When it comes to the Worms’ series, you either love them or you don’t; rarely have I seen a middle ground when discussing the series with other gamers. The series has been around for 15 years now and has hit almost every console imaginable. In recent years though, the popularity of the Worms’ games has dwindled, almost to the point of obscurity. Although the series was critically acclaimed early on during the mid- to late 1990’s, concerns regarding the lack of meaningful additions and changes to subsequent versions grew with every release. In short, many felt that the series was growing stale and that the game releases were simply minor updates to previous installments and not worthy of entirely new releases.
In an attempt to reinvigorate the series, the developers attempted to move the series into the third dimension with 2003’s Worms 3D; needless to say the reception was nowhere near as great as the original. The series bounced around from publisher to publisher over the years, until finally landing back at home with Team 17 for the 2007 Xbox Live Arcade release of Worms 2: Armageddon. The XBLA release was quickly regarded as the best iteration of the series in years and heralded for its return to the 2D style of the origjnal. It seemed as if Team 17 had finally managed to rekindle the original magic of the Worms’ series and the popularity started to grow once more.
All of those events led us to 2010 and Worms Reloaded for the PC (and in development for MacOS). The new game, available exclusively (currently) through Valve’s Steam service is a beefed up version of Worms 2: Armageddon for the Xbox Live Arcade. Reloaded includes all of the content included in the original Armageddon XBLA release with the additional content that was released on the Microsoft Marketplace as well as many completely new and original features that have never been seen before. The charm of Worms Reloaded, and the series in general, lies in its simplicity. The premise of the game is as simple as it has always been: players will control individual teams of multiple Worms and use various weapons and tools to eliminate their opponents which are spread across a destructible map. Players do nothing more than take turns taking shots at one another until one team is left standing with at least one member alive. In addition to the destruction that the weapons themselves inflict on the worms, the environment often offers its own with landmines and explosive barrels often littered about, as well as the ever-pending, and deadly, water looming at the bottom of each stage. Worms don’t like water and ending up in the drink will mean certain death. While the core of the game remains the same, it’s the new additions that make this package the best one compiled yet.
One of the first “new” features of the game involves the high definition graphical style. Worms has never looked better and brighter than it does in this version of the game. While the game utilizes the classic graphical style that fans of the series have grown to know and love, it looks as good as ever. The characters are crisp and animated and the animations are smooth and detailed. It doesn’t take much to run the game and it should look good on any computer it’s installed on. The game also includes widescreen support which is something that wasn’t present in the previous PC iterations. This is a welcome addition to the series as it makes it a lot easier to scan the environment in order to plan your attacks. Long story short, Worms has never looked better. The same thing can be said for the sound of the game too: it has never been better. Reloaded brings back the well known speech banks from the previous games in a higher quality and re-mastered form. There are 50 familiar voice sets for gamers to choose from and 20 new ones. Each bank selection has its own personality and everyone is sure to find one that they will love. Classics such as the Angry Scottish voices sound as good as ever, you are sure to find one that will put a smile on your face. Gamers will be hard pressed “not” to smile when they here styles such as the “l33t” and “Movie Trailer” speech banks; their hilarious and Team 17’s sense of humor truly shines through. Other additions to the series include a fully revised physics engine, especially notable with the fire and flame effects. Explosions are more deadly than ever because fire / flames can be spread across the map and manipulated with your tools / weapons. Gamers will also experience new and improved enemy AI, new vertical landscape stages, Steam achievements, and a ton of new customization options. Worms Reloaded gives gamers a ton of modes to choose from in both single- and multiplayer flavors. Lone gamers can launch training, quick skirmish matches, or partake in a 35+ mission campaign mode. The training mode will introduce players to the concept and methods behind the Worms series; you will traverse through a series of challenges which are all meant to show gamers the ropes regarding the various control techniques and tools offered in the game. The mission mode spans across various environments and mixes classic Worm battles with puzzle stages in order to add a little variety to the experience. The standard stages involve classic Worms’ battle-gameplay, but the puzzle stages require players to put their knowledge and skills with the weapons and tools to traverse through stages to a predetermined exit point. Usually this will involve you showing your expertise with the jetpack, rope, and parachute while avoiding turrets and other environmental hazards. You will need to complete the single player campaign in order to gain access to a majority of the game’s 47 weapons (14 of which are completely new to the series); the rest will need to be purchased from the game’s shop mode, which will be explained later.
The beauty of Worms exists in its multiplayer though and Reloaded has plenty of variety to offer in that department. Aside from the standard online and local skirmishes, Reloaded allows players to participate in ranked matches through a matchmaking service controlled by the Steam network. The game also includes leaderboard support to promote the multiplayer aspect of the game, tracking benchmarks and records for all of the various modes in the Reloaded community. Unfortunately, the game will only allow up to 4 players to battle it out in the game; it would have pleased a lot of fans had Team 17 included support for more players, even if it was bumped up to just 6. The 4 player multiplayer works well though and keeps a decent pace that stops the game from getting boring. I would imagine that more players would cause a lot of downtime for players while they wait their turn in a battle. Since the gameplay is all turn based, players are left waiting for their opponent’s to complete their turns in roughly 45 second intervals… that could get unbearable with 8 or more players. Perhaps Team 17 knows what is best for us all and has stuck with 4 player support for that reason alone.
Any Worms fan will tell you that half of the fun with the game is making it your own; Worms is all about customization. The games have always allowed you to take complete control of almost every aspect of your Worm team as I mentioned above with the selectable speech banks. In addition to the voice options, you will need to name your individual Worms and team(s), select your team’s fort design, gravestone, and hat which will sort of serve as your team “uniform”. You start off with a ton of options in each of these categories but even more are accessible through the game’s shop mode. Regardless of the mode that you choose to play, you are given a chance to earn coins which can be spent in the shop to unlock more weapons, landscapes, forts, gravestones, and missions. The choices offered in Worms Reloaded are the most diverse and expansive ever included in the series. There is a ton to unlock and choose from, as well as opportunities to design your own.
While a staple in the series has been player’s ability to create and customize their own speech packs, Reloaded now allows players to design their own stages as well. The options available to design your own stage are simple yet extremely flexible. Stages can be drawn by hand using your computer mouse and mapped out accordingly with environmental hazards and spawn points. All of this can be done in a matter of seconds and shared with other players throughout the Reloaded community (through the forums or the official Facebook page). More customization options are said to be coming to the game in the future as well. Team 17 is also planning to throw out various “Easter Eggs” into the game as the year(s) go on, though the details are being kept quiet at this time. More than likely, this will include seasonal additions in reference to National holidays such as Santa Hats or holiday themed landscapes.
As good as the package is it does have its drawbacks. My main complaint is that the control options of the game are feeling a little bit dated. Very little has changed since the game’s original launch back in 1995 and players are still required to use the keyboard for a majority of the game’s interface. The game does support USB gamepads, but you still have to navigate through the various item / weapon screens and line things up one step at a time. One begins to wonder when Team 17 will opt for total mouse control which may allow gamers to do more than one step at a time such as aiming and setting the power of your shots. While this control method works well for the gameplay style, it is beginning to show its age and one cannot help but wonder if it is time for a control evolution for the series. Perhaps that is the next step in the evolution of worms and something that we will see with Team 17’s next offering.