Hands On: Worms – Clan Wars

By Adam Smith on June 21st, 2013 at 10:00 am.

Last week, I visited Team 17 and was the first outsider to have hands-on experience with their latest game. It’s a Worms game because, on the whole, that’s what they do. Unlike the previous release, Clan Wars has been designed specifically for PC and while it’s the multiplayer league system that worms its way into the title, the additions and tweaks to the physics system may be the necessary game changer.

How do you solve a problem like Worms? First of all, you work out what the problem is. No, scratch that. First you have to admit that you have a problem.

It’s odd to think of a franchise that has helped an independent developer to survive two decades of changes in the gaming industry as a problem but the inevitable arrival of another entry in the series will certainly cause eyes to roll. Team 17 are among the last of the once-thriving North West development scene, which once included Ocean, the license factory. The bulky boxed copies of Amiga games in their offices are a strange reminder of how much has changed over the years. Now, I can download a Worms game onto my phone, summoning it from the air as I sit on a couch waiting to speak to the development team.

How is this a problem? Perhaps it’s a rut, like a regularly released sports franchise that struggles to improve or to offer anything new. Worms has adapted to the new ways of being, but it has always been at its best when closest to its original formula. Armageddon remains the peak as far as I’m concerned – packed with weapons and customisation options. It’s also well illustrated, cartoonish and colourful, yet clean and legible.

Personally, whenever I see one of those old cardboard boxes, I think of Psygnosis, who were based in Liverpool, not a great distance from Team 17’s current home. The artwork that clothed games such as Blood Money and Shadow of the Beast was more striking and imaginative than many games, either then or today. They were my equivalent of the Diamond Dogs and King Crimson vinyl sleeves that my parents always shuffled to the front of the stack, begging and daring the observer to judge by the cover, just this once.

I knew very little about the new Worms game before arriving at the studio but by digging through the entrails of an invertebrate, I was able to make some bold predictions. There would be worms and they would kill each other. I had a name – Worms: Clan Wars – and a basic fact sheet that confirmed what the title suggested: there would be social features and lots of them. If all the team had to show was Worms: Revolution with some sort of Facebook attached to it, the visit would have been short and underwhelming, but after taking the criticism of the previous game on board, particularly from the PC community (that’s you!), changes have been made.

Clan Wars is the Janus of the Worms franchise, using modern physics tech and the powers of connectivity to enhance and expand on the decades-old formula, while looking back to its own beginnings. But, of course, every Worms game looks backwards and even the misjudged leap to 3d was a variation on the wheel rather than a reinvention of it. This time, much of the development team is made up of new blood, so rather than making yet another Worms game, they’re being tasked with creating what is, for some, their first Worms game.

But how much has changed? Worms is, as ever, a comic take on the strategic artillery genre, with the increased mobility and defensive capabilities that have become a staple of the series. There are traps and turrets to drop in the landscape, and a suite of tools for base construction. And then there are the weapons.

Concrete donkeys, super sheep and holy hand grenades all return, and there are additions, most of which relate to the new qualities present on the randomly generated landscapes. Flying monkeys can pick up physics objects, which are scattered around the maps, dropping them elsewhere. Unlike the terrain itself, these items roll, bounce and tumble, squashing worms as they go, and often containing poison or explosives. Then there are the fluid physics, introduced in Revolution but much improved here.

Worms drown when they contact the sea that lies at the bottom of every screen, but the water within the level isn’t quite as straightforward. It runs downhill, drips off overhangs and carries worms with it as it flows. Any combatant ending a turn underwater loses health and mobility is reduced while wading, but it’s the weapons that take advantage of fluids that make the tech most worthwhile. Water pistols are more like hosepipes, knocking targets backwards and creating pools and rivers, while the aqua jet seems destined to become a favourite. It’s a jetpack that spews gouts of water whenever the boost is activated, drenching and confusing everyone below.

