Already available in Europe and scheduled for release in North America next month, Worms Forts: Under Siege! is a turn-based strategy game in which you'll assume command of a crack team of helmet-wearing annelids. As in previous Worms titles, your primary goal will be to eradicate all other annelids from the map using an arsenal of weapons that are more than a little unconventional and are occasionally amusing. Surprisingly, that's pretty much where the similarities end between this game and its predecessors, since Worms Forts not only introduces a host of new features to the series, but also does away with an awful lot of the old ones.
Imagine if you will, a 3D Worms game without destructible scenery, ninja ropes, bungee cords, blowtorches, shotguns, or even sticks of dynamite that can be comically balanced on the heads of inactive enemies. Now, imagine if that same game allowed you to build huge fortresses that consist of individual towers, and that many of those towers could be used as platforms from which you could launch all-new (and all-crazy) siege weapons at your enemies. The game that you're playing in your head right now is a lot like Worms Forts: Under Siege!, except that your version is almost certainly a lot easier on the eyes.
The first thing we noticed about Worms Forts: Under Siege!, unfortunately, was that the game's visuals basically don't appear to have changed since we played a really early version of the game at E3 last year. The Worms series has never been known for featuring state-of-the-art visuals, of course, but some of the maps in Worms Forts boast color palettes and low-resolution textures that, when combined with the game's wildly erratic camera, are nothing short of headache-inducing at times. We'd like to think that the visuals (and especially the camera) might improve before Worms Forts: Under Siege! arrives in stores, but given that its release is only a couple of weeks away (not to mention that the game has been available in Europe since October), it seems very unlikely. Both our PS2 and Xbox versions of Worms Forts also featured irritating sound bugs that would occasionally cause worms to repeat their catchphrases over and over again. Also, on one or two occasions, there was a loud beeping noise for a few seconds that drowned out the rest of the game's minimal sound effects.
Putting the problematic camera to one side for a moment, the controls in Worms Forts: Under Siege! are actually quite easy to pick up. Your worms' basic movements are limited to crawling, jumping, double-jumping, and double-double-jumping, and all of the game's gadgets, weapons, and building options are accessed via a simple menu that appears onscreen at the push of a button. As we alluded to earlier, many of the weapons in Worms Forts are so big and nasty that they can only be fired from fixed positions atop towers that you've constructed. For this reason, all of the weapons on the menu are arranged in columns that correspond to the size of the building from which you need to fire them. Almost all of the weapons in the game will be available to you in limited numbers (unless you've specified otherwise on the game-options screen) and, as has been the case in other Worms games, you'll replenish your stocks by collecting crates that fall from the sky. Depending on the game mode that you're playing, some of these crates might just appear out of thin air. However, to get your hands on more serious hardware you'll want to include a weapons factory somewhere in your building plans. Other building types that can prove to be very beneficial include a hospital (which allows you to resurrect fallen worms), a science lab (which increases the damage done by your weapons), and a "wonder," which is difficult to build (you'll need to have captured at least five strategic points on the map) but automatically wins you the game if you can keep your enemy from destroying it for two turns.
One huge difference between Worms Forts: Under Siege! and its predecessors is that the battles invariably take a lot longer now that so many more strategic gameplay elements have found their way into the mix. If it weren't for the game-timer option (which sees a supreme annelid being flooding areas of the map after every turn after a set time), two-player battles would most likely last for well over an hour, maybe even two or three. As it is, most game types default to a time limit of between 20 and 40 minutes, which we've rarely found to be long enough to see our battles through to their natural conclusions. The time limit is a necessary evil then, but one that can prove particularly irritating in the single-player campaign mode where you might, for example, be required to destroy two enemy bases before building a wonder in a specific location. We ended up playing that same level (with a 40-minute time limit) on a number of occasions. Although we had no difficulty killing our enemies, building a chain of towers and walls across the entire map to facilitate our wonder development was anything but quick.
Despite the fact that it's a little rough around the edges at this point, Worms Forts: Under Siege! has provided us with some good times, and we're looking forward to getting our hands on the finished versions of it. Expect a full review closer to the game's release.