One of the first games I can remember playing as a kid was Scorched Earth, which placed players in tanks and pitted them against one another on a fairly basic landscape. It had things like different weapon types, environmental factors that affected shot speed and distance, and was my first taste of a game that required real strategic thinking. I got right into it and played it all the time until, many years later, I finally got to play a game called Worms Armageddon and it blew my little ten-year-old mind. All of us should remember Worms: The cartoonishly violent invertebrates that blew each other to kingdom come with shotguns, bazookas, explosive old ladies and Monty Python references. Things got a bit stodgy when it tried to venture into the realm of 3D, but Worms: W.M.D has brought the series back to its former 2D glory. It’s been awhile since I played a Worms game, but after 21 years there’ve surely been massive improvements. Right? Right?
My experience with the game got off to somewhat of a rocky start when the first thing it asked me to do was to create a team. The creation process itself is fine, which is to say it works, and there’s even an assortment of references to other games for your customisation needs if you’re into that kind of thing. The problem is after spending 20 minutes getting my team to just the way I wanted it, British and full of nastily named worms, I couldn’t use it in the single player mode. Just to re-iterate: The game brings up the customisation menu before anything else, and then doesn’t let you use what you create. That’s… not a good start. In fact, as far as I can tell, there’s no way to use your own team in the single player mode at all. I’m sure the guys over at Team 17 are very proud of their creation of the default-and-only-option-for-single-player in the “Teamsters,” but that’s still kind of a dick move.
For what it’s worth, it feels like some effort has gone into the single player mode regarding a variety of content. You’ve got your campaign mode, which a series of missions with optional objectives that net you more rewards as you go along. There are challenge missions, putting players in maps with a specific objective and very limited resources. Finally, there are “Bonus” missions, which are kind of mixture of those first two options and are all unlocked right from the beginning. To be honest, it kind of feels like the bonus missions were separated from the first two to give the illusion of more varied content, but I’ll leave that for you to decide. You’ll gain experience for completing missions, as well, and each level unlocks new customisation options for your worms.
Customisations that, again, can only be used outside of single player.
There’s some good and a lot of bad when it comes to the design of Worms W.M.D, so let’s get the good things out there first. The campaign objectives and challenge missions are well thought out in theory, which is to say that they’re good ideas. That’s what design is all about – good ideas – and I’m sure that Team 17 entered into this with the best of intentions. The new vehicle weapons are something new for 3D Worms games and seem like a splendid idea to “jazz things up” a bit. Hopping in a tank or helicopter to obliterate your enemies is somewhat novel, at least for Worms, and there’s a variety of mounted weapons available, as well. That’s kind of where my praise for the design ends, however, and I’d like to make it clear now that I don’t dislike the base concept of Worms, just that the above isn’t enough.
Firstly, the levels are often poorly designed for the vehicles and mounted weapons to be used with any significant effect. The claustrophobic landscapes and introduction of buildings (which actually should have been called enterable terrain since they can still be destroyed) make them a pain in the ass to use. There aren’t even that many of them per level which means that, while they can be stolen from the player piloting them, whoever gets to them first tends to dominate almost entirely. The destructive power of the tank alone means that if you don’t outright kill enemy worms or obliterate the ground beneath them, you’ll put them in a hole so big it’s almost impossible for them to get out. Helicopters? You can literally do a fly-over hellfire hail of bullets and then fly off to some out-of-reach location. And yet, tanks cannot crush worms by rolling over them, mechs can’t squish them underfoot, and helicopters do not have rad, decapitating action rotor blades.
Mounted weapons are also usually a shit-show of chaotic nonsense and not even in a good way.
Secondly, “crafting?” I ask of you Team 17, my head in my hands. You’ve literally captained the series for over two decades, and the best you can come up with is to steal an overused mechanic from tired indie games? Never mind that going into the crafting menu doesn’t pause your turn timer, meaning you have to memorise recipes or otherwise hope that you just happen to have what you need on hand. You get these mats from crates, and there’s no way to tell what’s in them, making crates boring and a chore to collect. Crates used to be blessings from the heavens, air-dropped to the worms from above, and full of instant gratification in the form of stupidly powerful weapons. Now, to get those weapons, it takes an entire turn to craft what you need, and that’s assuming you have the mats. Do you see what you’ve done, Team 17? You’ve made playing a simple match of Worms a god damned grind.
