Review by El Dufo
"Worms has never been so good, but it's never been much worse either."
Worms, as a game, is an excellent, thoughtful, entertaining, humorous, well-presented, innovative, and absolute shining symbol of simplistic elegance. When in its element, there is almost nothing wrong with it, no matter what direction you look at it from.
Worms, as a series, is a horrible, demonic, cash-chugging, evil, foul-smelling git of a series. It hasn’t moved on since Worms 2 and it won’t move on until at least one more sequel has been released. It’s disappointing, and it just won’t die, no matter how many times you kick it.
I’ll start from the beginning, which is generally accepted as the best place to start from:
There was a man, a very clever and only slightly insane man, called Andy Davidson. He was a college student. Many people are, or at least were at one point. He wanted a game he could play with his mates, so he made one. It was called Worms, a turn-based, strategy-focused game that was probably the first to offer exploding sheep as a collectable item.
It was a success, so then they made an expansion pack called Worms: Reinforcements, which added several new terrain types, a single player mission mode, and lots of other lovely miscellaneous features.
Then they made Worms 2, which was a sequel in every sense of the word. It was brilliant, in fact— the worms had evolved from tiny stick figures constructed of about 8 pixels each to hand-drawn, fully-animated Disney-beating wonders; around twenty new weapons had been introduced, including the Super Sheep, Holy Hand Grenade and Mad Cow; and it was all tied up in a package so deliciously enticing it remains one of the few games around that still doesn’t look at all dated when placed next to more recent titles.
That too was a success, quite rightfully, and so they decided to make another expansion pack, this time for Worms 2, called Wormageddon, which promised to be even more substantial than Reinforcements had been. Andy Davidson was often seen chatting enthusiastically about it during internet chats, and the world of Worms had never been more exciting.
And then Wormageddon had to be renamed Worms Armageddon due to legal pressure (in the metaphorical form of a sixty thousand-dollar, gold-plated steel vice) from the developers of similar-sounding Carmageddon, SCI. Which was a shame, really.
And then Team 17 realised that they could make more money by selling Armageddon as a separate, stand-alone title. Many were suspicious, but bought it anyway.
This is Armageddon’s story.
So it was meant to be many things. But instead of talking about what it isn’t, we should concentrate what it is— and what it is, is a very good game. So I’ll tell you why, which is generally what you’re meant to do in reviews.
The basic idea behind the Worms series is thus: two or more teams, made up entirely of said spineless minibeasts, are placed at random points upon an exquisitely-detailed 2D terrain. This terrain is basically the level in which each round takes place, a block of virtual earth decorated with various miscellaneous objects for some variety, and it is over and around this landscape that the worms will wage war in a turn-based fashion. For every turn, a player takes control of one of their worms with the specific goal of making sure that their platoon is the last standing at the end of the round. Eliminating other worms is simply a matter of choosing whatever weapon makes the most sense at the time and using it to the best of the player’s ability, be it a grenade, stick of dynamite, mad cow or super banana bomb, amongst countless others. Each weapon performs a specific task, and may fit into one of several categories: launcher (where the projectile— like a grenade or rocket— is propelled across the landscape, the trajectory and shot strength of which is determined by the player as they use it); timed (where the weapon is placed at a chosen spot and the worm in question has a certain amount of time to escape the ensuing blast radius, as with a stick of dynamite); animal (where a farm animal of the player’s choosing is unleashed to trot unselfishly in a fairly random manner around the landscape, before detonating or performing some other enemy-harming task at the owner’s command); strike (a set of bombs or other such undesirable objects are dropped at a chosen point on the map); gun (general line-of-sight weapon); melee (low-powered weapons that must be performed at close range, usually employed to knock worms into unpleasant places); movement (used to transport your team to other points on the map, as with the grappling hook-esque Ninja Rope and teleport); construction (intended for digging through landscape or constructing bridges); and miscellaneous (usually wimpy options like Surrender, Skip Go and the more interesting Freeze, which encases your entire team in blocks of ice until your next turn, rendering them impervious to damage). Selecting from this tremendously vast collection of weaponry can be intimidating at first, but tactical thinking and a knowledge of what each weapon does soon becomes second nature. As the game progresses, extra weapons, health bonuses and useful tools like the jetpack and laser targeting become available in the form of collectable crate drops, delivered as emergency back-up supplies.
