre/HQ is also used for ushering in new Epochs. These are technological advancement stages where you gain new units, new buildings and new upgrades. They cost a set number of resources. The usual resources of food, wood and stone are required for all but the Dust Rider tribe; these warlike nomads also require skulls to enter a new Epoch.
There are 5 Epochs and the most powerful units can be constructed at the higher levels. These levels are also applied to the units you can control, the skulls you gain from battle can be used to promote any unit - of course it is wise to promote your heroes, of which you begin with the 3 main story characters.
Each hero gains special abilities and new unit types as they rise in power, but there is a caveat. Each level only allows a specific amount of slots for units in that bracket, with level 5 having just the one empty slot. You'll have to choose how you want to play the level up game with your heroes and pick the set of abilities that appeal to you.
Promoting a unit also fully heals it, so it's wise to promote one of your heroes if they're in trouble. The normal units gain better combat abilities when promoted but not much else.
So at the core of the gameplay you have a bunch of maps that require various sub-quests and quests to be completed. These can range from finding certain places on the map to clearing out advanced bases/outposts of the various enemies, each will reward you with a number of points that you can use later on in the game to help you enter a new map with better units.
You build up a base, explore and gather resources, enter new Epochs and flip between a mix of offensive and defensive tactics to win. Some of the maps give you just your 3 heroes to control while others are based around armies and conquering settlements.
The 3 factions all have different units and there is a tutorial that teaches you the basics of the game, so in no time at all you'll be expanding and conquering with the best of them. There are also small artefacts that give bonuses to the army, they have to be carried by a single unit and will be dropped if that unit dies.
There's a lot of variety in the 3 factions and their units with the Dust Riders being one of the most flexible faction. They take a little bit of getting used to, but once you've got the hang of them they're actually a nifty faction to play. Being able to tear down your base and quickly move to a new place makes them a tricky faction to stop in the hands of an experienced player, or hard AI.
Ordering and selecting units follow the typical RTS conventions, with the addition of a new feature to the GUI.
The GUI is a primary concern for RTS games. If you have a cruddy GUI then control suffers and you need as much as you can get. Paraworld features the typical GUI features and has a great deal of finite control over your units thanks to a nifty little device known as:
A panel slides out from the left hand side of the screen and gives you an overlay with all your units. This feature allows you to quickly see who is in battle, what they are doing and so on. Tiny icons such as a builder's saw or a lump of stone give a visual indication as to the job being performed by a worker, any worker with a Zzz by their name is obviously idle and needs to be given a job.
You can directly select units from the AC and make control groups by band selecting the icons, or clicking them with CTRL held down. There are a number of key modifiers to the AC that perform different interactions. A simple right click with ALT held down whilst a unit or group is selected will send that unit to the location of the others.
This is a great way to give orders to a support group to find a beleaguered unit or send a group to a transporter vehicle.
Paraworld has a professional and slick GUI that makes the game a joy to play.
In a game as ambitious as Paraworld there needs to be a good variety of units, but there also need to be unique units. Now the game actually provides this by giving you the chance to build and armour up dinosaurs, these prehistoric nightmares come in several shapes and sizes all the way up to the fully armoured and battle ready T-rex. There's a good mix of unit types with a dinos.
Human units also play a part and they provide an effective scout force as well as a first strike capability - each type of unit definitely needs a certain tactic to get the best out of.
There are also neutral animal units on the maps, which come from nests, as well as aggressive animals and dinosaurs. These can be left alone or wiped out if you can take down the nest, sometimes it is however best to leave the nest and use it to gain skulls for promotions and new Epochs (in the case of the Dust Riders).
Paraworld has a nice solid graphics engine with colourful environments that live and breathe, the textures are gorgeous and there's a soft bloom over everything that doesn't wash out the palette or blur any of the detail. Each of the game's maps has been lovingly crafted to take advantage of this style.
It has some nice water effects and the eyecandy from explosions and damaged buildings is pretty breathtaking when you make an effective assault. There are the usual shaders and dynamic light effects, especially through the day/night cycle where the various buildings are lit and the land is awash with dark shadows and shapes.
