Worms has been with us for a long time, it celebrates its 21st birthday this year and cements itself as one of the longest running game series of all time. Over the last two decades we’ve seen small incremental changes from Team 17 in the gameplay with each successive game release, but it’s a known quantity each time – Worms is Worms, there’s nothing else like it and even though it’s had its ups and downs, the 2D turn-based battle game is still as popular in 2016 as it was in 1995. Worms WMD is the latest instalment and keeps much of what you know and love, but does it manage to add more to the already deep gameplay on offer?
I’ve been a series fan since the first one graced the PC back in 1995; and when it made the leap to the original PlayStation I lost countless hours in a year long persistent league that ran in my student house (narrowly coming out on top if I remember rightly). It was nearly a repeat of that scenario with Worms Armageddon when that arrived on PSOne a few years later with the inclusion of “story” missions, even crazier weaponry, and more tactical options. Yet it still kept the same sense of challenge and competition that’s only possible when you’ve got four armchair generals in a room; forming alliances, betraying each other, and all being determined to call in the Concrete Donkey. The core principle hasn’t altered in that intervening years: you still command a team of helminths in a randomly generated 2D landscape, taking it in turns to battle your opponents using conventional, and extremely unconventional, weapons and gadgets that chip away at their health. Choose to take the fight to your enemy with cunning traversal skills, anticipate the wind and gravity effects to make use of long range artillery, or dig in deep and build a bunker to try and wait it out (though be warned, you’re in for some grief if you choose the Darkside); either way it’s the last worm standing that wins.
Between the original Worms and Worms WMD there have been over 20 games (not counting the spin offs), and the series has moved into 3D, fort building, and even some golf, but the side-on 2D presentation has proved the most popular and that’s where we end up in the latest title – a style that doesn’t look too dissimilar from Armageddon, but is underpinned with everything learnt over the years, and backed by the latest horsepower available in PC and console. For aficionados you’ll spot instantly that this translates into much more rapid AI decision making, so long gone are the days of being able to weave a copy of the Bayeux tapestry whilst the computer decides to skip a turn. In the realm of videogames, computational power usually brings in destructible environments, but seeing as Worms has been doing that from the beginning, they’ve had to think of something else to add to the mix. Other tropes are vehicles and crafting getting prominence in sequel games… and what do you know, they’ve been added here!
Having vehicles in Worms WMD gives the player more movement choice rather than providing superior firepower, and the options are designed in such a way that having access to a tank, mech or helicopter does not make you invulnerable. Tanks are long range artillery machines that fire barrages of shells, mechs can jump higher and glide across gaps but are only able to ground pound, and helicopters can fly anywhere yet are equipped with a relatively weak machine gun. It gives purpose to the players when they spot a vehicle on the battlefield because it means being able to move larger distances in one turn, and most likely inflict a bit of damage too, and each offers a bit of protection from attacks, though have a tendency to blow up earlier than expected. They add some simple variation into the rounds and open up options to create more havoc as well as adding tactical advantages. If you work through the story missions then there are specific challenges for each of the vehicles that give you ideas on how they can be used – like triggering a mine with the mech, then using the ground punch to punt the mine onto your enemy. If you can’t get to a vehicle, keep an eye out for mounted weapons too, machine guns and sniper rifles appear for your destructive pleasure.
Probably the most publicised new feature is the crafting mechanic, present in virtually every game now, but making total sense in Worms WMD. A tap of a button when you’ve got the weapon selection menu open gives you an interface showing you potentially which weapons you can build, and even which you can dismantle. Everything is fair game as long as you’ve got the ingredients, and there are several variants of your favourites to build too. Missing a shotgun? Build it, or build it enhanced with three shots instead of the usual two. There are 80 weapons to build ranging from the old favourites like the banana bomb, to the new additions of the laser uzi and flatulent super sheep; each classic armament has a suitably silly variation in keeping with the perfectly judged Worms humour. All crafting takes one turn to complete, and you can set something building during the enemy’s go so that it’s ready as soon as you’re back in control. Ingredients aren’t necessarily available from the start, so scouring the landscape for crates that contain them is crucial – as is picking up the ones that contain the usual weapons, gadgets and health.
Whilst Worms WMD is really all about giving friends and strangers a hard time online with the full suite of customisable game options, there’s a decent single player campaign to get stuck into as well. Newcomers are taught the basics in the tutorials, and veterans will be able to show their prowess on the leaderboards, as well as being given some pro challenges once the basics are under control. These in themselves take a bit of time to get through, but then there’s the actual single player levels that consist of 30 objective based games to play through. Every one of them is designed to teach and challenge the player, and in theory you’ll have mastered all the core techniques by the end. These levels also link to additional games if you find hidden documents, typically inside buildings (which is also a new feature this time around). Pick one up and it unlocks a boss fight for want of a better term, where you’re presented with a puzzle and set conditions that taxes your knowledge and skills to the maximum, but also end up being a lot of fun.
Worms WMD delivers arguably the definitive experience of the series. If takes the gameplay back to its 2D routes, mirrors the physics that make it so playable, and adds just enough new content to mix things up and give long time fans something extra without alienating new players. A progression and unlock system means more customisation for your team than in the past, with a plethora of hats, voices, fanfares and gravestones available to make you truly unique… and that’s after you’ve named your team and combatants too. A deceptively simple, yet very deep, tactical strategy game that makes you think at least three moves ahead each time, Worms WMD will eat away the hours and have you humming the ridiculously catchy theme tune in your head for weeks. The online will provide stiff competition, but for the most enjoyment get some friends round, have your best smack talk ready, and unleash that holy hand grenade.
A review copy of Worms WMD on PS4 was provided by the Team 17 PR team, and the game is available on PC, Xbox One and PS4 on the 23rd August priced at £19.99. Get a pre-order in and you’ll also snag the All Stars Pack which gives players cross-platform gaming themed content as well as classic maps and challenges.