Worms is a turn-based strategy game in which players alternately (against one another or one player vs. an AI opponent) launch a variety of comically-themed weapons at each other in a side-scrolling two-dimensional arena. Eliminating the enemy team by precise application of bazooka / hand grenade / exploding sheep before your own team expires is the only way to win; there are no certificates of participation on offer for those that come second.
That opening paragraph, while it might sound related to Worms WMD, is actually a description of the original Worms game which came out way back in 1995. A lot has changed since then – you won’t be playing this version of Worms on an Amiga, for example – so the fact that Team 17’s franchise is still so recognisable is an interesting lens through which to assess its latest entry.
According to the developers, Worms WMD – the 25th game in the series!! – harks back to Worms: Armageddon, the fifth release. Since that game came out in 1999, Team 17 have experimented with all sorts of different technology and game structures, few of which ever managed to capture the essence of the earlier titles – of which many consider Armageddon to be the zenith.
Aside from the obviously completely new graphics engine, the marquee new change is the addition of drivable vehicles. Pre-deployed on maps or dropping randomly from the sky mid-match, vehicles like tanks and helicopters can be driven around by worms and used to collect power-ups and the like. What they can’t do is squish other worms – for obvious reasons – and the weaponised vehicles are cleverly designed so as not to create a ridiculous advantage for the worm that finds one.
Tanks are pretty easy to manipulate but, even with their ability to jump, often get stuck places. Their multi-shot weapon is powerful but not crazily so, and it’s difficult to aim exactly the way you want it to; think of it like Resident Evil’s deliberately awful character movement. There, it creates the series’ famous tension. Here, it ensures it’s not going to be game over the moment someone finds a tank. Similarly the helicopter (which lets you explore the map very quickly) has its place, but you won’t own the map should you get to one first.
One thing the vehicles do manage to achieve rather handily is probably something Team 17 didn’t intend: they highlight the deficiencies in the game’s camera system. An entirely manual affair, the camera is controlled using triggers (to zoom in and out) and the right stick (to pan around). Moving your vehicle with the left stick, then, while also trying to keep things in view is rather like patting your head while rubbing your tummy: not impossible, but awkward and often hilarious to watch someone else attempt. A simple automatic camera mode that keeps your worm in the centre of the frame is a notable omission.
Another feature new to WMD is the ability to enter buildings. Previously, buildings were simply textural variety; it might look like they were a “thing” but in reality they were no different to any of the other objects in the game and would be destroyed by weapons exactly as though they were a mound of dirt or a giant double decker bus. Now worms can enter buildings and explore their interior, effectively safe from enemy fire which will impact on the outside / visible part of the building. A simple concept, buildings add an interesting tactical twist to proceedings; used well, they can make for a strong advantage.
One of the less impactful updates is the addition of fixed-in-place gun turrets. Available on some maps, the guns can be entered into (by pressing Y) and then used to fire their particular brand of projectile in an arc in front of them. Operating pretty much exactly as you’d expect, they offer little extra utility on top of the other weapons available. Their real purpose may yet to be discovered by cleverer-than-me multiplayer gamers, of course...
One thing that hasn’t changed is the physics engine. For better or worse, firefights will result in bits of landscape / buildings / etc hanging in the air exactly the way that bricks don’t. If, like me, you were hoping to play a Worms game with Red Faction-style physics, with buildings that collapse onto other worms and the ability to create dynamic protection by collapsing earth on top of you, you’ll be disappointed to hear that this is not that game.
Otherwise, the core Worms experience is here and it’s here in spades. There’s heaps of content on offer, including loads of scenarios in campaign mode and plenty of challenges – along with associated, depressing leaderboards – to keep you min-maxing your approach to every single map. There’s a typically confusing interface, plenty of customisation options, and hilariously characterised worms to blow up. If you’re at all familiar with the franchise, you’ll feel at home immediately and if this is all new to you, you’ll pick it up quickly enough.
Interestingly, Team 17 opted to lock many interesting extras behind a pre-order mechanism. While these extras include fun, indie game themed skins, they also include some powerful weapons. Just how this will impact the multiplayer environment – should some sort of community spring up around the game – is yet to become clear. Given the nature of the weapons, however, which extend far beyond mere skins of what is otherwise available in the game, it’s a contentious decision and one that is sure to be the topic of much discussion once the haves and have-nots square off across the battlefield.
Incredibly, just like Pokemon, Worms still manages to be great fun to play despite not really having changed much at all since its conception. It’s at its best in a party situation, with multiple people taking turns around the same TV, but it still manages to be insanely replay-worthy even when playing by yourself. Nailing that perfect grenade that causes the entire enemy team to bounce around on mines, burn, then ultimately drown is the kind of satisfaction you won’t find anywhere else and it’s exactly what will keep you coming back for more. Worms is still the party-game king and WMD is a return to form for the franchise.