The most obvious difference between ParaWorld and the rest of the stagnating real-time strategy genre is its bizarre setting: a world where dinosaurs remain. Its ham-fisted, borderline satirical storyline is a bit embarrassing, as is some of the accompanying voice-over work, but such complaints are small potatoes compared to everything this game gets wonderfully right.
Everything about ParaWorld just screams low-brow fun, from the colorful dinosaurs and huge indigenous animals your troops can ride around on, to dynamic death animations that elicit everything from groans to outright laughter. But it would be a big mistake not to take its tactical offerings seriously. This lost world's interface absolutely nails all the basics, from waypoints and unit queues to the WarCraft 3 -style artifacts your heroes can seek out and carry.
Seldom have the controls of an RTS been honed so perfectly; in fact, ParaWorld proves that innovation can come from the most unexpected places by featuring the Army Controller, an elegant method for keeping track of your soldiers that's so intuitive it's hard to fathom why it's taken this long to appear. Every wild unit you command is sorted into ranked groups that you can monitor and rearrange with no fuss whatsoever. No more hanging out over the barracks waiting for a new unit to finish training - just keep an eye on the Army Controller and select the unit from anywhere on the board when it's ready.
This simple invention single-handedly does more to enhance the enjoyment of empire-building than anything else in years. Add to that the variation inherent to each of the three tribes, and a quest system that rewards you with points for between-mission army upgrades by finding treasures, protecting wildlife or brutalizing deserving barbarians, and you'll have a hard time putting the game down.
If you're sick to the back teeth of having just one or two resources to worry about, you'll love the depth here. There are fully four resource types: wood chopped from trees; stone chipped from quarries; food trimmed culled from the environment; and skulls yanked off enemy spines. This last is most valuable for promoting your heroes and troops, buffing them up with new abilities, and opening up entire new units. You can only have so many goons at a given rank as well, which adds a dimension of planning beyond the simple unit limit.
If ParaWorld stumbles at all, it's because despite creative units like sneaky ninjas and wooly mammoths, it doesn't go quite far enough to show off its unique personality, and its multiplayer maps are content to offer balance through symmetry rather than varying strengths and weaknesses. These limits never get in the way of having a blast, though. ParaWorld may not garner the attention it deserves without an unlikely juggernaut branding exercise, but those that do find it are in for a long-term stone-age love affair.