Worms W.M.D. Review – The Worms Are Back, And They Have Dodgy Batteries

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Platforms: PC, Xbox One and PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Team17
Publisher: Team17
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes

Review code provided free of charge by the publisher.

Man, the Worms games have been around for a long time now. Growing up they were a staple of my formative gaming years, the turn-based action becoming engrained in my psyche. Over the years Team17 have put out a lot of Worms games, and the series’ quality has wavered with many critics and fans growing disillusioned with the lack of any meaningful additions to the formula. Despite this, though, over 70-million Worms games have been sold, and with such huge success comes an unwillingness to give the franchise up.

It seems a bit silly, then, that to achieve success with W.M.D. Team17 have actually kind of gone back to basics. This is straight-up 2D worms action that feels reminiscent of Worms Armageddon. But if you aren’t familiar with the series then let’s have a quick recap; two teams of worms duke it out for supremacy using an array of weapons that range from simple shotguns to holy hand grenades, super-sheep, old ladies and huge concrete donkeys that fall from. It’s turn-based action, so each round you’ll be given a certain amount of time to move around by crawling, jumping, swinging around on ropes and even jetpacks, pick a weapon and blow merry hell out of the enemy, or in some cases yourself or the rest of your own team. Things like baseball bats, uzis and fireballs are easy to aim, but when it comes to bazookas and grenades you’ve got to choose the force with which it fires, account for the travel arc and adjust for wind, so it’s not uncommon to see people to wildly misjudge the shot and be forced to watch as an explosive calmly arcs back toward them. Then you have to toss in loads of terrain destruction that deforms the map with every turn taken. Bazookas, grenades, old ladies and pretty much everything else leaves huge craters in the landscape that can be used for cover, or that just make the map much harder to navigate. Worms truly is chaos of the best kind.

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It’s also ostensibly a strategy game. If you want to get serious then accounting for cover, terrain destruction and more is vitally important. The better you get at the game the more accurately you can judge shots, allowing for epic grenade throws or beautiful bazooka shots that utilize the wind. Each turn is a puzzle of sorts as players try to work out what weapon available to them is the best choice, whether there’s potentially an opportunity to use some of the explosive barrels or mines scattered around the place, or perhaps even if an enemy worm or two can be drowned in water for an easy kill. Quite often going out of your way to use something like dynamite will prove stupid as it’ll put your own worm in a bad situation. But to me this is easily the worst way to play Worms. Sure, as someone who loves strategy games it’s tempting to carefully consider every move, every weapon and plan out each battle multiple turns in advance, but the nature of Worms makes it so much more fun when everybody just goes nuts and doesn’t worry overly much about winning or playing smart.

And then there’s the tension-filled joy of the enemy’s turn, which is something special indeed. Forced to sit and do nothing you must watch as the enemy team painstakingly takes the time to position themselves before happily unleashing a OMG orbital strike or smacking one of your worms in the face with a baseball bat. Just watching the other player take their turn and wondering if they’re going to do very little or demolish half your team causes a lump in your throat. It’s tense and exciting and terrifying all at once. It’s even better in local multiplayer where you have to put up with the smirking faces of your friends as well.

At the heart of the game is the physics system, which has changed time and time again over the years and whether or not you like it or not tends to be highly subjective, and forms the basis for many heated debates among fans. This time around worms seem to bounce, slide and get tossed around quite a bit, while grenades don’t tend to bounce or roll as much as you might expect which can lead to some incredibly annoying moments. The ninja rope has returned, as has its original physics, so you can once again get around the map in bonkers fashion. Overall I was reasonably with the way physics handles this time, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Easily the biggest mechanical change here is the inclusion of a crafting system. On top of grabbing crates that appear on the battlefield which contain new weapons you can also snag boxes filled with crafting ingredients. On either your turn or the enemies turn you can bring up the crafting menu and opt to spend ingredients on constructing something new, including numerous variants of standard weapons, like a triple-barreled shotgun. You can even dismantle existing weapons in order to build something new, although once you dismantle something it’s gone for the rest of that match. Crafting doesn’t hugely alter the pre-existing mechanics, but it does bring a welcome extra layer to the combat where a player might choose to dismantle a sizable chunk of their armory in order to bring out a big weapon or two. The opponent can tell that you’re making something, but not what.  I also appreciate how you can craft on an opponent’s turn so that you don’t waste precious time during your own turn, while also just giving you something to do if the enemy is taking a while.

