In the Winter of 1999, there were three undeniable truths here in the UK: Blur were better than Oasis, Tony Blair was totally trust-worthy, and Team 17 were the undisputed Kings of Yorkshire after the runaway success of the third entry in the Worms series – Worms Armageddon. The game captured the acclaim of critics and fans alike for features like its terrain generation and deformation, crazy weapons, zany humor, and above all its chaotically fun gameplay.
Why am I referencing this aging masterpiece here, you ask? In the intervening years, various iterations of Worms games have failed to recapture the magic of the game that many fans consider to be the best in the series. Team 17 have recognized this themselves, and have listened to their fans. The source code for this year’s entry in the franchise, Worms W.M.D, was entirely based on that of Worms Armageddon, in an attempt to ‘make Worms great again.’ The move has paid off in spades, and it’s pleasantly surprising to say that Worms W.M.D is just as much fun now as its predecessor was way back when.
It’s easy to see, within the first few minutes of loading up and playing Worms W.M.D, that while the game pays tribute to its roots, it is also a new beast with an identity all its own. The music that greets you on the home screen may have subtle lilts of the famous theme tune from ’99, but the all-new art direction will immediately catch your eye. It’s a more modern and cartoony style, one that allows for much more visual expression than you might expect from your tiny worm sprites. In the menus, the style is bright and eye-catching and provides a pleasing backdrop while you’re searching for a multiplayer game or playing with the customization options. In-game, the art style really shines through, a perfect example being how worms check their phone or yawn visibly as you fling a wayward missile into a cliff face. The characters are well animated and a lot of attention to detail is visible in their widely varied action and movement animations. The ability to zoom in and out at will also helps to highlight this by allowing you to keep track of everything on the map as needed.
The aforementioned music is less of a standout feature in comparison to the art, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In possibly the best compliment you could pay to the music in a turn-based strategy game; it mostly sits pleasantly in the background, never becoming too obtrusive or repetitive, thus never really entering your awareness apart from triggering the occasional nostalgia hit for veterans. The voicing for the worm’s selectable speech banks may be more divisive – I found them to be amusing for the most part, but others may find them irritating with repetition. However, if you aren’t amused by the voiceover in the infrequent campaign missions cutscenes, you have a funny-bone of steel.
The menus themselves are streamlined and easy to navigate. You can access everything from the home screen with tabs for single player, multiplayer, customization and game options, community (which contains gameplay tips, news, and tournament notifications). The menus open to the right of the tabs without having to leave the screen, which allows for convenient, easy switching between modes. The single-player portion of the game allows you to choose between training missions, campaign missions, and challenges, much like Armageddon before it. The training missions will task you with destroying targets with a weapon or reaching a certain goal with the traversal items, with bronze, silver, and gold rank awards based on your completion time. Getting bronze will unlock the next mission, but going for gold will net you more experience (which in turn unlocks new customization items). The basic tutorials do a good job of teaching some much-needed fundamentals for those who aren’t familiar with the series, and after those are out of the way there are some ‘pro’ training missions that will teach you advanced techniques like how to quickly cross a map with a ninja rope – getting gold in these will give even series veterans a challenge.
The campaign missions place a variable number of worms from your team against one or two teams of enemy worms and normally task you with eliminating the opposition. There are a few exceptions to this, where you’ll be tasked with taking out a specific enemy, protecting a friendly, or even securing a package guarded by your enemies. You’ll also be given optional bonus objectives such as ‘defeat an enemy with an airstrike’ that will gain you more experience if you win the round. The missions vary from very free form, allowing you to take on enemies as you wish, to almost structured; in that they will give you limited supplies and weapons against overwhelming numbers to encourage you to work out a solution to a seemingly impossible situation. The difficulty really ramps up toward the end of the campaign and the last five-or-so missions demand some rather creative problem solving to get through them. They are all possible, but it might not feel like it at times. The level design on show in these more challenging missions is impressive; letting you know there is always a solution, without making it immediately obvious. The nature of the physics engine means things won’t always play out exactly the same way, and missions have great replayability value as a result.
The final aspect of the single player mode are the challenges. These are more logic based puzzles in which you will normally have one worm and have the objective of taking out an enemy worm with limited weapons, no weapons, or other fiendish limitations. Challenges can only be unlocked by collecting ‘wanted posters’ which appear as collectible items in the campaign missions. They’re not always easy to find and can be even harder to obtain whilst fighting a posse of enemies, giving yet another reason to return to and fully explore the campaign maps. Completing these challenges will unlock unique customization options for your own worm army.
The single player portion of Worms W.M.D is entertaining enough, and if you’re an achievement hunter, it’ll keep you going for quite some time. Still, it’s not so much a matter of how long the campaign lasts, but rather the fact that Worms will give you as much time as you want to put in. Most of your objectives are optional, and you can ‘complete’ as little or as much as you like. It’s very similar to Armageddon in structure, in that you can work through the missions with relative ease but mastering the additional portions will take skill and dedication.
The addition of some new mechanics is what really differentiates Worms W.M.D from its predecessors in gameplay terms. Vehicles (in the form of tanks, helicopters, and mechs) are game changing in a way that adds beautifully to the chaos of a round of Worms. They are all highly destructive and highly mobile – the range and damage of the helicopter, in particular, will allow one worm to control a map if used effectively. The addition of enterable buildings to the maps is a small but significant change. The interior of a building is obscured unless you have a worm inside (for you and your opponents.) Which gives the opportunity to both conceal the exact location of your troops and seek cover from incoming attacks.
