posted 1/31/2007 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PC
Even as Bela, Stina, and Anthony are called upon to free a holy city from the shackles of brigands, the emancipation amounts to little more than fighting off roving bands of pirates … when it could be as grandiose as defending the Kingdom of Heaven with a stubbly Orlando Bloom at your side shouting orders to his burning crusaders. That's a real bummer of an "instead" statement. And several of the mission objectives paint themselves out in similar, unmotivated strokes.
But the chapter interludes are voiced-over with fantastically-written, character-building narratives, making up in nuance what the game lacks in flamboyance. The cutscenes thrill in a pitch-perfect campiness as well, despite their unflattering low-res presentation. While some reviewers are downright baffling in their critique of this campy style, the pulpy, fictitious blend of corny one-liners and 'what if' science make for some of Paraworld's most entertaining moments. More than one of our heroes questions whether they're not really in some white-padded room somewhere, imagining the entire journey. Another tackles the topic of manifest destiny when they're informed that they're fulfilling part of a long-awaited scripture: "What am I to think of this prophesy? It's probably the same as with a horoscope: If you believe it, it's all true." A villainous character feels betrayed when a long-time ally aids our heroes in a late-night escape, saying, "Now I know how Lord Mountbatten must have felt when he lost India."
Don't be ashamed if you didn't recognize that reference to the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Viceroy of India from March to August of 1947 (I have Wikipedia to thank for cluing me in on that one, too). But it's this controlled blend of existentialism, scientific theory, and historical trivia that layers some topography onto an otherwise two-dimensional plot.
Were Paraworld a strictly-speaking adventure game, those kinds of quips would be a solid foundation to build upon. But the meat-and-potatoes part of an RTS comes down to, of course, strategy and the artificial intelligence in place to make strategizing a worthwhile pursuit. When the enemy AI forms a tunnel-vision plan of attack on workers and healers, you have to shrug at the complete disregard for the Geneva Convention. But this is an RTS, and units that are capable of sustaining other units (and buildings, in the case of workers) have to die first. Fine. But the AI has a very poor sense of self-preservation, all things considered, and consigns itself to all manner of silly acts: Individual units barrel into a barrage of arrows, swords, and dinosaurs so thick that the only word coming out of their mouth should be a slurring, Pat Morita-induced "Banzai!" Some enemy rushers run up to a wall or a gate and suddenly forget how to attack in any concerted fashion -- as your defensive towers chew the confused soldiers to pieces and spit them out onto the jungle floor. If they give up laying siege to a gate, they sometimes shift to Plan B and run on treadmills against impassable cliffs. Units within visible fog-of-war boundaries are frequently oblivious to your position and obvious intentions. Poorly-scripted events or enemy-placed waypoints might send the bad guys strolling past your own attacking army, paying no attention to you whatsoever.
This suicidal behavior is unbecoming in any fashion, but slightly more upsetting is the lack of a self-destruct button for your own units. With Paraworld's innovatively-crafted Army Controller, a panel on the left-hand side displays all of your units (up to 52, housing and epoch advancements willing, a la Age of Empires). This Army Controller makes locating particular units a breeze, and promotions a snap as characters quickly add a star to their rank, benefit from instantaneous healing, gain overall hit points, deal out increased damage, and move a healthy step up in the pyramid layout. Only one unit can hold the top-tier fifth-rank position, while successively more and more units fill up the fourth, third, second, and first ranks, respectively. Powerfully-constructed units, like the Titans, introduce themselves higher up in the pyramid; and no unit is able to suffer a demotion. Your heroes -- the cast extends beyond your core scientists as the storyline allows -- gain special, tide-turning abilities with their moves up in rank.
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