Playing a multiplayer session against the people who made a game can be a sobering experience. The way things were going last week, as we settled into a series of 2 vs 2 matches, I think an actual worm could have beaten me by writhing around on the keys. My team mate was a smart player, the sort who can traverse an entire map using a ninja rope and a teleport gun, zipping from valley to peak, and dropping explosives directly on the heads of his enemies as he went.

I was more interested in staying alive, collecting medikits and lobbing the occasional grenade off the edge of the map.

The class system from Revolution returns but, like everything else, it has been tweaked. There are four types of worm, each easily spotted thanks to exaggerated proportions. There are a great deal of customisation options, some unlocked by playing through the single player campaign, but classes on every team share the same physique. Scientists are the bulbous-brained healers. Heavies are large but slow, the Brock Lesnars of the annelid world. Then there are the skinny scouts, potentially the most dangerous in the hands of an experienced player. They have increased mobility and the tunnels that they dig are longer and narrower – no other class can squeeze down them, so a team of scouts can hide deep in the earth. The basic soldier class can detonate any timed device, including banana bombs and grenades, at will, even if the fuse hasn’t burnt down.

By making the distinctions between classes more exaggerated, the aim is to provide more room for different strategic approaches. The Clan Wars of Clan Wars are where the game takes itself more seriously, although it’s still as daft as a cat in trousers. The clan system does provide the possibility for dedicated competitive play though, with league play, timed seasons, promotions for teams and individual members, and all sorts of clever matchmaking.

The creator of a clan becomes the leader, creating a logo and name, and choosing whether membership will be open to all, or only to friends or those invited. A level one clan can have up to eight members, although only two can fight together at any one time, while a top level clan can have 120 members. Every time a clan member fights, their result feeds back into the system and at the end of the season, movement between divisions is decided. As well as setting basic rules, clan leaders can bestow officer rank on other members, giving them the same rights, including the ability to send out newsletters and calls to arms.

It’s a elaborate system, with a companion app for cleverphones that tracks more stats than the US government. There’s a singleplayer mode as well, set in a museum from whence the landscape themes are drawn, from the prehistoric to the industrial. The levels are a mixture of platform-puzzles and more traditional deathmatches, and they utilise complex Little Big Planet-esque physics contraptions, which can also be added to custom levels in multiplayer. The story is as silly and British as expected, with a Lara Croft spoofing voiceover provided by Katherine Parkinson of the IT Crowd and them there Maltesers adverts. With Matt Berry having provided vocal duties on the previous game, I raised the possibility of Chris Morris being approached for the next, but everyone looked a bit worried. I maintain that Worms: Jam is the way forward.

It’s been a while since I played a Worms game and as I blundered through, I was reminded of a conversation I had with Johan Pilestedt of Arrowhead, creators of Magicka and The Showdown Effect. We’d discussed Magicka’s genre, not as an action RPG or multiplayer monsterslaughter simulator, but as a tool for improvised comedy. Watching my heavy worm pathetically attempting to flee from a stick of dynamite, slower than an actual worm stranded on a highway during the fourth day of a heatwave, I realised that Worms is essentially the same thing. The unexpected bounce of a banana that takes out an entire team, friendly or otherwise, or the mine that you didn’t spot, right in the middle of the landing strip your jetpack was aimed at. If it turns out to be a dud, hissing and letting out a gasp of smoke, all the better.

Artillery games have appealed to me since I found Scorched Earth so many years ago and spent a summer attempting to convince everyone I knew to play it instead of Doom. But this is Worms. Again. The improved physics do increase the potential for the unexpected, particularly the chaos of flowing fluids, and every turn is more likely to contain a moment of slapstick. While there will be those who master the movement of their units and the weight of each weapon, investing time and effort into the clan system in an attempt to rise through the divisions, I’ll probably continue to kill myself and my team mates, or to burrow far beneath the surface and construct ludicrous bases.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realise it’s all about the prod. Or mostly about the prod. That most satisfying of finishing moves, a poke in the chest that can send a precariously balanced enemy tumbling toward death. Dislodging a boulder and watching it roll down hill or lobbing a water bomb that washes people in to a valley – these are new and pleasing ways to dispatch a friend or foe. Clan Wars isn’t doing anything particularly new but it’s doing it all as well as it can be done and, for the first time in ages, with a game designed specifically for PC, including Steam Workshop integration and an interface that actually knows what a mouse and keyboard are.

