While the original Xbox Live Arcade version of Worms was good, it didn't contain enough of the weapons and customisable options that made the previous strategy classic games great. Thankfully, developer Team 17 has addressed these shortcomings for the sequel, making Worms 2: Armageddon a "Greatest Hits" of the best features in Worms. When you throw in a rewarding (if short) single-player campaign, improved online multiplayer, and plenty of unlockables, then you have a first-rate version of a seemingly timeless strategy game.
Worms 2: Armageddon plays in the same way as previous 2D games in the series. You control a team of worms, each of which is armed to the teeth with a variety of weapons. Each player takes turns controlling an individual worm, and the aim is to inflict as much damage as possible on your opponents. Environmental dangers, such as mines and explosive barrels, add to the carnage; water kills you instantly; and bonus items such as health packs and new weapons drop from the sky.
This formula may be familiar, but Worms is almost as much fun today as it was when the first game was released in 1995. The action comes into its own when played with friends, as allegiances are formed and players try to sabotage each other through the creative use of weaponry. In this regard, this can be considered a "Greatest Hits" version of Worms, as it includes all of the iconic weapons from previous games, such as the Super Sheep, Holy Hand Grenade, and Banana Bomb. True, it can still be tricky to wield the Ninja Rope and Jet Pack using the control pad, but this element of unpredictability adds to the appeal of the game, and you're always learning new ways to use the arsenal effectively.
The core of the game may be exactly the same as previous Worms, but there are thankfully a few new modes as well. These include Fort, where you fight from bases rather than spread out across the map, Rope Race, where you have to use a ninja rope to scale the level faster than your enemy, and Crazy Crates, where ammo and health packs are delivered at the end of every turn. All of these modes are playable in offline and online multiplayer, and while they won't replace the standard game mode, they're still fun to play with friends. If you don't like these offerings then the customisation options allow you to make your own game modes. Fancy a bazooka-only mode on levels populated with mines and fuel canisters? Then do it, save it as a preset called 'Boom Town' and then play it with offline friends whenever you like.
There are also a few weapons that make their first appearance in the series. The Buffalo of Lies is a bull that runs across the screen blowing up everything in its path. The Lightning Strike has a lot of uses--it can add health to a worm, revive a dead worm, or reverse the polarity of an electromagnet so that the magnet attracts missiles, rather than repelling them. Other weapons have been transferred from portable versions of the games, such as the Bunker Buster, which drills underground and can blow up worms that have burrowed away to hide. These additions makes Worms 2: Armageddon's arsenal a lot of fun to experiment with, and the most varied to appear in a Worms game to date.
Worms 2: Armageddon is best played with friends, and the game allows you to face off against up to three other people both locally and online. The online offering is excellent, with support for both one-on-one ranked matches and up to four-player unranked play. There are also online leaderboards that keep track of your progress in all modes. Those of you interested in achievements will find the 200 points on offer here hard-earned, since even the most hardened Worms players will have trouble with challenges such as "Kill six enemies in a single turn," "Win a game using only the grenade," and "Win a pro ranked match in under three minutes."
The single-player game has been expanded, with a 30-mission campaign and six training missions. The mission structure includes standard battles against AI teams, but there are also puzzles and challenges to complete. In some levels for example, you have to figure out how to kill an entire team with only a single weapon, and in others you have to use a jetpack to navigate a maze before the time runs out. Not only are these well designed and fun, but they're also perfect for honing your skills using the core weapons in the game. The only downside to the campaign is that after the first 20 levels, which are easy, the difficulty level ramps up considerably with a learning curve that's more reminiscent of a vertical cliff face than a gentle slope.
You're rewarded for playing through the single-player campaign with coins that you can spend in the store. The store houses new clothing and tombstones for your team, new backdrop landscapes, new weapons, and five more single-player missions. It's a great incentive for playing the single-player levels--the only problem is that it's difficult to tell what the landscapes look like, or what the weapons actually do, until you buy them. However, you can buy every item in the store after one play through of the single-player campaign, so you only need to complete this once.
It may be a fairly simple 2D game, but Worms 2 has some beautiful visual effects and animations. There are some nice touches in this version, such as fire that singes worms and burns through the scenery, and smoke that blows around according to the wind direction. The backgrounds are also more detailed than before, especially in the water that distorts the scenery and objects beneath the surface. The audio is also well-suited to the game; the worms have a greater selection of voices, and the ambient music is perfectly in line with the humourous tone of the entire game.
Worms 2: Armageddon is a great package that compiles all the best elements of the series. It also brings Worms up to date with crisp visuals, plenty of customisation options, and excellent multiplayer. If you're a fan of Worms, then this brings back all of the classic weapons, and if you've never tried it out, then this is the perfect place to start. Either way, it's a great multiplayer game that delivers more than enough value for the money.