The Worms series is back on the PC at last and in its original 2 dimensional form. Hopefully, the series will have progressed quite a bit from its time on the consoles. That said, as long as it can keep that magic that made the originals so great, this will turn out a worthy game for any gamer to own. It’s true that it is one of the best Worms iterations to date but, sadly, the series may have already peaked.
There is very little of what could be called a story in Worms Reloaded. The basic concept is simple; teams of four cartoon worms blast the living daylights out of each other with unrealistic and hugely comical weapons. It’s fairly difficult for anyone to try to twist such a comedic theme into a well structured plot, but it is a bit of a disappointment that the developers haven’t even tried to come up with the goods. I remember Worms Armageddon (or perhaps it was Worms 2) had a sort of military campaign plotline with each single-player mission starting with a short briefing. In Reloaded the single-player campaign is just a load of missions, although happily it is more varied than a mundane sequence of battles. Some missions are simple puzzles to be solved or races against the clock, breaking up the ’shoot at each other until only one team remains’ mentality. I would have enjoyed some trivial backstory to give a modicum of meaning to the blasting. Still, stories have never been the main focus of any game in the Worms series – and there have been many. What really sells these games is the super-addictive gameplay.
The structure of that gameplay has not changed at all for this version. Four worms from up to four teams are randomly positioned on a piece of land often surrounded by water. Each worm has a timed turn – usually 60 seconds – to make their mark in the game. During that turn a worm selects a weapon from a staggering array of death dealers. The worm then fires that weapon at a particular power to try and hit an enemy worm, reducing their health and helping the shooter’s team achieve victory. It is surprisingly hard to get firing angles and shell velocities down to a T for a precise hit every turn. Most of the fuse-timed grenades, rockets and cluster bombs end up flying all over the place, bouncing off terrain and harming friendly worms. There are close-quarters weapons like the shotgun, mine, uzi and dynamite that worms can deploy if they can slither close enough to their target. If they can’t get to an enemy’s position by foot (or whatever cartoon worms have) the worm can use various utilities such as teleport, ninja rope or – my personal favourite – a jet pack. The magic doesn’t really come across well in words. It’s just organised chaos from start to finish and it is all just madness, there is nothing serious or realistic in this game of worm-based warfare.
The weapons available aptly demonstrate the humourous aspect of the game. Have you ever lobbed a Banana Bomb over a cliff? What about setting a rampaging explodable Sheep bounding towards your hapless victim? These are just two of the classics that return. Other notable entries include the Super Sheep, the endlessly fun Concrete Donkey and the legendary Holy Hand Grenade. There are a host of new ones too including the Gas Pump which spews out mountains of poisonous gas clouds. My favourite is the Buffalo of Lies – a ton of stampeding meat exploding every obstacle in his way as he thunders across the plain.
Unfortunately these biggest, baddest and most fun-filled super-weapons are quite rare. In the single-player campaign they do not rain down from the heavens in collectable weapon crates as Worms fans have become used to in previous games. Instead they have to be bought from a Shop between levels. For each level won, be it a puzzle or fight to the death, points are awarded. These points allow you to buy things from the Shop such as different terrain types, extra missions for the campaign and so forth. It’s a fairly upbeat game mechanic – rewarding you for continued play. However, there are no descriptions of what you are buying and no helpful tooltips to explain what spending your precious points does. I spent a few points to unlock some of the really cool weapons but I have no idea what effect it’s had on the game. I assumed my team would start with the new tools of destruction in campaign mode yet no such weapons appear, leaving me confused and frustrated.
Another great aspect of Worms Reloaded is the sheer amount of customisation it allows. The very first time you play, you are prompted to create a team of combat-ready worms. You can change everything from the style of your worms voices’, the team’s preferred grave stone, the victory dance favoured by the team, right down to the names of the individual worms. The Mad Hatter would love this game as the team can be assigned a team hat for each worm to wear, marking their alliance. There are thousands of hats on offer with even more being up for grabs in the Shop. After the team is ready for action, there is the game scheme editor for you to try your hand at. This allows you to change the rules of any Custom Games you enter – quick last team standing deathmatches which are a lot of fun with four opposing sides. Rules that can be changed include weapon usage and ammo limits (annoyingly, many of the super-weapons cannot be made available from the first turn until purchased in the Shop), frequency of crate drops, initial health of worms and the existence of environment hazards such as mines and oil barrels.