The other change is the inclusion of vehicles for the first time ever in a Worms game, bringing some heavy machinery into the fray. Now you can hop into a handy tank, mech or helicopter and use it to deliver heavy-metal death to any worm that happens to get in the way. The helicopter can be tricky to fly, but if you can manage to master its tipsy-turvy handling then its downward-facing machine gun can be devastating. The mech and tank are considerably less tricky to use and are also more than capable of delivering horrible pain. Being in these vehicles also means extra survivability, making their destruction an even bigger priority for the other team/s. The downside is that these new vehicles are arguably too powerful in their current incarnation, dominating the battle whenever they turn up.

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Buildings are another added nuance to the Worms formula. Worms can can clamber inside to access what is basically just a network of tunnels, but on the opponent’s screen the facade will be put in place, obscuring their view of what you’re up to. Now, this might not sound very important, but it can be surprisingly easy to forget about a worms existence when it’s holed up, and I saw a lot of people get caught off guard in multiplayer by this. Where the game trips up is that sometimes there are also buildings that you can’t enter, and it’s impossible to differentiate between them. It’s not a huge problem, but it’s still frustrating to spend a chunk of a turn crawling toward what you believe to be cover only to find it isn’t.

The campaign is mostly forgettable stuff, offering up a sizable enough selection of missions that are essentially just a long tutorial that gradually introduces new weapons. But at least in that regard it’s fairly effective at letting new players get to grips with how Worms handles, especially since learning how the physics system works is key to pulling off some cool moves. There’s also some challenge missions as well, which again are a good way for new players to really improve their skillset ready for the multiplayer, which is what Worms is all about. I’m also glad to report that there’s no attempt at a voice-over narrative, either.

Multiplayer is really where the game comes alive and I’m happy to see that local multiplayer support has been bumped up to six players, which is absolutely perfect for a night of pizza, beer and carnage with some good friends. Of course you can still take the action online in case getting pasted by random strangers from other countries is your idea of fun. And why wouldn’t it be? Think of all the fat momma jokes you can discover! Oh the joy! The netcode still feels like it comes from the early 2000’s at times, though, and the lobbies already seem to be dead. Sadly there’s no way of adding A.I. to the online matches to help make up for the lack of real people. Hopefully the game will see a small surge at some point that will bolster the online community, because it really is a lot of fun.

Speaking of the A.I. it generally manages to put up a decent fight, sometimes seeming utterly precise with its insane shots and other times decimating itself through stupidity, just like regular humans. However, it does still retain the old worm’s problem of occasionally pausing for long periods of time before doing something, like it’s having a flashback to Vietnam or something. It’s not the only problem, either; the camera isn’t great at tracking the action properly, especially when it involves missiles. For some reason the camera refuses to center on the projectile and instead tends to have it on the far-side of the screen, providing a really awkward view of the action.

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Throughout all of this you’ll be earning XP that will in turn level you up, unlocking new customization options for your worms. There are plenty of stupid voices to give them, including most of the classics. You can also don a bunch of different helmets, change tombstones and pick between a number of victory animations. It’s not exactly an extensive suite of options, especially compared to some previous Worms games, but it’s enough. Weirdly playing battles against the AI outside of the campaign won’t grant you XP, which feels like a daft decision since none of the unlockable provide any sort of advantage.

In fact, there is a distinct lack of content throughout the game. You can play around with what weapons are available in matches, timers and the like to create a custom variant, but Worms W.M.D. is pretty bare when it comes to modes, offering just straight-up fights. There’s no Forts mode, for example, while other things such as clan support are also missing. It just feels as though the whole game could have done with a bit more meat being added to its bones before release. I guess we’ll probably see some more modes arrive in the form of DLC. Shame. However, Steam Workshop support has been enabled, so at least there will be some player-driven content to sift through.

Worms W.M.D. is ultimately a bit of a strange one, because on the one hand it’s committing the very same sin that earned Team17s prior Worms games so much scorn by not really adding very much. Sure, there’s the addition of buildings, vehicles and crafting, but none of them alter the core gameplay in any truly meaningful way. And yet there’s no denying that this the most fun Worms has been in years, going back to the days of Armageddon and adding a few extra goodies. There’s still a number of problems to work out, but if you’ve been thinking about jumping back into Worms then go for it. If you’ve become disillusioned with the franchise, though, I don’t think there’s enough change here to really woo you back, unless you were a big fan of Armageddon.

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