Team 17 have been churning through the Worms franchise for as long as I’ve been alive. Starting with Armageddon on the N64, the kid in me loved to watch the wordy little creatures play with physics to blow their own kind into the drink – and usually themselves in the process if I had anything to do with it.
In a sense it was like a precursor to having to learn angles for both real-life and virtual experiences. Those shots to the far right pocket in billiards, or even throwing a basketball through a hoop both effected and were effected by trying to hit a worm 20 yards away with a bazooka in gale-force winds.
But does Team 17’s next venture into the wonderful world of potty-mouthed, armed-to-the-teeth wigglies conjure up that same sense of meaning? Many years on, it wouldn’t really seem that way.
Worms W.M.D, on one hand, could be seen as a new Worms for a new generation; but on another could be a fine example of an idea that reached perfection long ago. I can barely count the amount of releases since my first experience all those years ago. Each time, the formula is shaken up in different ways; sometimes radically so, other times subtly tweaked – but usually always missing a little something. Eventually I came to think that maybe Team 17 just got Armageddon too perfect for their own good. A plethora of interesting weapons, varied stages and plentiful missions to try – and usually fail – to complete. Between attempting to enter a fully 3D battlefield, to following the timeless instruction of popular kid’s beverages to ‘Just add water’, the Worms franchise changes so frequently, it barely feels like a change at all. Whether you’d usually see that as a good or bad thing seems to be the question here, as W.M.D sets out to change less about the core gameplay, but throw the meta completely on its head.
Mechs are the biggest introduction this time around. Sticking to its guns with the classic 2D formula – we’ll likely never see another attempt at Worms 3D or Worms 4 ever again – W.M.D throws destructive war machines into the mix with tanks, choppers, mountable turrets and ground-pounding Avatar-like exoskeletons. Future warfare for the Worms has arrived!
Outside this, the classic Worms gameplay remains. You take turns slithering your battle insects into position, pick a weapon and go to town on the enemy. Environmental hazards like bombs and mines are rife, while the water deposits introduced in ‘Revolution’ seemingly didn’t have the revolutionary impact required to make the cut going forward. The newly introduced machines certainly aren’t featured prominently in the single player missions – rather featuring more as a training situation for the custom multiplayer matches most play Worms to experience. They certainly add a little bit of extra flair to the otherwise stagnated experience of wrecking havoc on a beautifully crafted 2D battlefield, but they’re like to be viewed as controversial to the series’ legacy.
But which war machines can you take into the battlefield? Choppers are typically used in open-top maps to rain hell from above; aiming to pepper both worms and hazards in the area for maximum explosive carnage in one fell swoop, whereas tanks tend to see more use as siege weapons for the quick tear downs of awkward enemy strongholds or a closed up spawn point. Clambering into a mech suit, however, gives you a decent opportunity to vault over tricky obstacles and delivery swift justice to a worm living dangerously close to the water’s edge. But it’s likely turrets that you’ll come across the most; static snipers make quick work of a worm refusing to vacate a vantage point while the flamethrower disperses a group getting a little too comfortable on the floor. Camping out near a barrel was never really seen as a wise move, but now you might not even really have the chance to move away. But those turrets don’t take kindly to being on the receiving end of the damage counter; and that’s where the strategy really starts to kick in. Heavy warfare isn’t always the answer; get greedy and you might just get caught off guard!
While mechanised combat could be viewed as a double-edged sword to the Worms universe, crafting should be seen with more universal praise. The wait between turns always drags along – especially when you’re traversing a battlefield with the sole intention of collecting a random weapon drop in a ditch somewhere hoping the resulting equipment would help you out of a sticky situation. It wouldn’t. Usually. But dismantling your least-used weapons and splicing them into a standard or modified version of another during your opponent’s turn is certainly a step in the right direction of alleviating the pain of watching the AI flail around for 30 seconds every other minute.
It’s a novel system that adds a little more reason to venture out of a comfortable attack point in search of the greater good. It’s more difficult to be disappointed by the ability to craft the weapon of your choice rather than scout out a weapon crate and end up with another boring cluster bomb that scatters and does nothing but miss the mark.
Anyone looking for the single player Worms experience likely know what they’re getting themselves into here. A few dozen ‘campaign’ missions offering pre-set scenarios for you to conquer with the tools provided while offering bonus rewards by meeting certain criteria like eliminating worms a specific way or collecting a certain item. They’re relatively quick to breeze through, but a little tiresome to rattle off one after the other down to going through the motions and having to wait the longest 30 seconds of your life for the enemy to take their turn. Thankfully, restarting a bad mission is possible, but it gets old fast when the same situation goes south through something seemingly out of your control.
Puzzle and bonus missions play out with similar issues; though less so with the former. While bonus missions just offer a slightly expansion on the campaign mission format, puzzle missions often present you with strict criteria and limited time to conquer the battlefield. Here, you’ll often have to take every single environment and enemy move into consideration and think more than a few steps ahead. A single degree of misguided fire and you’ve likely lost your chance. They’re certainly not for the new player, but can arguably offer rapid incentive for improvement for those not familiar with high-level play.
For those looking into the broader end of the spectrum here, Worms W.M.D does involve ranked play alongside its more contemporary casual and custom game modes. Ranked play works just as you’d imagine with rewards being dished out for continued success – separate to the game’s own experience based levelling system – delivering new sounds, animations and other personalisation options for your custom-made team. Casual matchmaking and AI modes are self-explanatory while custom games offer a heap of tweakable options from individual weapon spawn thresholds to map type, mech allowances and team specific options like jump/gravity modifications and health augments. If single player missions against AI on pre-generated maps isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of opportunity to throw banana bombs and angry concrete donkeys around in the multiplayer sections.
For the most part, I stand by my idea that Worms hit its stride a long time ago. Since then, Team 17 have succeeded to keep its mascot franchise in the minds of every other subsequent generation. Worms W.M.D isn’t a bad attempt at getting the little blighters back into the limelight by any stretch of the imagination, but the variations to the formula offered by weapon crafts and war machines don’t strike me as the kind of shake up required to offer completely new experiences nor subtle enough to bring long-lost players back into the fray. Newcomers are encouraged to look to the Worms pre-2000 archive for the purest experience while long-time players likely already are.
WORMS W.M.D. VERDICT
There’s no reason any new player to the Worms franchise wouldn’t get a quick kick out of this one, but it’s difficult to recommend the game to series veterans who can get a cleaner experience from the entries they currently own.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Catapulting a Worm with a ground pound mech suit and bouncing it from a land mine to a spot where it’s dying blast triggers more explosive carnage gives off a classic Worms vibe with a slight twist.
Introduces more than enough ideas to keep brawls fluid and interesting for the most part
Plenty of customisation for worms heading into online play. The continuous pop-culture puns never get old
Crafting is a genuine improvement over the luck-based pick-up system. Strategy finally plays a real part.
For some players, mechs and turrets might be seen as a huge interruption to the classic formula
Some map seeds slow matches down to a snail pace
No solid expansion on available game modes. Every round feels more or less the same.