I could go on singing nostalgic praises for the welcome return of the Worms series to the PC after its long departure for consoles. However, there are, admittedly, quite a number of small niggles keeping this from the quality gameplay experience it should be. The weapon selection menu brought up with a right-click is unnecessarily large – it covers most of the game screen. It could and should be significantly reduced with smaller weapon icons. The mouse movement feels a bit jerky instead of nice and smooth, especially on the menus. The options for choosing hats and voices for your team of worms are horizontal lists and not vertical scroll tables. This means you have to browse through each one, tiresome and very irritating as there are hundreds of different combinations. Vertical scroll tables allow you to jump to the particular one you want so would be a massive improvement. All these are trivial really but by far the worst offender is the ridiculous jumping. Pressing Enter makes a worm jump forward. Pressing Enter twice makes a worm back-flip – very handy for reaching high spots. It is surprisingly difficult to time presses of Enter just right so a worm back-flips instead of catapulting himself forward. On many occasions I’ve lost worms into the instant-death water due to mistimed key presses. As it is such a necessary move, back-flipping really should have been assigned to a separate key.
If there is one thing to blame more than anything else for the decent yet not superb score achieved by this game, it is the Artificial Intelligence (AI) of computer controlled teams. One minute the AI is pulling off insane trickshots, managing to get grenades bouncing down tiny gaps from 50 yards. The next minute the AI is pointlessly blowing holes in the terrain or committing suicide with badly placed mines. There seems to be nothing in-between; the AI is either killing your worms with impossible precision or killing themselves with mind-boggling stupidity. The AI should be way more comical. When shots misfire by accident it is funny and often hilarious. When shots splatter your worms from inconceivable angles, it is very frustrating. When the shots are wide of the mark it just seems stupidity on purpose, leaving you shaking your head in shame rather than laughing. As this game is all about the comedy of war, the unfair AI makes it very difficult to enjoy the game to its full potential.
The graphics are surprisingly gorgeous. The 2D images look absolutely fantastic when moving – static screenshots just do not do this game justice. Fire from petrol bombs or oil cans burn in balls of flame, releasing clouds of smoke into the air as they eat away at the landscape beneath. Weapons are suitably cartoony yet realistic. The worms themselves also look amazing with crisp high definition visuals. Alright, there is no state of the art tom-foolery going on. No spinning cameras with slow-motion effects. The game would just become confusing with all this techno-wizardry (the developers have tried it before with the mediocre Worms 3D). No, the simplistic yet wonderfully eye-catching 2 dimensional graphics suit the game brilliantly. I just wish there were some funny cutscenes to watch where worms pull out implausible weapons to intimidate the enemy.
The sound is high quality but can become a bit lacking and repetitive after a few hours play. The voice packs you can assign a team are excellently acted. The ‘AngryScots’ pack sounds exactly like a bunch of irate Scotsmen. The ‘Movie trailer’ pack utters memorable phrases such as ‘One shot. One worm. One chance.’ in a suitably dramatic way. However, the voices get very repetitive after just a few plays. Every action causes a worm to say something. Most actions cause worms to say exactly the same phrase. For example, when a worm is just about to begin his turn he would say something similar to “I am Wormingham Wallace” and then simply repeat this at the start of every future turn. If only a small number of actions triggered the worms to talk it really would have made all the difference. You could savour the amusing voices when they come instead of trying to ignore them after hearing them for the umpteenth time. Another annoyance is that sounds are constantly interrupted. Using the above example, the worm shouts “Aye!” when he starts moving and is ready for orders. Instead of just finishing the first sound effect, the worm stops in mid-sentence and shouts “Aye!”. This makes for some very jumbled up sentences and means when you do happen across a new short dialogue, you can’t be sure you’ve heard it all.
My favourite addition in Worms Reloaded is the screams worms make when dynamite or any other fused weapon is dropped beside them. Coupled with the endlessly comical visualisation of worms dropping their jaws to let out the randomly pitched yell, the sense of panic is vastly entertaining.
This game is going to last you a long time, not as long as some juggernauts out there but it will keep you occupied for a good few weeks. The basic campaign with its puzzles and often weighted battles does start pathetically easy to welcome new players but gets extremely tough by the end. There is also a secondary campaign which is a more run-of-the-mill series of turn-based battles. There’s Bodycount mode which is a weird Survival-type game mode where one worm from your team battles to survive against endless hordes of enemy worms. There are the plentiful customisation options and even a landscape editor for budding architects. In addition to all that there is multiplayer which can often be a lot more fun than the single-player. Being turn-based you don’t even need multiple computers or multiple copies of the game – players can simply take turns on the same computer. If you don’t have any friends nearby, fear not, as you can also play the game online with other Reloaded players across the globe.
In conclusion, Worms Reloaded is simply the tried-and-tested Worms formula jazzed up a bit with nicer graphics and a few additions. Most of those additions do improve the gameplay; the Shop is a quality idea, rewarding players as they progress, and the new weapons are fun to experiment with (when you get them). There is just nothing ground-breaking here – fans of the Worms series have seen most of it before. The complete lack of attempt at a story, the niggling issues and the dismal AI do let the game down. Still, there is plenty to keep Worms fans entertained and players who have never played any games in the Worms series are encouraged to give it a try. Just don’t expect too much.