Worms: Clan Wars will be making an appearance at Rezzed this weekend, as will I, occasionally testing my own knowledge of fluid physics in a nearby bar.

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46 Comments »

  1. Chizu says:

    Ah worms, even though often little changes, I still feel compelled to buy each version that comes out, just because of the fun that’s been had in multiplayer with friends over the years.
    Many an anguished cry has been heard as that bazooka shell that just hit your last worm sends him recoiling into a mine and bounces him over the side of the map into the waters below, despite the original blow being enough to kill him, adding insult to injury

    • Gap Gen says:

      Yes, it’s sort of bizarre how long this has been going for. I played it a lot as a kid, and it’s sort of weird to see it trucking on in the same style all these years.

    • The Random One says:

      Worm. Worm never changes.

      (Come on, I can’t be the only one who was thinking that.)

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      So you’re the one.

  2. jiminitaur says:

    I’m not seeing any indication that they have actually acknowledged or fixed any of the problems with post Armageddon titles.

    1) Horrible game mode customization menus. Have you noticed they keep reusing the console style weapons customization screen, where you can only see and work with one weapon in the configuration at a time. Maybe this will go away with a ‘PC focus’, I remain skeptical.

    2) Sloppy/unresponsive physics/controls. Reloaded is slightly better, but still not tight like Armageddon/2. Revolutions is painfully sloppy. Throwing in a couple water tricks in the mix doesn’t make up for the fact they consistently can’t mimic the responsiveness of the 10 year old version.

    3) Continuing erosion of customization options. Armageddon took some features out, but now includes a mod engine (Wormkit). Every title since has cut back the overall game customizations in favor of a couple new weapon inclusions, or load-out selection. Revolutions even cut back the number of worms you could have on teams at a time.

    In general, worms used to be about the way you wanted to play, now it’s just the way it’s played. It wouldn’t be such an issue, if they hadn’t actually delivered a game that had all core the features so many years ago, and have failed to properly replicate the same winning formula.

    The sad thing is, they will continue to shovel out these half-baked/half-improved sequels because people love their comedy engine enough to pretend like it’s a fresh start every time.

    • Adam Smith says:

      The customisation looks much better – I think that’s a big part of the PC focus. Just about everything can be changed and saved as a game type.

      Hard to comment too much on that until the game’s complete but agreed – greater emphasis on physics means it’s even more important to get it right because everything in the environment, including worms and ropes, is modelled using the engine rather than ‘cheating’.

      • Nixitur says:

        I’m still waiting for the option to have the ridiculous Armageddon ninja rope that makes no sense whatsoever, but is just insanely fun to use.
        I guess it’ll never come back, but one can always hope.

        • rb2610 says:

          I second this, I tried Revolution for a bit and was woefully disappointed at the ninja ropes, and the movement in general, it just felt much clunkier than Armageddon.

          To put it into perspective Steam says I’ve played 71 minutes of Revolution, 11 hours of Reloaded, however over the years I must have played a good couple of hundred hours of Armageddon and Worms 2. When I feel like playing Worms, it’s not the spangly new features of the more recent instalments drawing my attention, it’s the solid, well refined and enjoyable gameplay and good levels of customisation (that aren’t just silly costumes) of the old games that sucks me back in.

