I must confess that, despite my tiny, shrivelled heart, I feel a wee bit sorry for Team 17. For over 20 years they’ve been pitting wriggly, pun-loving invertebrates against each other in turn-based cartoon wars, while making considerable changes to the formula, but all anyone really seems to want is another Worms Armageddon. If you are one of the 7 billion people living on Earth: good news, because Worms W.M.D. [official site] is what you’ve been asking for.
It initially feels like a couple of steps – or wriggles – back for a series that has seen some not insignificant changes over the last few years. With Revolution and Clan Wars we got weaponised water physics, puzzles, traps and contraptions, and classes that gave the garden beasties specific roles and talents. These additions provided new depth and wrinkles to the never-ending war. Worms W.M.D. gets rid of the lot, as well as ditching the pleasantly silly story-based campaign, which came complete with professional voice overs from the likes of Matt Berry, of IT Crowd and Mighty Boosh fame.
With all this lovely stuff being kicked out, I delved into the latest game with the beginnings of a scowl. Who are these conservative Worms fans who inspired this turning back of time, I wondered, and where can I find them so I can give them a swift kick up the posterior?
It’s okay, I got better. Worms W.M.D., it turns out, is a delightful artillery game, and though I miss everything that was introduced in the last two games, the gaps they’ve left behind have been filled with things that suit the basic Worms formula. See, this is not merely Armageddon again, but rather the spirit of Armageddon with some modern twists. And what are those twists, I hear you demand as you stuff your gorgeous faces with gummy worms, as all Worms fans must to sustain their fervour. Well, I’m about to tell you. Calm down.
First up, there's a crafting system. Crafting shouldn’t really fit comfortably into Worms, and its inclusion in W.M.D. at first seems like Team 17 just going along with the theme of the last couple of years: cram crafting into everything. It is, however, an unexpectedly welcome feature, simultaneously fixing some minor niggles while adding another layer of surprise and tension to the wormicide.
It’s thankfully nice and simple, too. Along with the traditional supply crates that you might find peppering the maps, you’ll also come across boxes containing crafting materials. Once you’ve nabbed them, you can go into the crafting menu at any time – even during the other team’s turn – and, if you’ve got the right materials or are willing to dismantle another tool to get more parts, mold them into a new deadly weapon. And not just your garden variety deadly weapons, but upgraded ones too. Instead of a regular exploding sheep, you can make one that murders with electricity, or maybe you’d prefer to put together a gas grenade or a cluster missile. For every situation there’s a perfect, terrifying toy.
The result is that you’ll hardly ever find yourself without a myriad of fun options with which you can decimate enemy worms, from dodgy batteries to orbital strikes, and countless weird and wonderful traps and armaments in between. And on the flipside, you never quite know what tricks your enemy has up its sleeves. Battles can turn quickly, then, and crafting does wonders for the pace of the game. Not only does it give you something to do while the other team is taking its turn – gone is all that thumb-twiddling – it fills each battle with a multitude of races, as you attempt to gobble up all the crafting crates and flesh out your arsenal before your opponent can.
Crafting isn’t the only new skill that the eponymous beasties have learned since their last outing; they can use vehicles and mounted weapons now, as well. Tanks, mechs, attack helicopters, sniper nests, mortars – the battlefields are fat with new tools. They’re powerful additions to the invertebrates’ arsenals, but balanced by egalitarianism. The philosophy behind these vehicles and weapons appears to be that every worm deserves a chance to be a complete badass, so if you’ve managed to commandeer a hulking mech, it can still be hijacked by your foe. This has led me to take a pragmatic approach on more than one occasion – blowing up a vehicle or mounted gun to deprive my enemy, even if I have to miss out as well. And that’s great. Worms W.M.D. forces you to think strategically, to make sacrifices to ensure victory. War is serious business.
All of these new systems are showcased in hand-crafted, tactically interesting maps in the single-player campaign and challenge mode, the latter of which tasks you with completing bounties on a variety of naughty criminal worms. Gone are the semi-3D, and perhaps over-designed, levels of Revolution and Clan Wars, replaced by incredibly detailed, but easier to read, 2D battlefields. They’re undoubtedly the best looking warzones the series has offered so far, as diverse as they are aesthetically appealing. Urban maps full of towering skyscrapers, the dark green hills of Yorkshire, amber Mesoamerican arenas – it’s something of a world tour. While, on the surface, they might look a lot like the Worms maps of yore, they are elevated by the addition of buildings that could be hiding anything from crates to enemies. Unless you’ve got a worm in there, you can’t see inside, so they allow you to set up some sneakier attacks or simply cower in fear.
These curated maps only represent half of the game, however. In multiplayer, you can set up your own custom battlefields, or you can go one step further and design one from the ground up. Above you’ll see my first attempt to transform my best pal, Max the Labradoodle, into a level. I suggest finding a less cute inspiration, however, because blowing up adorable dogs isn’t very nice.
Multiplayer, local or online, is where Worms ultimately thrives. This has always been the case, though the previous two games made a genuine effort to craft a fun single-player campaign, something W.M.D. is unfortunately lacking. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of levels and challenges available for the solo player, and they’re certainly worth your time thanks to the effort put into the maps themselves, along with the fact that they should help you get to grips with the new systems. Before you’re done with them, however, you’ll likely be itching to take on human opponents, and not just because the AI-controlled worms have a penchant for suicide and throwing games.
Prodding a pal’s worm onto a mine or off the edge of a cliff, hearing them roar in dismay as your airstrike exterminates their entire force, the endless ways you can test the limits of a friendship through unsportsmanlike trolling – this is the lifeblood of Worms. It’s as silly and glorious as it was at the series’ inception, not because it’s stayed the same, but because it’s grown with its audience, heaping on customisation options and countless new tricks while still maintaining that singular focus on creating memorable, explosive battles. So while Worms W.M.D. might evoke the halcyon days of Armageddon, it’s more than capable of standing on its own as another high point for the series.
Worms W.M.D. is out now for Windows, Mac and Linux.