During their almost twenty-years of bazooka-lead, turn-based shenanigans, there surely must not be a single person on the face of the planet who has managed to avoid the Worms phenomena. I still have fond memories of my immediate family trading grenades across a Hewlett Packard 486’s keyboard back in the mid-nineties, and ever since then the invertebrates have been with us on an almost annual basis. Trading sheep and old ladies across a two-dimensional field, slowly and inevitably destroying the landscape in a bid to rid themselves of their rivals, they keep returning with bigger weapons, squeakier voices and an even larger doses of insanity.
Now, however, they return with something a little different: a third dimension. This may not be their first foray into depth, but given the mixed reaction to how it dramatically affected the feel and flow of such a well-established series, it’s a bold move to strike out in that direction once more.
The basis of Worms remains unchanged, whereby a small group of annelids take on one another in gladiatorial combat until one side is utterly destroyed. Worms take it in turns to take pot-shots at each other with both sides granted access to a wide range of imaginative weaponry. From the basic bazooka and shotgun through to the fantastical and overly destructive holy hand grenade or the shambling and racial stereotypical Scouser bomb, each item has their place in the theatre of war.
This isn’t dodgeball though, with teams lined up on opposite sides of a blank hall. Battle takes place across all of time and space, with medieval courts, Arabian palaces, wild west canyons, and comparatively mundane dockyards all providing the necessary interest to make shooting matches more than just a straight fight. Worms will scurry – as best they can given their lack of legs – in between cacti before firing off a missile, or seek refuge underneath a model horse, hoping the incoming air strike will pound their steed and not their head. The environments have always played their part in Worms, using it to gain both defensive and offensive advantages are the cornerstone of success. Although your cover or vantage point can never be guaranteed, as a meaty detonation – be it trip-mine or missile – can see it blown away and you left exposed. After drawn out rounds of shelling whole sections of a map can be left in disarray, with the floor lowered, vast portions of buildings removed and very little cover left at all.
Whilst all this proves the essence of Worms is intact, not all of these aspects fare well in the transition from sprite to polygon.
The main issue is that of the camera. With so many buildings, over hangs, nooks and crannies, the camera trailing your little worm as he negotiates the litany of obstacles can fluctuate between being functional and making you suspect that it is actually an operative of the opposing side. Navigating one particular building site, with my character wishing to scale its heights, the cam managed to get so snagged and confused that I spent most of my round’s time limit attempting to reorient myself with “up”. Such an extreme case was indeed rare, especially with the very open nature of the majority of levels, but it did scare me off from putting my worms in overly confined spaces.
Minor camera niggles also haunt the first-person aiming, where being too close to a wall or fence can actually cause your view to appear as though there is no obstruction. All well and good if one is simply scoping out the view, but launching a small nuclear warhead and finding it detonates the instant it leaves your barrel can come as quite a surprise.
For stalwarts of the series, this first-person aiming will be the biggest shock to the system. Close quarters combat involving classics like the baseball bat or dragon punch require little precision, whereas fire any ballistic and you’ll have to hold down X and see through the worms eyes, adjusting his orientation as you see fit. Whilst not problematic in itself, there is a jolting transition between the view of the main game camera and the worm itself, which can prove disorientating and unnecessary as you try and find yourself as the clock ticks down.
Though the poor (in both senses of the word) camera seems to be the weak link, it’s only because – whilst the rest of the formula has had since the days of the Amiga to be refined into a critical and commercial success- there have only been fleeting attempts at solidifying Worms in the third-dimension. It’s by no means a deal breaker, it’s just that at times it is more noticeable than others.
The added freedom that is granted by Team 17 to its pink, earth dwelling mascots is not taken for granted, either. The landscapes crafted for them throughout the campaign and multiplayer are varied and a good balance of open spaces and impromptu barricades. The basic platforming talents that have existed from the very first title – the long jump and the high backflip – allow intuitive traversal of wizard towers, wind generators and building sites ripe with planks and staircases. Gone, or so it seems, are those moments of being stuck on a single pixel of unexploded earth, and in its stead is a definite design for allowing your team to scale and take advantage of higher ground. This comes at the cost of the fun a randomised terrain could bring, but it’s a fair trade.
Of course the true test of any Worms title is in the multiplayer, be it over Live or jostling with a couch-sharing buddy, and the joys are still there. The prospect of a Worms battle may not be as fresh as it once was, but the familiarity swings both ways; yes, you’ve played it countless times before, but there is a reason for that and it’s because boiled down it is simple and moreish. Be it custom weapons or a classic fight involving nothing but bazookas and grenades, any issues with cameras are forgotten as the worms start throwing high-pitched insults at each other. All it takes is the wind blowing a missile slightly off course and hilarity can ensue in any number of ways as mines roll into the course of unsuspecting worms, strings of explosions can reach unintended targets, or even a good old double-cross. There is a meaty single-player campaign (also joined by an import of the Worms 3D campaign), strung together by series of pitched battles and platforming-based fetch quests to occupy your time, nevertheless this only serves to strengthen the feeling that Worms is best when it is a multiplayer game.
The transition from the traditional flat view will not be for everyone, and at times it is questionable whether the series truly benefits from this direction, but for each downside there is an up. The levels have far more personality, and bending a rocket around a rocky outcrop and through a horses legs is just downright flashy. It could be the injection the series has been requiring to give it new legs, but then again these chaps have been surviving without those limbs for quite some time.