    • skunk3 says:

      I share the same opinions as you. W:A (with all of the updates/patches) is definitely the pinnacle of Worms gaming, hands down. Reloaded and Revolution are just plain lackluster. While I do like the graphics in Reloaded, as well as the new types of vertical maps, the drastically changed ninja rope was a critical blow for me. I don’t mind adjusting to the new friction mechanics, or how grenades bounce and roll, or how much wind affects shots now, but FFS don’t change the rope! It also lacked soooo many customization options and weapons/utilities from the older games. To my surprise, Revolution was even worse. MUCH worse. Easily my least favorite Worms title aside from the original. The (underwhelming/poor) addition of physics objects was okay, and I love the inclusion of dynamic water into the mix, but overall the game is a major disappointment. Also, selling day-one DLC is a low blow. When I buy a Worms title, I expect all of the weapons to be available to me. I don’t want to have to buy a damn DLC pack just to be able to create schemes in which I can use items like skunks, napalm strikes, et al. That is ludicrous.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      There was also The Fiddler, an unofficial weapon and settings editor for Armageddon. Playing games with you and/or your friends’ home-made weapons was always a blast. I was really good at timing grenade fuses back in the day, so my weapon of choice was a regular grenade that I made to pass through terrain (I named it “h4x”). I also made a submarine strike by combining a low-flying plane with mole bombs.

      Besides an Armageddon with official map and weapon editors, I’d also like to see a RTS version of Worms. Some kind of mix between Worms, Cortex Command, Clonk and Minecraft.

  3. BooleanBob says:

    Stick with the prod.

  4. communisthamster says:

    Worms is classic. After the first year of secondary school one of our friends moved across the country and left us his school network login details. We installed Worms: Armageddon on that network drive and played it for hundreds of hours till someone noticed the drive shouldn’t exist and deleted it.

  5. ColdAsIce says:

    I must have missed it from the article, is this the same 2d/3d hybrid from the last game? Or are they going back to 2d?

    What’s the maximum amount of players possible on 1 map. The biggest problem with the last games was the terribly small map sizes.

    I hope they won’t be asking full retail AAA prices for this.

  6. lowprices says:

    Man, I might have to persuade a few friends to get this. Reading the preview brought back memories of playing Worms Armageddon on the N64 at uni for hours with friends. Oh how we laughed when we tried the Holy Hand Grenade or the French Sheep Strike for the first time.

    On the topic of voices: get Patrick Stewart to do the next one. He’d be great. Comedians doing voices in Worms games just brings back memories of Hogs of War on the ps1, with its blend of Rik Mayall and Europhobia.

  7. RedViv says:

    The wonderful packs of Barbarian and Infestation are sitting behind me and nod in agreement to the words about Psygnosis covers.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      I have the original Aliens Vs Predator box glaring down at me right now in all its embossed orange glory.

      When PC big box art turned into DVD case frippery, we lost something.

  8. JamesTheNumberless says:

    The last Worms game I bought I abandoned after not being able to find any way of actually setting up a multiplayer game with friends. I could only play multiplayer against random strangers. Will I be able to set up a game with a bunch of other players of my choice in this one? If not, then it really doesn’t matter how good the fluid dynamics are or how many monkeys it has.

  9. waaaaaaaals says:

    I wish I could have faith in Team 17 these days but after the messes that were Reloaded and Revolutions, I really can’t.

    To me it seems like they make progress in one direction at the expense of another so I’m stuck wondering what’s been nobbled for the clan system / content to be added.

    It feels bizarre that a fourteen year old game is still generally held as the best example that the entire series of Worms games has to offer.

  10. leQuack says:

    Oe, Worms part 16 (not including the expansion pack and the HD-remake) Can’t wait to see what fundamental changes they made to the ancient formula they’ve been doing over and over!

    Wait, nothing?

    Moving on

    • Kobest says:

      Exactly. I always had Armageddon installed, and though I tried out every new iteration of the series, I kept going back to it after just a couple of hours of the new titles.

  11. Text_Fish says:

    I know it gets said a lot about non-FPS franchises usually in a jaded irony sort of way, but they should REALLY make a Worms FPS if they insist on sticking to the franchise. Imagine a TF2 sort of thing but with sheep launchers, bungee ropes, prodding and fully destructible environments. IMAGINE IT! It would really piss the purists off, but they should’ve got the message by now that Armageddon’s as good as it’s ever likely to get.

    • RedViv says:

      I do hope PvZ Garden Warfare goes all out on that. It seems like a really swell plan. We don’t have enough F.U.N. shooters.