Without going into a lot of technical details, Paraworld is a gorgeous looking game.
The models for Paraworld are great, the dinos have been realised and well made. The human units are also of an excellent design with a lot of feature detail in terms of different styles and so on for the differing factions. The same can be said for the 3 faction's buildings, they all have a definite feel to them and my favourite design so far has to be the nomadic Dust Rider tribe, with their tents and wagons.
As for the animations, it's here that there could have been some more unit interactions, especially with dino V. dino battles. Sadly though the animation in the battles is a little bit lacking, not to say it isn't fun or engaging, but when you look at Relic's: Dawn of War and their big unit animations, you realise what you're missing.
It doesn't spoil the game however but it is something that would have given it a more visceral feel. There are a few dino V. human interaction and finishing moves, but these are few and far between and are often lost in the chaos of battle.
The animations in the game however, on the whole, are all of good quality and especially fluid in the cinematic cut-scenes that drive the story.
The game can be played against easy, medium or hard settings and the AI varies its tactics on all 3. But even on easy it can be a punishing opponent if you don't get a good base defence set up early, it will constantly rush you looking for weaknesses in your defences until you or it are wiped out. It uses flanking moves and will take advantage of transporters across the water to surprise you. I was able to build several defensive walls around many of the beaches on a predominantly island based map, the AI kept on probing the walls unit it found places to slip in.
Overall I have no real complaints since it provides a good challenge and forces you to think tactically.
Bodies fly, walls crumble and buildings explode in a most satisfying way. The physics of Paraworld definitely play second fiddle to the game-world itself but they could have gone a little further with the large unit interactions. A good example of this would be the way such things are done in Rise of Nations: Rise of Legends which really does push the boundaries of large unit physics in RTS games.
The prehistoric world and creatures are brought to life along with the chaotic battles, by an excellent mix of sound effects. As one might expect there is a great variety of battle sounds as well as ambient spot effects and sounds that make up the superb audio package for the game.
With an excellent orchestral score, Paraworld brings to mind the lost world in a perfect audio marriage of beautifully sweeping tunes and dynamic battle music. There are no complaints in this department, apart from the fact I would have loved to have an Mp3 folder on the disc with the music in.
Jurrasic Park eat your heart out.
I like the voice work in this game. It's not going to win any Oscars but it's fun and its engaging, the voice actors are not flat compared to some other games I could mention and I will be reviewing soon. They are having fun with their performances and the script isn't as restrictive either, so they're given a good deal of freedom in their dialogue.
Talking of the script, it's not badly written and it certainly compliments the story.
As one might expect from a RTS, Paraworld can be played online, offline LAN or even with skirmish opponents (AI teams and so on) on the host machine. It has the usual mix of gameplay modes like deathmatch style and so on, amass resources and trash your opponent to win.
It has the Army Builder that allows you to pre-select your army before the map starts and various handicap options.
The modes on offer are:
Deathmatch: as mentioned previously, destroy your opponents to win.
Defender: One player defends and is given a bigger lump of resources and buildings/defensive structures. The other players try to work together to take the enemy down against a time limit.
Domination: Conquer certain areas on the map and defend them for a specific period of time.
Paraworld is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise smoky crowded room full of RTS games. It combines the lure of giant dinosaurs and a bizarre steampunk parallel world with standard RTS conventions, rather than trying to fix or remake the wheel. The game has an excellent story and certainly deserves props for the Army Controller feature.
It also has an undocumented and locked feature that I was able to discover, the Econ and Defensive assist AI (that was locked in the game) can be enabled and in MP games it will attempt to build up your base for you whilst you concentrate on other things such as sending out armies to destroy your opponents and so on.
It's a nice little feature/addition that would certainly be interesting to have as an option for the SP side of the game perhaps as an unlockable for beating Paraworld.
All in all, if you like dinosaurs and a good solid RTS, you can't go far wrong with delving into this game.