This preview is based on a very early E3 demo build of the game. We mean really early, like there’s no options menu or way to quit the game.
Worms has been a staple of gaming for almost as long as we can remember. When the first Worms came out it allowed for something that was quite special, turn-taking multiplayer. While this might not sound impressive, it meant you only needed one controller. It meant you could all watch the other person take their turns. It meant there was a lot of nail-biting tension while you waited to see what would become of your little worms. Only needing one controller was quite a big deal, controllers have traditionally been quite expensive, and on a PC it was quite unusual to have two controllers, normally you just had the keyboard and a mouse. Golf games had always let you take turns, but other than it was rare for a game to feature that as the focus of its multiplayer, and it meant a lot of Worms got played. Of course Worms also had some crazy character and weapon design, randomised maps, and the addictive ‘Scorched Earth’ style gameplay that was a genre unto itself in the early 90s, but was it ever a really good game? When we think back to our fondest gaming memories, none of them are of Worms. We remember playing it on the Playstation and enjoying the little FMV sequences before each game, but then we also remember how long the games would drag out and how often they ended in a kind of stalemate where you were almost co-operating with your opponent to get the scenery out of the way. Worms wasn’t necessarily a classic game, it was just one that filled a gap of something to play in multiplayer if you only had one controller and were sick of PGA Tour.
So the newest entry is called Worms W.M.D and what has changed? Very little.
The biggest innovations are the introduction of vehicles and buildings. Vehicles are a genuinely fun addition that change the gameplay somewhat. They provide some fairly significant firepower, but more importantly they provide protection (in terms of a tank) or mobility (in terms of a helicopter). Those annoying stalemates towards the end of a long game where you’re both unwilling to teleport but are a long way away from each other can be worked around by jumping into a helicopter and flying across the map before strafing your opponent. The tank can give a single remaining worm a decent chance at a comeback. Unfortunately, both of these make the RNG inherent in Worms even worse. Sometimes in multiplayer we’ve started with two tanks and a helicopter right next to our worms, while the enemy team has none. Similarly the new building system that provides shelter and concealment for your worms, but allows them to fire out, is only really an advantage if you spawn next to it from the beginning. They don’t tend to last too long for anyone else.
This is what stops Worms from moving with the times, with the randomness and blatant unfairness inherent in the procedural generation of the maps, it could never be an eSport. Victories never fill you with pride and losses never sting, because you know it was more down to luck than your own skill. Of course better players can make better use of their advantages, but on an even playing field you can almost tell as soon as the map loads who is likely to win.
To alleviate this a little, there is a new crafting system that allows you to break down things you don’t need and replace them with things you do. This is a nice touch that does help to ease the frustration of never getting the one weapon you want to try out, but it isn’t quite enough to make up for the positioning.
Worms W.M.D also feels far too similar to the 1995 game that kicked the series off. Most of the weapons are the same, or are taken from other early entries like the super sheep and holy hand grenade, the gameplay is the same, the movement is the same, and the graphics, while high-res, don’t impress. It’s the same kind of art style they’ve stuck with for twenty years, and while there’s scope for something really impressive (think of all the amazing 2D games we’ve had in the last decade like Rayman Origins, Limbo, Super Meat Boy, etc) they’ve played it safe and just gone for high resolution simple sprites with similar animations to what they’ve always had. It’s a sign of how stuck in the past they are when things like the Worms blowing themselves up when they die no longer feels like a funny joke, it feels like a decidedly unpalatable reference to suicide bombers. Alongside the W.M.D reference in the title, coming out in the same year as the Chilcot Enquiry, the whole thing seems tasteless and gratuitous. They could have easily innovated and used that as an opportunity to change things that don’t really work anymore, but instead they’ve chosen to stick with what they know, even if it’s not fun.
Overall we’re not impressed with W.M.D so far – it feels like another rehash of a game we’ve played many, many times before, and never found particularly interesting in the first place. If you’re a die hard Worms fan, maybe you’ll enjoy the new features, and this is certainly the best version of the game so far, but if you burnt out on this long ago, you’re unlikely to find anything to rekindle your flames.