    • Lambchops says:

      That’s kind of what I hoped the 3D one would play like, instead it was a complete mess.

    • airknots says:

      …or if they’re too uncomfortable to venture into the FPS genre, perhaps they can at least give us a 2D real time action Worms game ala Liero and Soldat (both were inspired by worms, so this would make it a full circle). I might be bashed for suggesting this but… make it F2P and add loadouts and hats!

  12. DarkMalice says:

    I still have Armageddon installed, my fiance loves playing it against me. Might be tempted by a new one if it has the PC in mind.

  13. Tom Walker says:

    Ooh, I haven’t played a Worms game for ages. I expect I’ve lost my World Party installer by now. Might get on Steam tonight and buy Revolution.

    They’re all the same. So long as I can play local two-player and 1v3 against AI that I can gradually turn up, the rest of it is just fluff.

  14. Fox89 says:

    I haven’t played a new WORMS game in absolutely ages. Like pretty much everyone else, Armageddon remains my favourite. If this is truly as PC gamer friendly as they suggest, it might just be time to jump back in.

  15. Lambchops says:

    While Armageddon is probably the best I probably put more hours into Worms World Party, which was basically just Armageddon with a slightly slicker front end for arranging matches.

    Like everyone else who bought Reloaded I found it a disappointment. The reduced team size and controls that weren’t as tight as they were back in the day coupled with not being as customisable let it down in spite of it still managing to provide those classic Worms moments of silliness.

  16. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    Ah, Psygnosis… *sigh*

  17. Bobka says:

    I do love Worms, even if it’s getting a bit musty. It would be neat if they branched out into different genres, though – clearly the setting has potential. A Worms TBS game? A Worms shooter? A Worms sandbox RPG? All while staying utterly ridiculous, of course.

  18. Radiant says:

    I still play armegeddon. its the pinnicle of worms.

    Also please(!) dont have me unlock shit by playing the single player campaign.
    It’s 2013; If your game is good I’ll play the single player without being forced to do it.

  19. CountVlad says:

    I know one or two other people have mentioned about the reduced size of teams in newer Worms games. Any idea how big the teams are likely to be in this game? One of the things I miss is being able to cause mass mayhem with a banana (I’m just smiling to myself thinking how that would sound out of context).

  20. cowgod says:

    Nope, Team 17 lost all my trust when they said that Reloaded would be continually supported and hyped it up as the best Worms ever. It wasn’t even in the same league as Armageddon, and Team 17 will never capture that level of polish again.

  21. airknots says:

    I was really disappointed with Worms Reloaded, multiplayer is so glitchy and controls felt unoptimized. Well, at least I got a Lumbricus Lid hat for TF2. Anyone here played Worms: Open Warfare 2 for the DS/PSP? That one managed to capture the fun of Armageddon in my opinion.

  22. skunk3 says:

    I echo many of the sentiments previously stated by others. I’ve been playing Worms titles for a long time. I started by playing Worms 2 offline with friends. I became so infatuated that I bought Worms: Armageddon the day it launched here in the U.S. and I honestly could not even begin to estimate how many hours I have logged playing that game. (Aside from a few breaks here and there I have been playing it online since day one…) Both Reloaded and Revolution are seriously disappointing. I thought that Reloaded was bad when it first came out, but compared to Revolution it’s a gem. Revolution is simply terrible, and I’m saddened to see that this new game looks essentially the same. Worms simply should not be set in a pseudo-3D environment. It should be 2D sprite graphics, period. The mechanics of the newer games is crap – especially when it comes to the ninja rope, which is the hallmark of Worms gameplay. In Revolution, the rope has been reduced to a worthless, flaccid thing. In Reloaded, it is far too easy to use and requires very little skill to traverse the map like a vet. It was “just right” in W:A/WWP. Aside from the crap gameplay mechanics, the amount of weapons and utilities available seems to continually diminish, not to mention the fact that customization options are a fraction of what they once were. When it comes to Worms titles, customization is CRUCIAL. It is what has kept W:A alive and well for so long. I signed up to beta test this new title, but I have a feeling that I am going to have the some issues with it that I had with Revolution. It will likely be improved in many ways, but since the engine is still ’2.5D’, the odds are that it is going to feel clunky, slow, and sloppy when compared to the older titles. Thank god that Team17 has kept their W:A server going this long. I really don’t know what I’d do with myself if they ever took it down. Also, having a maximum of 4 players at once sucks. Why not up that number to at least six, if not eight? They added the ability for players to use up to eight worms at a time in Revolution, but that’s only in one-on-one matches. When you have a full game (4 players), you can only have 4 worms per team… which is crap since in W:A we could have up to six players at once, each with several worms per team. (I can’t remember the specific number right now, but it’s 6-8) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… Team17 needs to knock it off with this 3D engine. Stick to what makes Worms great – crisp, cartoony graphics with wacky, solid gameplay and tons of customization.

