Worms: Open Warfare Hands-On

We go to war with Team 17's abnormally aggressive annelids as their PSP invasion plans are realized.

We've known that Team 17's warmongering worms were planning to invade the PSP since July of 2005, but we've only recently managed to obtain a work-in-progress version of Worms: Open Warfare to see what their plans for next month are really about. Although many of the more recent Worms games have attempted to shoehorn the 10-year-old 2D formula into 3D, we're pleased to report that Worms: Open Warfare will see the series returning to its glorious 2D roots, albeit with improved visuals and wireless multiplayer support.

As has been the case with a number of previous Worms games, the first thing you'll see when you stick Worms: Open Warfare into your PSP is one of several different intro movies that show the titular annelids putting various weapons from their arsenal to use, often with comical results. When you get to the main menu, your options will include jumping into a quick game, creating a custom game to your liking, playing through tutorial-style challenges, and hosting or joining wireless multiplayer battle. You'll also have the option to customize the worms that you'll be playing with by changing their names, their speech banks, and the appearance of the gravestones that they leave behind whenever they get killed. When customizing CPU-controlled teams, you also have the option to choose one of five personalities for each team, which include vengeful, reckless, cocky, stupid, and strategic.

The streets of London have never been more dangerous.

Regardless of the skill settings and personalities that you've opted to pit your annelid army of four against, one thing is certain: Chaos will ensue within moments of you stepping onto the randomly generated battlefield. Each battlefield is generated using a combination of 10 letters and numbers, and the number of possibilities is practically limitless. You'll have the option of generating maps using phone numbers and friends' names, for example, or of writing down the codes of maps that you particularly enjoyed playing. Once you've got the basic shape of your map finalized, you can opt for one of six different visual themes for it. The themes on offer in Worms: Open Warfare include a volcanic island, the fiery depths of hell, a jungle, the moon, an iceberg with a great view of the Titanic, and London. Each of the themes has its own animated background and collection of objects that get randomly placed on the map before each battle. When going to war in London, for example, you'll see a number of the city's famous landmarks in the background and you'll be fighting on a map strewn with Royal Mail postboxes and red double-decker buses.

The action in Worms: Open Warfare, as in previous Worms games, is turn-based, and although many of the gameplay options are customizable, the default settings give each worm around 45 seconds to move and attack, and then an additional five seconds to retreat to somewhere safe. The default game length is 10 minutes, after which any remaining worms' health will be knocked down to a single point in readiness for sudden death mode, which also sees the water level at the bottom of the screen rising--forcing any worms in hiding to make their way to higher ground. Our work-in-progress version of Worms: Open Warfare also included an option to customize the weapon set that will be available during a battle by assigning a number between zero and infinity for each of the 20 that make up the game's arsenal.

That active volcano is the least of your worries.

If you're a fan of the Worms series you'll know that an arsenal of 20 different weapons and gadgets is quite modest compared to those in some of the previous games. Some of the most memorable Worms weapons are absent in Worms: Open Warfare (exploding grannies anyone?), but those that did make the cut offer up plenty of different ways for you to kill and be killed. The full list of weapons and gadgets in Worms: Open Warfare, at least in our version, is as follows: bazooka, homing missile, grenade, cluster bomb, banana bomb, dynamite, air strike, shotgun, Uzi, fire punch, dragonball, prod, blowtorch, mine, sheep, kamikaze, rope, girder, jetpack, and teleport. The amount of damage that you can do with any given weapon is rarely proportionate to its ease of use, but the default gameplay options ensure that the more powerful weapons are available only in very limited numbers, and often only if you collect them from crates that randomly drop onto the map during battle. The weapons that you'll always have an unlimited supply of are those that are the most difficult to use effectively. Thrown weapons such as grenades and cluster bombs, for example, are tricky to use because you have to figure out the correct trajectory and strength for your throw. Bazookas work in much the same way, but they are also affected by the wind, which changes quite dramatically between every turn.

The good news, at least if you're playing against CPU teams, is that your adversaries will often appear to find the effective use of many weapons every bit as difficult as you do. The bad news is that this deliberate flaw in their artificial intelligence generally manifests itself in the form of downright stupidity. For example, it's not uncommon for worms to hurt or kill themselves with bazookas and grenades, and we've even seen worms teleporting into the water and drowning. Ironically, these same worms will occasionally launch attacks with such accuracy that it seems not a single location on the map can elude them. These overly erratic AI issues will no doubt be addressed before Worms: Open Warfare arrives in stores next month, but it's a testament to the series' classic gameplay that it suffers very little as a result of those problems right now. We look forward to bringing you more information on Worms: Open Warfare as soon as we get our hands on a more complete version of the game.

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