After 16 years of growing the franchise in a direction no original fan of the series wanted, Team 17 finally admit: “Yes, you were right, Worms Armageddon is the best Worms game. We’re sorry about everything we did afterwards.” At least, that’s what we imagine them saying. You see, for this year’s installment of Worms, Team 17 are going back to that classic that never died.
The parallels with Armageddon are immediate.
There must be something special about a game from 1999 which has a more active community than any of its sequels. Team 17 have just realised this and want some of that magic. They’re going back to it, taking everything that made it good – everything that keeps those die-hards in that lobby, such as its physics – and they’re adding some stuff.
Wait, they’re adding stuff? Isn’t that when things start going wrong? Well, as always, all changes to proven formulas must be treated with fear and mistrust, yet at the same time we recognise Worms Armageddon only reached its peak by finely tuning and adding elements to the core gameplay of the original Worms game.
We like: the idea of buildings. Tunnelling networks into the terrain to force a tactical endgame was one element we love. Buildings seem like ready-made mini-forts to spread tactical play through to the mid and early game too. Excellent!
We’re not sure: vehicles and mounted guns. Some look clumsy, and – might they be a mite overpowered? Will players rely on them too much, with the winning strategy being to focus on commandeering and keeping possession of them? I hope not. Else I hope their quantity can be adjusted via settings, just like we could set the number of mines or oil drums.
But the big news is the ninja rope. The more Worms games were released, the more realistic the ninja rope became, and the more realistic the less fun. Were they too overpowered in Armageddon? Yes! We are not afraid of attacking sacred cows here! But the reason it was overpowered was not how it controlled, but because of rope knocking, and the fact that each team started out with five of the things. When the rope is so powerful that you can use it to get from almost any single point to any other point in the landscape without your worm breaking a sweat, then we think five was too much. It made the game less about aiming, more about swinging. We are all for the return of the original, fun ninja rope, but put a limit on how much it can be used. I want to have to lob some grenades, too.
The old, clean UI is back from W2/WA: a popup window from the side of the screen with small icons laid out logically in rows where you can find everything quickly. Tasty!
The art – Worms games have gone through three main art styles – pixel art, crisp cartoony art and 3d art, peaking at Armageddon which lay flat in the middle of the cartoon era. The graphics were always progressively evolving, but since Armageddon that evolution applied not to art direction but technology. As the backgrounds got noisier, the landscapes chunkier and more dimensiony, much of the identity was lost, and the animation became choppy. Armageddon was from a time when Team 17 felt 3d screen dressing could be eschewed in favour of crisp, clean artwork and a smooth, constant 60 frames per second animation. Worms Armageddon is like a sinewy old man beating a panting, obese 20-something to the shops.
Well I’m delighted to say it’s back to real, hand-drawn, 2d artwork, this time going for a beautiful painterly look. It’s an evolution of the cartoon style we love, but this time the right evolution. It’s as clean and sharp, yet more detailed, more interesting. It has personality again.
Sparse backgrounds are back, and worms which stick out against the landscape (though, they could still do with a few goes on the treadmill). And water. Water is there, right at the bottom of the screen where it belongs. It’s only for drowning in, the developers reassure.
By releasing a new installment and changing the formula so often, the online Worms community has become fractured, creating longer than comfortable waiting times for all games bar Worms Armageddon. Each fork in the road of Worms development has created its own fans. Some stuck with Armageddon. Some moved on or joined when 2d moved to HD. Others took to the 3d games. All have their fans. So we wonder, who will be along for the ride this time? And crucially, will there be enough of them?
The challenge is to make me – and other die-hards – want to stop playing Armageddon and buy this instead. Which will be difficult because Armageddon still plays very well, has been patched to look good at higher resolutions, and as mentioned above has a very active community. If WMD can deliver the core gameplay of Armageddon, but with nice addons like controller support and a well-managed ranking system, I’d be very willing to make the switch.
I hope Team 17 get it right finally.