Worms World Party Preview

We take an early look at the latest game in this funny and addictive series.

Worms World Party, which will be released this March for the PC and Dreamcast, offers fans of previous Worms games and new players alike a strategy experience dedicated to online competition. The aggressive annelids have returned in this exceedingly playable and decidedly humorous next chapter of the Worms saga. Recent Worms titles have lacked new gameplay options, something that Team 17 has addressed with a bevy of new missions, training disciplines, and most importantly, a game dedicated to competition on the "Wormnet," where players can meet up for a heavy dose of trash talking and explosive invertebrate destruction.

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The way a game of Worms works has remained essentially unchanged since its previous versions. Teams of weapon-laden worms are spread out on a randomly generated or preset battlefield, which can take the form of either a nook-and-cranny-ridden cavern or an island. Each team then takes turns controlling one of its worms by using arrow-key movement and mouse-click weapon selection--the goal being the destruction of the opposing worm force. The nearly 60 weapons available to your worms are a veritable arsenal of death and tongue-in-cheek destruction. In addition to warfare staples such as grenades, handguns, napalm, and bazookas, your worms can summon more unorthodox weapons of mayhem. You can launch exploding sheep, sickness-inducing skunks, or burrowing mole bombs, as well as more oddball weapons such as the mighty mad cows, banana bombs, grumbling old ladies, and, in a tip of the hat to Monty Python, the holy hand grenades. Fans of Street Fighter will be pleased to know that the "dragon ball" and "fire punch" animations are back, complete with the trademark headband that Ryu wears. Despite the variety, the weapon set is not quite as impressive as that found in Worms Armageddon--it lacks some favorites such as the mail strike and stone donkey, but it's well rounded enough to still encourage a variety of tactics and stratagems.

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Employing these weapons involves using a relatively deep system where trajectory, distance, strength, timely movement, and making use of the destructible terrain are factors of effectiveness. Opening up a crater beneath a worm can turn it into a prime target for a follow-up grenade, and minimizing your own casualties while destroying enough of the terrain beneath a worm can send it into the water. Worms can't swim very well, so propelling one into the drink will eliminate it. If drowning isn't your cup of tea, using explosives and armaments to lower a worm's life down to nothing will also result in its defeat and self-inflicted explosion. Getting caught in the vengeful death throes of a worm can be painful in itself, so it's best to avoid close proximity to victims. If you destroy crates or oil barrels, flaming petrol might coat the ground, which can cause a combo attack and thus tons of damage. It may also induce a replay mode that handily pops up, letting you rejoice in your clever attack for a second time or forcing you to take your lumps in shame. Combat is thus focused on making decisive killings and rapid eliminations.

Something Old, Something New

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World Party hasn't left the conventions set before it--graphically, it looks identical to its preceding titles. The worms are small, 2D sprites on 2D backgrounds, and they compete on terrain that is either a whimsically creative design like a giant chicken or a randomly generated organic-shaped landmass, coated with a wallpaper effect if you so desire. Without disrupting the pace of the action, the attack and death animations are simple, fast, and often comical. The interface is polished and simple, with large menu buttons that let you toggle, at will or at random, all sorts of options for your upcoming matches by using a slot-machine-type scenario dubbed "wormpot." Some of the features available can add a level of complexity and innovation to your matches, including options such as high-powered martial arts, sticky surfaces, and the blood mode. More than 1,000 different play modes are possible through different combinations of wormpot options, and the randomizer function implies that multiplayer games shouldn't get too stale or repetitive.

The music in Worms World Party is suitably stirring and exciting in a clichéd battle theme sort of way, without being overpowering. The sound effects are repetitive, but they work well with the Worms atmosphere. The squeak of your worm traveling over the terrain is enjoyable, while the explosive effects can often convey a satisfying little boom. Adding to the customization capabilities in World Party, a great number of voice sets is available for you to choose from. These include taunts, death messages, and random patter. Favorites such as the "angry Scots" and "Brooklyn" return, along with a staggering number of other choices, including representative voices from major countries around the world and satirical looks at ethnicities, pop culture, and stereotypes from the past and present.

