You do have to feel a little sorry for Team 17. Despite being one of the UK’s oldest and still successful independent developers they’re both blessed and cursed by Worms - it’s ensured their independence, their success, and their survival, but then again it was arguably perfected either 14, 16, or 18 years ago, hasn’t really changed massively since, can’t really change massively, and yet everyone will complain every time a Worms game is released just for the fact that it exists. With Clan Wars though they’ve set themselves the goal to make the ultimate PC-exclusive Worms game. Let’s see if they’ve succeeded.
The first thing I have to say, apart from the fact Team 17 have indeed done a damn good job, is that this is by no means a be-all-and-end-all review of Worms Clan Wars. That’s the kind of disclaimer I personally give on my MMO reviews and it’s with good reason I’m applying it here, since a number of the main new features of Clan Wars will only work if and when the community digs its teeth into the game. Most of these features are geared towards making the community have the best possible gaming time and create masterpieces for others to use, but future potential is not really something I can judge. I will instead be judging the effort, the fun value, and what’s new in Clan Wars that you can’t find in a previous Worms game.
The Story Mode map. It’s all set in a museum, you see
The most obvious new addition before I get into the Clans is the massively improved single-player Story Mode narrated by The IT Crowd’s Katherine Parkinson (playing the Lara Croft-mocking Tara Pinkle). It’s actually really fun, best described as a combination of Worms and LittleBigPlanet, complete with physics-based machinery, puzzles, and even the odd bit of platforming in-between Tara Pinkle’s soothingly amusing dialogues and all the death. Difficulty starts off non-existent and ramps up quickly, and that includes puzzle difficulty along with enemy challenge. It veers a little bit too often towards a straight Worms match over the entertaining brain-teasers, but then again it’s Worms so I don’t know what I was expecting. It’s fun certainly, although there are moments of irritation that mostly come from the fact that this engine wasn’t really built for some of the most imaginative tests.
Story Mode gently introduces players to weapons new and old, as well as new features like the physics and the water (more on that in a moment). It’s certainly a worthwhile play, even if it’s just to hear Katherine Parkinson try to take the bonkers dialogue about Stone Carrots and Golden Childs seriously, and fail utterly. You can actually feel her eyebrows raising over some of the lines. Rounding up the single-player stuff is Worm Ops, a challenge-based series of, um, challenges where you have to kill all enemy worms as quickly as possible with only certain equipment. It starts moderately hard and gets harder. The single-player’s certainly the strongest it’s ever been in a Worms game, and while not quite at the level where I say it’s enough to buy the game for the offline alone it’s definitely something you’ll want to play and a good additional reason to get Clan Wars over a Steam sale of a previous title.
There’s also Local Versus of course which you could play against the AI, but I’m sad to say that once again enemy worms are just as annoyingly accurate as ever. AI is the one area of Worms that hasn’t changed at all since 1995. Enemies either make ridiculous moves that couldn’t possibly hit anything or unnervingly accurate bazooka/grenade shots from across the map which perfectly take wind velocity into account. Stupidity or impossibility, that’s the move set of an enemy AI-controlled worm. It’s also no fun to play against really, making later levels of the story unnecessarily annoying.
It’s the online though that has received the biggest attention. There are two online variations – straight ‘Online Multiplayer’ and the titular ‘Clan Wars’. The first has simple player vs player matches, ranked matches, and chat channels heralding the return of Wormnet which is both fun and useful (if a little bit antiquated now, but at least it’s built into the game). ‘Clan Wars’ though is Team 17’s biggest foray into making Worms an eSport to date. Far from just extended rank matches, players can create their own clans with their own emblems, speechbanks etc, promote and recruit players, chat, challenge other clans or play friendly matches, and generally rise up the Leaderboards to try and become the ultimate clan. There’s no way to tell how successful this will be, but the tools are here to create a truly addictive Worms experience. Previous games have been a bit of fun, something to play now and again - Clan Wars has the potential to really ignite a feverish community.
See if you can guess one of my favourite franchises
Speaking of tools, Clan Wars has full Steam Workshop support and that potentially excites me more than even the Clan stuff. Team 17 are giving modders full access to every part of the game, and the chance to see crazy LittleBigPlanet-style story missions with many physics-based puzzles or Doctor Who, Game of Thrones and Star Trek speechbanks to download fills me with glee (“Tywin Lannister sends his regards”). I’m already considering making ones of my own. The ease of use of Steam Workshop and the eagerness and imagination of the community should easily make this a reason to get excited.
But the proof of the Worms is in the killing, and the internal systems have received a spring-cleaning too. Physics is all the rage now, but the biggest new wonderment is the dynamic water system – which is such a massive game-changer it definitely can be counted as a reason to get Clan Wars over, say, Reloaded. It flows, it pools, it drips, and it can carry worms down and into a watery grave. It’s amazing how much this changes match tactics, as stalling on a slope can now mean certain death and a safe cave could soon be a flooded nightmare. Team 17 have excellently taken full advantage of this with several weapons like water balloons, a water pistol, a water-sucking Plughole, and a Water Balloon Air Strike. Lots of fun, you really have to play the game to find out how great it is though.
Aside from that a lot of other new items focus on object manipulation. The Winged Monkey for example can bring in a random giant object to help or hinder, whereas the UFO or Telekinesis can move those objects around the map. This comes into play a lot in the Story Mode but not so much in normal matches, but it’s still fun to play around with (not as much as tossing a water balloon at your enemy and watching them flow down a hill to their doom though). The one big downer of all this physics fun though is the classic Ninja Rope, which is almost totally borked. There’s barely any bounce in this bungee and it’s far too easy to get stuck on walls with it. Consequently the new Teleport Gun is much more useful, zipping you about the place as long as you don’t touch the ground – if the Ninja Rope wasn’t such a staple of the series I think Team 17 could’ve safely axed it in favour of this item. Oh well.
I think the 9th Doctor is heading for a watery grave. Oh well, he'll be David Tennant soon
Finally the worms themselves have had a shake-up. First of all, teams are now back up to a maximum of 8 worms. Hooray, never should’ve been less. Secondly shockingly worms now come in classes with various abilities. Soldiers are the standard class and can detonate grenades at will. Big-headed Scientists heal the team. Scouts are quicker, jump further and don’t set off mines but are weaker. Heavies take a lot of damage but are slow and don’t jump very far. It’s an interesting idea and surprisingly adds quite a lot to the game, you just have to remember to take advantage of each one’s abilities – as I often failed to do.
The excellent Clan eSport-style multiplayer, Steam Workshop support, Story Mode, and hilarious water system are all reasons to buy Worms: Clan Wars. It can honestly lay claim to being the new definitive Worms game on PC, despite the mangling of the Ninja Rope. It even looks pretty too, with 3D worms and lovely day/night cycles. Nevertheless I can’t give it too high a score despite Team 17’s excellent efforts, since it is at its core the same game we all enjoyed in 1995. Some of the features, like Wormnet and 8-worm teams, were simply features of previous games that should have been incorporated into the likes of Reloaded but weren’t, so I’m not going to give too high praise for Team 17 fixing what they themselves broke. Nevertheless, provided the community rallies to the call of Worms (and I’m sure it will) Clan Wars is an easy purchase. Spiffing job.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Oh, easily calling a Water Balloon Air Strike and seeing the opposing team get washed away. That and Katherine Parkinson.