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Parkan: Iron Strategy Underdogs Hot

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Written by Underdogs     March 21, 2009    
 
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Full CD-ROM version
Parkan: Iron Strategy is an ambitious blend of first-person shooter, real-time strategy, and combat simulation from Nikita, a prolific Russian developer. Although it falls far short of the likes of Battlezone and Hostile Waters in many areas and is just not as much fun to play as those games, Parkan is still worth a look to all strategy fans for a plethora of new ideas. The Russian version was released in 2001, followed by the English version in 2002 which was published by Monte Cristo only in a handful of European countries. The planned 2002 USA release never materialized, probably due to lack of interest by American publishers.

So, why should you look at this game even though I don't consider it a Top Dog? A pretty thorough review at Hardcoreware.net explains: "...[There] are supposedly 5 campaigns in the game, beyond the tutorial. But the fact is, you can only enter a campaign once the previous one has been completed, so it's more like one single multi-system campaign. It's a good one, though, and pretty interesting. Briefings are done 100% through game-engine cutscenes, and your first briefing officer sounds like a nice sarcastic gung-ho style officer, which is pretty entertaining. Also, before you enter the action, your objectives are summarized on a list on the screen.

There is a lot of complexity to this game, and several "modes" that it's played in. The most basic mode is just you, the Captain, walking around. And you're pretty heavily armed for a perspective general; what with a rechargeable laser, a 20mm autocannon, a 4-pack missile launcher, and a guided electromagnetic projectile launcher. Of course, just running around in a huge battle as the Captain wouldn't be smart (if you die, the mission is over) but it's nice to know that you can defend yourself. And besides, you have to be able to be mobile, because without some sort of command and control (Headquarters) unit, that means you have to run around and do things manually. This means that you have to go into your factory and manually punch-in your warbot production orders, and it also means you have to lead from the front, ordering your bots around with a series of generic commands reminiscent of Wing Commander wingman commands. Luckily, you can climb into any large-sized bot and give the same commands from inside there. But the commands can't be applied to a specific bot easily...they apply to all of them that are within your radar's range, unless you add a few extra key presses. Then warbots can receive commands individually. When you hop into a large Warbot (or remotely-control any Warbot) the visual interface will be the same as you're used to in the Captain. As a matter of fact, all of the Warbots have the exact same heads-up gauges and controls. The only difference might be separate controls for the turret as opposed to movement, and also altitude controls in an airborne bot. By default, the turret can be controlled with the mouse, while movement can be controlled with the keyboard (the turret can also be locked into a "forward-only" attitude, so that the mouse will also control turning the vehicle left and right).

If you're playing as the Captain, or driving a smaller warbot by remote, you can enter buildings and capture them. This is nice, since not many other games allow you to do this. But there's a catch. After all, if you can physically enter a building, so can the enemy; that means there might be some nice bad-guy bots inside waiting to ambush you. There are also windows in some of the buildings, and they're big enough to shoot through. Not only that, but the bots behind those windows will be protected by the building's shield system as well. Some of them are big enough to hide 30 or 40 warbots inside...and you won't see them on radar either. And THAT can really ruin an undermanned assault force's day.

Are you seeing how deep this game can get strategically? And we haven't even gotten to the strategic control portion yet. The bad news is that you can only move units to positions inside buildings under manual control, so it can be a pain to set up. But this is the kind of flexibility this style of gameplay brings.

Now, the strategic mode may take a little getting used to. There are two ways of controlling this game in strategic mode: from a Headquarters unit, or from one of your Command Bunkers. There's no overhead map for these; you're viewpoint is first-person, exactly as if you were piloting a warbot. You can select units and give them orders through your field of vision. In a bunker, you can rotate and zoom the camera to a certain degree, while when in an HQ bot, you're limited to what it sees out of the front of the turret. I suppose an airborne bot with an HQ turret could generate an overhead view from high altitude, but to scroll the map you would have to move the bot. You can also give your commands through a satellite overhead map that can be popped up in your field of view. This map can actually be popped up in any play mode, while driving any vehicle. However, it will take up screen real-estate otherwise used for your view of the world, so you'll either want to only leave it up temporarily, or adjust the transparency of the map so you can see well enough through it. When in an HQ bot or bunker, the weapons of your HQ can be fired manually, or left on automatic. In this mode, you can also choose to take over the gun towers you may have built in the base, instead of leaving them to possibly ignore the target you want them to pay attention to. A big "ouch" here is the inability to assign a unit or group of units to a hotkey...the ability just isn't there, and if it is, it's not mentioned anywhere. This HAS to be the first time I've seen anything resembling a real-time strategy game without this feature, and I miss it terribly here. Being able to select your favorite squad leader and jump into controlling it very quickly seems even more necessary in this sort of game than in any other sort of RTS.

