Software review: Saddle up your brontosaurus and fight

Tyrannosaurus Rex meets World War II. That's an appropriate description of this real-time strategy game based on dinosaurs but put in a more modern setting.

dino disk 88 (photo credit: )
dino disk 88
(photo credit: )
ParaWorld, a DVD-ROM in English by Sunflowers and SEK, distributed with a 36-page Hebrew-language user's manual to Atari-Israel, requires Windows XP or better and a 1.6 Ghz Pentium 4 PC or better, for ages 12 and up, NIS 220. Rating: *** 1/2 Tyrannosaurus Rex meets World War II. That's an appropriate description of this real-time strategy game based on dinosaurs but put in a more modern setting. As strategy games in recent years have become quite similar, the developers of this one looked for a gimmick that would make you sit up and take notice. Doesn't every kid like dinosaurs? As we all know that there were no humans around when these giant, dumb creatures ruled the Earth, the writers decided the storyline would take place in a parallel world (hence the title) in which dinosaurs exist alongside three human tribes: the Viking-like Norsemen, who are equipped with mammoths and rhinoceroses that fight the enemy; the Asian-flavored Dragon Clan, which is superior in the handling of explosives, guns and traps; and the Dust Riders, who are modeled after nomads who live in the desert. A trio of scientists - Anthony, Stina and Bela - who discover the existence of the parallel world in the 19th century come to a rich mathematician named Jarvis Babbit for support. But they are unaware of the fact that the mathematician and his secret society, named SEAS (Society of Exact Alternative Science), have already discovered this world. In a rather ridiculous twist, Babbit tricks them by sending them to this strange paraworld, and they have to find their way back while battling the three tribes, each of whom displays different fighting styles. But as it is strategy and resource-building software rather than just an action game, you have to build an army and military bases before you can fight. While you have to grow and raise food to feed your army and collect rocks and wood to build their accommodations, there is another unusual resource that you must collect: skulls. These parts of human and animal skeletons are collected during combat, and the mightier the opponent you defeat, the more skulls you get. You then use them to upgrade and advance your military units through more than a dozen missions that take about 30 hours to complete. One helpful and user-friendly tool provided by the developers is called the Army Controller, which appears on the left-hand side of the screen for managing your forces. A commander's image and the health of your units are presented, enabling you to double-click on a portrait to find out exactly what each unit is doing. Some players will resent having only 52 different units at their disposal when other games offer tens of thousands, but some will appreciate the relatively small number as being more manageable. You can also devise strategies to boost them through five tiers, each with a restricted number of places (the higher you go on the triangle, the fewer spots there are for units). As your technology advances, you research new epochs and earn the right to unlock higher tiers and promote your forces, who fight with modern technology absent in both prehistoric times and the 19th century. Videoclips that open the game and accompany the missions are beautifully done, the background music is stirring, the ambient sound is authentic, and the graphics are very good. You get a close look at about 50 different species of dinosaurs. The voice actors, however, range in talent from bad to awful and should have been replaced. Fortunately, there is no blood or gore, which explains the 12-year-old recommended lower limit for players, but the female participants' costumes can hardly be described as modest, and their bodies are like those of Barbie dolls. I examined only the single-player mode, but there is also a multi-player for vying with others over the Internet. There are a few bugs, and I had to install the program several times before it would work. SEK released a corrective patch via the Internet, but it doesn't solve all the problems. ParaWorld fails to innovate, but if you are an incorrigible dinosaur fan, you will probably be willing to overlook its faults.