    • Monkeh says:

      Sadly, I totally agree with this statement.

      Bought every Worms game (real ones that is, not Golf and such) since the first Worms and only really loved Worms 2 and Armageddon (WWP not so much, since they took out some of the stuff that was in W:A). These new 2.5D Worms look awkward and Team 17 really shouldn’t feel forced to not use 2D graphics, since there are still plenty of pretty games that use 2D art.

      I’ll probably still buy this new one as well though, just because it’ll probably be cheap and I still have love for Team 17. :P

  23. b0rsuk says:

    It would be smart if two players from the SAME team had to move in the SAME 60(45, 30…) seconds. It would be a mix of Liero and Worms – turn-based between teams, but real-time within a team. It would also actually take the advantage of internet and having teams – it’s not possible to do on a single mouse/keyboard.

  24. Sidewinder says:

    Am I the only person who heard the title and had visions of Angry Scots in Madcats charging over a hill, launching super sheep from their LRMs?

    I can’t decide if that would be wonderful or horrible.

  25. Jackablade says:

    I think the real question is – does the game intro feature a selection of Itchy and Scratchy style cartoons shown randomly when the game is started, ala Worms 2?

  26. MellowKrogoth says:

    I still haven’t pardoned Team 17 for going aggressively after open-source project http://www.hedgewars.org/ because people on their forums suggested that it was more true to the original Worms spirit. I met one of the devs of Hedgewars, and he quit the project after harrassment and threats from Team 17 people: this wasn’t just a lawyer writing a letter (which would already be wrong, you can’t copyright game mechanics), it was members of Team 17 actively insulting, harassing and threatening them.

  27. Milky1985 says:

    Can you have 8 worms per team again or is that still beyond the new engines capabilities? I know it wasn’t balanced or fair but half of the run of playing worms 2 with my mates was having 4 players, each with 8 worms on the map as there was no way you can use anything without hitting something.

    it always turned into a game of “Take out more of them than you do of yourself and your doing well”. I really didn’t like the change to 4 players max, or the new one of you can only have 8 worms if you are only playing against one other person, ruined half of the fun :/

  28. muffinmonkey says:

    What’s that? A Jam reference in an RPS article about Worms? Is it SuperChristmas?

  29. nos235 says:

    I’ve been playing worms ever since the very first edition. Reached #1 in the world on Worms Armageddon for 3 months and have played every iteration (apart from basically boycotting the 3D aberattions). Until the patch yesterday I was basically unable to play WCW on my fairly well specced PC. But even with the patch I’m still in a 1024x 768 window and the controls are still not as tight and responsive as WA (especially on Xbox 360).For me as an online deathmatch/forts player the most important aspect is balance and fairness – which is why I abhor Armageddon and the Concrete Donkey. The weapons allowances for the scheme are critical to this; and is the biggest single down fall of WCW. I do like the class system and think that it’s great but I really want to see a return to true 2D – I hate the parallaxed secondary background just behind the map – I always confuse it’s edges with the terrain edges – that never happened in true 2D.

    if anyone wants a forts 1v1 ranked against me -just add me on steam – same handle as here