In strategic mode you can remote control all of your production and research, rather than having to enter the building to punch in the orders locally. They're controlled through a fairly easy to understand menu system. Through this you can pick the research to be worked on, control warbot production, and also go into the warbot designer. Yes, you can actually DESIGN your OWN units. You can select from various chassis with various handling characteristics, add on different sized turrets, choose armor, types of weapons and their ammunition, and save the designs for production. All of the designs WILL have different handling characteristics as well as durability. Wheeled vehicles will go at a good clip, but are harder to turn, while walkers will turn on a dime...but don't have as high a top speed. Drive all of the vehicles and you'll see how differently they react, which is a nice level of detail from the developer. They actually FEEL like differently-designed vehicles, rather than one generic model.

Controlling your weapons in any mode is pretty easy...same with the radar. Between right-clicking and the Tab key, you can go through all of your targets quickly. But the radar really pulled me out of my euphoria concerning this game. The first time I piloted the Captain, I noticed I was seeing targets VISUALLY before the radar even picked them up! Since guided weapons require a target to be designated before firing, this turns your missiles and electro-gun into weapons of shorter range than your Autocannon, with which I DID manage to hit and destroy targets that were out of radar detection range. I'm sorry, but this is absolutely unacceptable; the whole idea behind radar and other such detection systems is to be able to see things BEFORE you can physically see them. When radar was first invented it could see BVR (beyond visual range); the whole idea of guided missiles is for some of them to be able to be used BVR as well. After seeing so much in this game done so well, this was really a disappointment to find the radar detection range so limited.

Now, I want to point out something here. Despite the short radar range, and the inability to assign units to hotkeys, this game is still fun to play. It's just much harder to manage things than it should be. One other small annoyance is the lack of any lead compensation reticule (read: aimer-helper thingy) for unguided weapons. Even today's guns on airplanes work with a computer that calculates where your weapons will go depending on gravity and angle of movement, and plots that against the movement of the targeted hostile. What this ends up with is the pilot, instead of lining his gun sight up with the enemy, he instead lines it up with a computer-generated dot that shows the convergence of the projectile-path and the enemy's movement path at a particular time (meaning the projectiles are more likely to hit the currently selected target). Parkan doesn't have this. It might not help much for the lasers, but the autocannons and artillery guns could really use it...the same with the flame launchers. It's not so much that the things I've described are a necessity, but the fact of the matter is, BVR radar and missiles, and a lead-calculation system are in use TODAY...did they forget how to do these things in the future? It's just frustrating to know that, while this game is fun, it's much harder than it should be, due to technological omissions.

There are 5 maps to choose from in multiplayer mode, but it's only your typical RTS game options here that date back from 1995; there are no capture the flag options or teams of players assigned to one clan (though clans can be allies). This is a place where this game is seriously deficient simply because it also has the capability of truly shining. I would expect to see team based play within a single clan (multiple generals), or possibly several players as members of the same army (an overall general and his squad leaders, for instance). Different objectives, such as capturing particular units could have been added as well. There doesn't appear to be any way to add maps to the game, but I certainly hope to see more than five one day. After all, custom maps have been around a long time. With all of the depth that this game is capable of in single-player mode, the simplicity of the multiplayer options really feels like a comparative let-down.

This is a daring foray into new territory for both MonteCristo and Nikita. Parkan is an interesting blend of first-person shooter, real-time strategy, and combat vehicle simulator, and paves the way for a new video game genre, which is a wonderful thing to see. For the most part, it succeeds in this effort, as well, but there are small things here and there that do show that this is an experimental genre. The small stuff may be fixed or improved with patches, but what really got to me was the lack of multiplayer depth, and no way to add more maps into the game. After all the work done in the game itself, it doesn't look like multiplayer was a priority for them. It's really a shame too, considering everything that could be conceived of with this particular game. But still, this is a pretty good game that's interesting and a lot of fun. Anyone interested in combat vehicle sims or RTS games will definitely want to check this game out, if you can handle the limited multiplayer capabilities.

While not for everyone, Parkan: Iron Strategy definitely brings a fresh exciting genre to the table for combat simulator and real time strategy gamers. First person shooter fans may enjoy it as well, but be prepared to take time learning the intricacies of the game first. Also be prepared for the flaws in the game; though they aren't always critical, and might not matter to some people, they DO exist. And be prepared for it to not last forever after you finish the campaign." It's not a revolutionary game by any means, but Parkan is definitely a fresh breeze in a crowded genre. Not a Top Dog in my book, but still worth your time to investigate for a neat sci-fi plot and innovative ideas.

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