Team17’s Worms: Armageddon was one of the first PC games I ever owned: strategic in the most illogical ways possible, addictive, and with a Monty Python-esque humour.
This combination is what made Worms: Armageddon unique, and what made it accessible to adults and children alike (I remember even my parents, not normally interested in video-games, would play me). Since then there have been some dodgier Worms titles, including a few forays into 3D which were met with mixed reviews at best. Now, 17 years on (spooky or what?) from Worms: Armageddon comes Worms: W.M.D., a new entry in the series that brings it back to its 2D Armageddon roots whilst also showcasing some innovative new features.
Much of Worms W.M.D.‘s appeal will be its return to the classic Worms gameplay we know and love. The game sees the player taking control of anything from 1 to 8 worms, battling it out against enemy worm-teams. The aim of each match is usually to kill all the opponents’ worms. Each worm has its own turn in sequence and 45 to 60 seconds to make their move. The worms are armed with a cornucopia of bizarre weaponry from Holy Hand Grenades to prancing, exploding Sheep to deadly bazookas whose shots can be curved Wanted-style in strong wind. The battlefield is two-dimensional and completely destructible. It’s also filled with explosive canisters, land-mines and care-package munitions drops that can just give you a little edge when the game gets tough.
Navigating this increasingly demolished landscape is also part of the hilarity of the game: your worms are normally equipped with unpredictable ninja-ropes and blowtorches which can be used for tunneling through the rock. The real joy of Worms, however, is the bonkers physics which can be manipulated to land your shots. Many of your weapons can be charged up, so not only do you need to calculate trajectory, but think about wind-strength and the power of your attack. Get it wrong, and you’re more likely to cause your grenade to bounce back into your lap than blow up anything useful. Worms: W.M.D. is just as easy and fun to get into as its 1999 predecessor, with simple controls, a clear HUD, and well thought out weapon mechanics.
“W.M.D” stands for Walking Mechanised Destruction, an appropriately verbose and bombastic subtitle, and one that also describes the primary new additions to the game: vehicles, fortifications and turrets. There is also a new crafting component that allows you to convert salvaged materials (worm tears, special BBQ sauce, the usual raw materials you’d expect from any crafting game) into weapons not currently in your inventory. It can also be used to to upgrade weapons with additional functionality, such as installing a laser sight on the shotgun to make aiming easier (the “Trainee Shotgun”) or adding an additional barrel so you can shoot it three times during a turn instead of twice (the Triple Shot Gun, get it?).
Of the new additions, my favourite are the turrets. There are a huge variety such as flame-throwers, machine-guns and mortars; each one handles differently and has varying applications. The vehicles are entertaining, especially the helicopter (chopper), which can shakily fly and shoots whatever happens to be below it with a heavy caliber machine gun. On a good day, you can sweep over an entire enemy team, potentially killing them all in one rain of ungodly fire. On a bad day, you’ll massacre your own team or simply crash.
There are tanks, which can fire six shells and jump (as if tanks weren’t dangerous enough), sports cars, and finally the walking mechs themselves, which can jetpack and ground-pound with gigantic super-powered fists. The vehicles radically change the gameplay but are in keeping with the outrageous power and unpredictability of Worms combat. The good thing about them is that they speed up the game; gone are the sticking points where one awkward worm could hold out for days at the edge of the map, impossible to reach, causing you to waste tens of turns to get the right bazooka shot to pick it off. The downside to the tanks is that any worm can jump into one if they are close enough, which means two worms from opposing teams will often find themselves taking it in turns to hop into the tank and blast at the other until one dies first. This becomes slightly boring but is often the most strategically viable option; truly intelligent players will be able to get out of these loops, it nonetheless puts a dampener on a battle when it comes to repetitive blasting rather than the cunning and crafty Worms combat we know and love. This is a very occasional problem however, and doesn’t detract much from the overall enjoyment of a battle.
Fortifications are another key addition. From the outside they look like the familiar Dali-painting structures we’ve seen in Armageddon, only more detailed and clearly rendered. Get near one, however, and the screen will show a series of platforms and openings within. These fortifications can be anything from a humble diner to a church to a sprawling English countryside mansion, and often feature turrets and loot crates. While the forts certainly offer a brilliant new element of gameplay (you can sit worms tight in cover and then let them call airstrikes all day long), they are slightly frustrating when it comes to multiplayer matches as you cannot see where enemy worms are inside the fortress. This seems too great an advantage, especially as spawning is often random at the start of a match; the fortified worm on your opponent’s team not only benefits from the cover, but also conceals their whereabouts. This can really slow down matches, especially towards the endgame where there are less worms on the battlefield.
Worms W.M.D. multiplayer functionality is highly developed with Quick Match options, Ranked Matches and Custom/Private games. Matchmaking is quick and lag-free to the extent you would not notice the difference between an online match and a match against the computer AI. The single player is very rewarding, with engaging missions that offer unique challenges and have extra, optional victory criteria (much like the bonus parts of the Dark Brotherhood contracts) which often yield additional rewards. Worms W.M.D. also has local multiplayer match options, so you can play on the couch with friends. This is not only in keeping with the classic Worms set up but also something which is sorely missed from most next-gen titles. Furthermore, you can customise your worms team both for the single player modes and the online modes, giving them a personalised name, a unique helmet, vocal type (including Action Hero, which is a series of hilariously inappropriate Arnold Schwarzenegger quotes), gravestone, celebration animation and even a fanfare theme tune for when you prove victorious.
Unlike previous Worms titles, you have to unlock many of the customisable options which gives you incentive for playing the single-player missions. While the customisation is great fun (look forward to recreating all your favourite movie squads in worm-form), it is only possible to change the name of each individual worm. All the other customisations apply to the whole team. This might seem a minor point but the grievance is amplified by the fact the team creation screen is slightly unclear and makes it seem like you can customise each worm separately. It probably wouldn’t have been too drastic or costly a feature to add, and would let players stamp that extra bit of individuality onto their teams. As it stands, the customisation is still great fun, but not 100% satisfactory.
Perhaps most importantly though, the humour is bang on, bringing that delightful combination of the totally silly (one of the vocal choices is Rapper: everything your worms say is in terrible rap couplets), pun-tastic referencing (enemy AI with names like Anne Droyd and mission objectives called Chopper Suey), and barmy action. Worms W.M.D. may not be a perfect game given that some of the mechanics need tweaking, but it is certainly a stellar Worms title that offers hours upon hours of content and virtually limitless replayability with its online matchmaking. W.M.D. certainly redeems the series to my mind and brings back the old-school joy of the classic Armageddon.