Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Paraworld Impressions

Like I said last week--I'm not an RTS wonk. I can't discuss the merits and minutiae of the RTS genre like I can for sports games. I can't discuss the RTS canon, can't really trace the lineage of the genre.

I just know what I like.

As I mentioned yesterday, I've gone through seven missions of the single-player campaign, which is less than half of the sixteen missions in total.

In mission six, I used a cronosaurus (piloted by a tribesman), floating harbors (powered by giant sea turtles), a brachiosaur with a platform attached to its back (holding four archers), a brachiosaur with a catapult on its back, an allosaur, a stegosaurus, shamans that could resurrect dead units, druids, heroes, warriors, archers, spearmen, and I can't even remember what else.

I really, really like brachiosaurs.

Oh, and I used a poisoner. That's a dude who carries a giant vat of green poison on his back, and when he attacks, he dies as well.

There's pre-history. There's steampunk. There's damn near just about everything, which is one of the reasons I love this game: it's wacky and beautiful and unbelievably vibrant.

Now if you don't like brachiosaurs swaying as they walk, with a platform of archers riding on their backs, or if you don't like giant mechanical spiders, then maybe this game isn't for you.

Of course, I don't really know anyone who doesn't like those things, and Iif found someone who didn't, I'd think they were very, very strange.

There are dinosaurs all over the freaking place. Some you can use as units, but most are just around. They have nests, they have distinctive behaviors, and they are all freaking fantastic. Mesmerizing, at least to me.

Dinosaurs alone would be very cool, but the game world is just incredibly beautiful, with a stunning, vivid use of color. It's the most beautiful RTS I've ever seen, and I can't even think of anything that would be a close second.

So on a graphical level, Paraworld sets a new standard. What's most remarkable, though, is that the interface does so as well. The "Army Controller" is a grid on the left side of the screen that gives you instant access to any of your units.

What makes the AC so good is that to issue commands, you don't need to know where your units are--you just need to know where you want them to be.

As an example, if I see a settler with "zzz" on their portrait, I know they're not doing anything. I don't need to find that settler in the game world--I just click on his picture in the AC, then designate where I want him to go (and what I want him to do). That sounds like a simple convenience, but it is so helpful and so intuitive.

If their portrait is flashing, they're being attacked, and the thin health bars under their portrait let me know how much health they have left. If they die, their portrait disappears. Again, simple but powerful.

The Army Controller is unobtrusive, it's streamlined, and it's very powerful. I'm going to have a very difficult time playing an RTS with a conventional interface in the future.

Oh, and the music is spectacular. Seeing storms roll in across the sea is amazing. The lighting effects are stunning.

This is the only RTS I've ever played that I would put in the "tourist game" category. I call a game a tourist game when there is so much to see that I just want to wander around and experience everything. That's why the game is taking so long for me to play--I want to see absolutely every unit I can create, and see every inch of the map on every mission. I want to loiter.

What other PC games in the last two years made me feel that way?
--Space Rangers 2
--Dwarf Fortress

It's a short list.

Eli 5.2 is also mesmerized by this game. When he walked into my study the first time he saw me playing it, he looked at the screen and shouted "THAT'S A BRACHIOSAUR!"

Which was exactly my reaction the first time I saw one.

Wonderful, fun game.

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