This game was originally intended for use as a multiplayer title, and as a result, the single player challenges are somewhat lacking, although it is difficult to determine what could be improved other than the rather boring computer enemy AI (but I’ll come to that later). There are several game modes— custom set-up, which lets the player fiddle with the options, team and landscape settings to create their own game styles; training, which sets a string of fairly basic challenges that will, in the later levels, have you pulling every one of your hairs out in an awesomely frustrating example of difficulty; mission, which gives the player over twenty increasingly difficult (and wonderfully inventive) challenges; and the fairly standard deathmatch, which pits your team against several other computer-controlled ones in a ladder-based scheme which has you working your way up the military ranks in hope of reaching the very top without getting your fingers trodden on by others trying to do the same. All but the custom set-up mode rewards the player with various GoldenEye-style secrets.
The artificial intelligence, then. In a sentence— you can tell it’s artificial. Computer-controlled enemies will make beautifully perfect moves every go, unless you turn their competence setting down, which only results in them making blatantly deliberate mistakes during some turns and the same old perfect ones on others. For example, set it to 5, the highest, and they’ll never make a mistake; but set it to 3, and they’ll make around three mistakes to every five turns. There’s no ‘almost-got-it’ shots, or ‘that-was-a-good-plan-but-it-failed’ mistakes— their success rate is either on or, predictably, off. In a spiteful addition, their meticulous ability seems to be restricted to using only a few of the 30+ weapons— the grenade, bazooka, shotgun, airstrike, and dynamite. You’ll never see them use the ninja rope, or place a girder, or activate a utility: they’re so systematic and inflexible it’s almost more entertaining to play against yourself. It’s like trying to teach a Terminator to play pool: Arnie would probably develop one perfect strategy and use it every time. And he’d beat you, too.
But the multiplayer—
Oh, the multiplayer.
The multiplayer in Armageddon is divine. The multiplayer in Armageddon is almost heaven itself; the multiplayer in Armageddon is just about the most entertaining activity any two people could ever possibly have, except, possibly, for the rather obvious other highly entertaining activity two people could possibly have. In theory, up to sixteen people crowded around one machine could play this; and they’d each have just as much fun as everyone else. Real human minds thinking real human thoughts and coming up with real human strategies is something that the computer just can’t simulate. Don’t buy this if you don’t have any friends; you can play it on the ‘net, but it’s rubbish as there’s more lag than there really should be (which is disappointing, considering the fact that it’s a 2D, turn-based game that any modem should be able to cope with) and, as in any Internet-based community, most of its users amount to nothing more than illiterate, offensive idiots who do little but play badly and then quit when approaching defeat. But the ultimate bliss of Worms’ true intention still hasn’t worn off, and— even after countless sequels worthy only of free Internet updates— it probably never will.
The amount of options offered by the series has always been tremendous, and Worms Armageddon continues this trend: players can alter the availability and power of the weapons, design their own levels or turn existing pictures into landscapes to play on, and activate and deactivate loads of additional features like donor cards, anchor mode, crate drops and reinforcement arrivals. As a result of this massive editing freedom, new takes on the standard gameplay mode have sprung up, like the Shopper, BnG, Fort and Sniper modes, each of which offering vastly different playing styles. (As a result— as long as you have a readily-available flow of friends willing to play with— Worms will never get old.) Unfortunately, the ability to customise some of the more interesting and rare weapons isn’t possible, which can make for a slightly imbalanced game— the uncommon Suicide Bomber, for example, is horrifically underpowered when one considers its cost (i.e., one worm). The ability to alter its effects would have been welcome, but alas, it seems that Team 17 didn’t want to allow players too much freedom lest Internet matches become nothing but all-out blastathons where one shot reduces the entire level to something resembling a nuclear testing ground. Understandable— but surely these ‘custom’ set-ups could be assigned to a completely different server, where each team would play at their own risk?
The similarities between Worms Armageddon and its predecessor, Worms 2, are alarming. If all is taken into account, little more has been added since the game’s predecessor other than a few dozen new weapons and a fancier front-end. Armageddon started off as an expansion pack and has ended as one— just one that costs more. If you haven’t already got Worms 2, then Armageddon will mean everything it’s meant to; but to a follower of the series than it’ll reek of cash and little else.
And that, it seems, is the direction Team 17 seem to be taking with the company’s primary source of income. The recently-released Worms World Party offers little else but new missions and a vaguely interesting new front-end feature that will, inevitably, end up in very bold print on the back of the box. Andy Davidson’s gem has ultimately been massacred in the name of cash flow, and it looks like we won’t be seeing innovation for a while yet… so buy Worms Armageddon. Because you won’t be getting any better for a while yet.
A wonderfully thought-out, splendidly-executed and infinitely entertaining game whose multiplayer mode is arguably one of the best of its kind. Remove the friends from the equation and you’re left with a somewhat dull title; but with some like-minded chums you’ll find no better. Excellent, and well-worth getting for the multiplayer alone. But, Team 17, where has all the innovation gone?
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 06/09/01, Updated 06/09/01
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