Paraworld

Review

posted 1/31/2007 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PC
Between present-day nostalgia and the school playgrounds of yesteryear rests every boy's fascination with all things dinosaur. At least one bookshelf from my second to fifth grade years grew a stalwart collection of dinosaur books. Coloring books, pop-up books, and especially those thin, oversized, and gorgeously-illustrated children's encyclopedias packed with fossil hunters' findings of allosaurus teeth, stegosaurus plates, and brontosaurus vertebrae. The Tyrannosaurus is the once and future king of the Jurassic jungle, of course, but I always harbored a liking for the versatile triceratops. I loved the parry-thrust capabilities of its oversized neck-armor and bleak horn formation. And I loved the barely-any-missing-link between it and a modern day rhinoceros (the word "rhinoceros" even sounds like it could live comfortably among its ancient herbivorous brethren). I owned herds of dinosaur toys, those foot-tall ones made of polyurethane so sharp they could impale a horse; I collected all five Transformer Dinobots; and even the Flintstones ruled my after-school television time.
 
Paraworld is more of an RTS version of the 1974 Land of the Lost TV series (sorry, didn't catch the early 90's remake).  Paraworld is a timeless, parallel dimension utilizing the childhood-fantasy hook of tossing humans and dinosaurs into the same temporal procession and seeing what happens. In expected exchanges across the map, carnivorous dinosaurs stalk the landscape, feeding on leaf-eaters and other smaller cold-blooded creatures, while those same herbivores rummage through the lush flora, grinding down on the shrubbery throughout their nesting grounds. Don't worry, warm-blooded lovers, the Norsemen tribe allows the woolly mammoth its fair share of screen time. 
 
Anchoring the plotline is a collective of three heroes; scientists from our Earth that are vindictively dropped into this Jurassic-Park-turned-global-reality. There's Bela Andras Benedek, the archery-champion, theoretical physicist from Hungary. Stina Holmlund, the whip-wielding, animal health specialist, buxom blonde from Sweden (rowr!). And Anthony Cole, the loud-mouthed American geologist packing enough boomstick and one-liners to earn a Bruce Campbell award. (Rap fans will be ecstatic when they hear Anthony yell out "Big Pac!" as he lets off his special shotgun blast attack.)
 
In the interest of getting home to the 'real' Earth, Bela, Stina, and Anthony negotiate the various climates and dino ranges with the copious aid of local tribes. The hammer- and axe-wielding Norsemen form a safe introduction into Paraworld, with units donning heavy armor and dishing heavy damage. They certainly fill in the straightforward fighting category with their warriors performing within recognizable hard-hitting parameters, and their tamers handling thick, rugged beasts like giant boars, the aforementioned mammoths, and even a viciously-armored triceratops, the Norsemen tribe's top-of-the-line Titan unit. In a game full of punishment-soaking units, these barbarians raise many of the toughest to bring down.
 
Particular tribes of Norsemen are helpful in your initial search for a dimensional portal -- they at least point you in the right direction -- but loyalties shift as dramatically as Paraworld's soaring, orchestral soundtrack. The music sprinkles on some Middle Eastern spice as our heroes move into the Dustriders' jurisdiction:  All scarf-clad Bedouin broadsword swingers with nomadic societal mores and wicked-horned architectural aesthetic. From their tent-sprawled bases to their Tyrannosaurus Rex Titan, the Dustriders epitomize the feel and flair of a ferocious and mobile warrior caste. You spend more than your fair share of time within the Dustrider tribe, but it becomes worth it when you roll out itinerant command centers, catapult-packing brontosauruses and, of course, that incredible T-Rex Titan, the hands-down Oscar winner for Most Intimidating Performance on a multiplayer skirmish map.
 
But even with the T-Rex, Paraworld's crown jewel, the intimidation is only relatively speaking. While dressed to the nines in bandages, borrowed tusks, and exoskeletal fittings, the T-Rex (along with the other tribes' biggest and baddest Titans) doesn't feel like it's allowed to fully unleash its Inner Beast. Sure, size matters, and its bite is nothing to shrug at, but its bark is borderline domestic. And in a game being viewed from 100 feet in the air, injecting that visceral, gut-wrenching, we're all gonna die feeling into combat is an inarguable must if the battles are to reach any fevered pitch. Instead, the 52-unit maximum (including heroes and workers) keeps the scale comfortably manageable: A plus for minimalist strategy hounds, but a minus for that conspicuously missing Big Huge Epic Dinosaur Battle feeling one would hope to walk away with from this 'thunder lizard' title.
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