The biggest and most pleasing new mechanic, though, at least from my perspective, is the crafting system. Team 17 have used the crafting option intelligently to both bring back every fan-favorite weapon: Super Sheep, Banana Bombs, Holy Hand Grenades, Old Ladies, anything you could name is in there, and allow for an entirely new arsenal to supplement it. Crafting materials drop in crates either randomly or by design, in some story missions, and once you’ve obtained them you can start tinkering away. Fancy a Holy Hand Grenade full of mines that burst out on detonation? You can craft it. Hankering for laser sight on your shotgun to get that pesky enemy half-way across the map? You can craft it. One turn later, your new tool of destruction will appear in your inventory and you can blast away.
A particularly nice feature of this system is that you can use it during an enemy’s turn, giving you the option to be reactive or just giving you something to do while your enemy agonizes over a decision. There are one or two upgrades or modifiers for every standard weapon, and even some brand new options as well. One of my favorite new weapons was the ‘dodgy phone battery’ (cue Samsung overreaction) which chains an electric shock through any enemies or explosive items nearby, leading to some awesome chain destruction as you can see in the short-but-explosive gameplay clip below:
As you might expect, each of the eighty weapons in the game’s arsenal has its own ‘recipe’ for crafting and will require different ingredients and amounts, with more powerful weapons, logically, being harder to build. You’re usually limited by what items have dropped or appeared, or locked out of superweapons for a given number of turns depending on the mode you play in to avoid matches getting too crazy too quickly. The balance works well on the whole and of course, if you want to go crazy, you can always setup a custom match in the local or online versus mode.
The rest of the game may be meaty enough, but multiplayer is what really lends longevity to Worms W.M.D. There is an offline versus between up to six teams of AI or human opponents as well as ranked and unranked online play. You have all the options you could need for the online modes: you can search for specific games, jump into a quick match with the ‘beginner’ ruleset, create your own custom rules games in private match, or play in the ranked online mode with the ‘pro’ rules (which are the same generally used in ESL tournament play). Games both online and offline are endlessly customizable if you’re playing offline or using private match settings. You can set everything from vehicle spawns, buildings, and crate drops, to the number of worms, map size, and even the ‘seed’ of the map. This is an interesting feature; you can type in whatever you like to the ‘seed’ and the game will create a map based on the characters and words you enter. For example; I entered a seed name containing the word ‘banana’ and the game threw out a map with a rainforest theme and a yellow background. It’s pretty fun to play with, and you can use anything you like – your name, your gamertag, your football team if you want – but perhaps this reviewer is just easily entertained.
The main point about all the customization options, though, is it means you could conceivably play Worms W.M.D ad infinitum and generate a different experience every time – even if sometimes those differences are slight. Just like the similar system found in Armageddon did, these options are sure to keep fans coming back to Worms W.M.D for a long time to come. In addition to the map and gameplay customization options, you also get the option to modify your chosen team of worms with voicebanks, gravestones, victory dances, and more. You can save a few presets, too, and switch between them at will. There’s a healthy amount of cosmetic items to choose from at the start, and you can augment your collection as you ‘level up’ with experience from the various game modes.
As for technical issues, I can happily say there are almost zero to report. Apart from an isolated incident of the frame rate dropping in the campaign’s final mission, when the enemy AI was calculating at the start of a turn, I encountered absolutely no bugs or glitches to speak of. I should mention that this review was carried out using a PlayStation 4 digital copy of the game, so I can’t personally comment on whether this holds true for the PC and Xbox One releases. From reports on the Steam community, it seems that some players have had issues, mostly to do with online play and the chat function, but so far Team 17 appear to have been attentive to reports and have released a number of patches for the game.
The only negative points I can find to say about Worms W.M.D are minor at worst; old frustrations return as the complex geometry of altered terrain can halt movement and attacks, causing a waste of precious time and even turns. In multiplayer everyone is in the same boat, so to speak, which means it’s not much of a bother. Against the AI in single player, though, this can seem a little unfair with enemies mostly nailing traversal. The AI is the only other aspect of the game that can be a little wobbly. Enemies are mostly competent and can occasionally make moves that will leave you in awe. Just as occasionally, though, they will make moves of monumental stupidity -jumping straight into the sea or skipping a go with your worms in sight. It is occasional, though, and you can always play against real people if you want more of a consistent challenge.
A fitting and timely return to form for both Team 17 and the Worms franchise, Worms W.M.D is a classic. It should serve as a reminder to today’s industry of endless sequels that; sometimes, to make a franchise great again you just have to look back at what made it great in the first place.
Simply put; Worms W.M.D is the best entry in the franchise since 1999. Above and beyond its well-grounded strategy roots, the game elevates itself with some smart new mechanics. It's sure to please any fans of the pre-21st Century Worms games, and I would think it offers enough to get a whole new generation interested in the franchise to boot.
- Vibrant Art Style
- Addictive and Chaotic Gameplay
- Madcap Humor
- Huge Replayability and Value
- Navigation Remains An Issue
- Occasionally Dodgy AI