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Creating your own team of worms is an involved process in which you can set your voice options, team and individual worm names, gravestone, flag, and team weapons. Your team is allotted a fixed number of points, or currency, which it uses to purchase weapons. Simple, less effective techniques like the prod cost only a single point, while the mad cow will set you back a massive 20 points. Striking a good balance between utility items like the jetpack and weapons like dynamite are key to your team's success.

Introduced in World Party is the wormopaedia. Not much more than a built-in reference manual and hint guide, the wormopaedia offers Team 17 insider tips on how to best use the different tools available and how to maximize the damage out of every weapon. Each weapon has a comical description in the typical worm banter, and it explains the typical uses and damage capabilities of the different weapons in your armory. Some of the tips--for example, you can fire a mortar straight down at a worm when you stand on its head for impressive damage--made us take a second look at what seemed to be a useless weapon in the previous game.

Playing the Game

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If you're looking to hone your control over the warlike Worms, a series of training disciplines and time-attack modes are included in World Party. If they're completed, they'll impart the know-how behind techniques like super sheep control, advanced digging, and ninja rope skill. The 16 time-attack missions are timed and logged, so you can continue to come back and try to reach the times set by Team 17 as "the least possible." Getting within a few seconds of their time on a few of the scenarios can be greatly rewarding, and the skills imparted by the training sessions become invaluable during head-to-head competition.

World Party has introduced a career mode of sorts in its deathmatch mode. Computer opponents have set up an open-ended challenge to the death, where each win for your team is followed by another match at significantly stiffer odds. Your performance is graded based on the amount of casualties suffered vs. those inflicted, and after some fierce competition from a rather unforgiving and often insanely accurate AI, an impressive rank can be reached for bragging rights.

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The new set of 45 single-player missions introduced in World Party are introduced with thinly developed, often old war-movie-themed back stories, although the lighthearted tone should not mislead players into thinking that they're at all simple. For example, in the Good Ship Armageddon mission, your worm must secure some valuable cargo from a rapidly sinking ship. Racing the rapidly rising waters is a challenge in itself, but to make things even more sadistically difficult, mines have been strewn across the landscape with instant fuses. Gauging the distance required to set off one of the mines makes completing the mission within the required time limit frustrating, yet eventually very satisfying. The missions available fall under a number of refreshingly different schemes, including puzzle-oriented scenarios and others that resemble real-time strategy. Unlocking each of the missions one by one can take a good deal of time and can be quite frustrating. The ability to play the missions in a nonlinear fashion would have been appreciated.

The heart of Worms World Party is in the strength of its all-new multiplayer missions and its Wormnet service. Up to 18 human opponents can converge on the Wormnet and take part in 20 competitive or cooperative missions. The deathmatch mode is available in multiplayer, so your rankings can be compared with other players' rankings online. Your rankings can also be improved or worsened by your performance against human opponents. A ranking system may be in place when the World Party launches on Wormnet so that individual performance can be compared with other players' performances worldwide. As Worms is a turn-based game with modest graphics, lag should have a minimal effect on even large-scale multiplayer gameplay on 56k connections. The ability to have several of those players on one machine in a hot seat control scheme is available for those who want a party-game type of experience on their PC. Getting a large crowd of competitive players together for Worms chaos is what Team 17 had in mind when it made in-game chat available in World Party. Trash talking is not only possible, but also highly encouraged.

While World Party, at its core, is essentially a new version of Worms Armageddon, it has what looks like an attractive forum for online competition. The ability to control virtually all facets of gameplay in World Party is a wonderful addition to the Worms experience. While the gameplay and extras are essentially unchanged from its predecessors, the new missions available in World Party justify a look by owners of Armageddon. The focus on network head-to-head action is a sign of the times, and while the gameplay found in Worms translates well to network play, it remains to be seen if World Party will inspire a greater amount of competition on its Wormnet.

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