All of this could have been solved with one simple addition that was easily my favorite part of Worms Armageddon and is inexplicably absent from W.M.D: A level editor. Whether having an apocalyptic battle on a gigantic phallus, or a well-thought out map designed to be challenging for both sides, the level editor made things a hoot. With the introduction of the mounted weapons and vehicles, this could have been absolutely fantastic. Stone Donkeys would have rained from the skies while well positioned mounted sniper rifles took pot shotsd at the tanks that rolled across an open plane, helicopters dropping fury from above. Instead, the closest we get are pre-set schemes and a random level generator. Words alone can’t describe my disappointment.
At least the multiplayer actually works, so, you know… That’s something.
I’m playing this on PC and, at least a couple of levels, the game is technically broken; specifically, I’m referring to the achievements and mission objectives. Upon successfully securing my first kill with a tank, I received an achievement for having done it eighty times. Same for the helicopter, mech, and mounted weapons among other ill-gotten achievements. The game was just throwing accolades at me like I was some kind of decorated war veteran for the banalest actions. The opposite would occur for mission objectives, refusing to rightfully award me for completing side objectives despite me following them to the letter. I’ve played games with dicky achievement and objective coding before, but this took things to a whole new level of “What have you done!?.”
I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with how the game looks overall. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the appearance of the level environments are some of the best that I’ve seen in the Worms series. Hand-drawn and beautifully detailed, the landscapes are very picturesque until you start blowing them to bits. The map details might be why other presentation areas are lacking, however. Stuff like the hats and masks from other games that are part of the “All-Stars” pack literally being layered over the top of the worm models and not fitted to their faces. Particle effects and explosions just don’t look that great, especially when the vehicles are concerned. These mechanised weapons are meant to be a grand new addition, but their payload effects barely look different to what you’d get from your standard weaponry.
I mean, I would have thought that something half the size of a Stone Donkey would’ve made a bigger bang, you know?
While we’re back on the subject of the vehicles, I’m curious as to whether the QA testers are deaf or if the sound engineers told them that vehicles are supposed to only make sounds half the time. Mechs would launch from the ground with an almighty whoosh and grinding of gears, then apparently cast some kind of silence spell mid-air to hide their ground-shattering landing. Tanks would stealthily and silently crawl across the earth before unleashing a rather unimpressive *thunk* noise that resulted in the aforementioned underwhelming explosions. For the most part, the voice work is still well done and feels reminiscent of the old Worms games. I say “for the most part,” because of their choices with some of the voices suffering from the same timeliness problems of Duke Nukem’s humour.
I’m not one to take the soap box on how peoples or cultures are represented, and I’m hardly the kind of person to think that taboo humour shouldn’t be allowed to be said aloud. That said, just like having Duke run around being a rampant misogynist was funny and sort of acceptable in the ’90s and early 2000s, some of the Worms’ “stereotypical” voices have aged poorly. Having jungle-native looking, headdress wearing Worms warn me that I’m about to be speared in the face is the kind of thing I’d only openly laugh about when I was sure no one else was listening. This is just one example of a few and isn’t hugely prevalent throughout, but sweet Jesus, Team 17 – have some decorum. Or at least put the effort into dialogue writing to sell it as being funny instead of just plain offensive.
I’ll be the judge of that, Team 17. A very upset, unforgiving judge.
There have been so many iterations of Worms over the past two decades that innovation was a necessity, but Team 17 have gone about it in the completely wrong way. Mounted weapons and piloted vehicles of destruction are fine and dandy, but only when they gel with the level design, and, for the most part, they do not. The introduction of crafting is a terrible and uninspired idea that actively saps the fun from pre-existing mechanics, and that… That just makes extraordinarily sad. Being technically broken in places and with poorly aged humour poured over the top, this was a crap-cake that Team 17 should take as a learning moment. It doesn’t give me joy to talk about Worms this way; as I mentioned in my intro, the series holds a special place in my memories. However, the fact of the matter is I, and by extension all of you, would be much better off just replaying any of the older Worms games that we all know and love.
UPDATE: While there is no in-game level editor, there is an external tool that allows you to upload a .png image to be used as a stage. However, this tool doesn’t allow for the addition of buildings, nor does it allow for placement of vehicles or mounted weapons outside of random generation. But you can still craft on these maps in the same way you can in the rest of the game, so… Yay? It’s also not accessible in-game and is unavailable to Xbox One and PS4 players, so the point still stands that this game lacks what should really be a standard feature of Worms games by now. Bad Team 17, bad!