Worms 4: Mayhem is the third Worms game in two years, which is a lot of worms. But more importantly, it's hard to believe there's such a rampant demand for these games, considering they really never change or improve over time. Aside from the requisite transition to 3D, the Worms series hasn't changed much since it first appeared on the PC in 1995. Each new installment may tweak the weapon lineup ever so slightly, but these worms tend to stick to their guns. That's both a good and a bad thing for Worms 4: Mayhem. On one hand, you can expect to be chucking holy hand grenades, detonating old ladies, and calling in air strikes in the hopes of destroying the opposing team of little pink worms. On the other hand, if you've done all that before, there's really no reason to play this game, because it doesn't offer anything new and worthwhile.
There isn't really much mayhem in Worms 4. There are explosions and gunfire aplenty, but all that action is doled out in calculated, methodical doses in turn-based team battles. There are several gameplay modes in Worms 4, but they all revolve around the same basic gameplay. The single-player story mode is the best way to warm up to the game if you've never played Worms before. There's a thin story involving a wacky professor worm and his naive but well-intentioned pupil worms. The professor constructs a time machine, and it breaks down. Consequently, you have to battle through 25 stages to collect pieces of the time machine so you can get back home.
The stages take place in medieval times, the Old West, prehistoric times, and the modern day, and each era has its own set of worms that behave pretty similarly, except for the worms have different hats and voices. The missions in story mode are fairly creative and represent a nice change of pace from the simple kill-everything mentality the series is known for. Some missions have you blowing up certain parts of the environment, and others have you defending the professor for a set amount of time. Unfortunately, the missions never become difficult, and many of them are rather brief. The artificial intelligence here is inconsistent, making boneheaded decisions one turn and blasting you with deadly precision the next. The computer-controlled enemies always favor the same few weapons as well, which makes for some dull and uneven single-player missions.
The only difficulty in the single-player missions comes from navigating some of the platforming sections. The worms in the game aren't really nimble creatures, but you'll often have to hop between small platforms suspended above water, which any Worms veteran knows spells certain death. You can use the jetpack or ninja rope, but the awkward control usually makes using those tools more hassle than it's worth. These types of missions are challenging, sure, but they're frustrating and aren't much fun. Really, we just want to blow stuff up.
There's still plenty of blowing stuff up to be had here, but it doesn't feel all that satisfying. The classic weaponry is at your disposal, like grenades, shotguns, and sheep. There are also some newer weapons, like poison arrows and a really weak sniper rifle. The problem is there are plenty of good weapons available that you're already familiar with, so there's not much reason to try any new ones. You can also create your own custom weapon. But don't get too excited, because the weapon editor is fairly limited. You can create a gun, a thrown weapon, or an air-strike weapon. Then you can design the weapon by mixing and matching various components. For example, if you want to make a gun, you can choose various designs for the butt, scope, and barrel. And then you can set various parameters, such as how powerful the weapon is, whether it's affected by wind or not, how much it will deform land, and so on. You can't simply max out all the stats, though, as you have to keep a pressure gauge out of the red. This means all the weapons you create will be fairly tame...and not too different from the weapons already in the game. Part of the strategy in Worms involves deforming the land with explosions. A bazooka round won't even take out a single worm, but if you use that bazooka round to blow up a chunk of land, you can send multiple worms into the drink with a single shot. The terrain in Worms 4 is still destructible, although only on certain levels. The weapons seem underpowered here, though, and often the map will look pretty much unchanged--even after a lengthy battle. The holy hand grenade still makes quite a dent, but it's nowhere near as spectacular as it could be, and it doesn't feel much better than the everyday grenade or stick of dynamite.
The best part of Worms has always been the multiplayer game. It can be a lot of fun to blow your friends' worms to smithereens by making creative use of the weapons in the game. Worms 4 doesn't change the formula, so it can still be a lot of fun. On the Xbox, the game supports four-player battles offline, as well as on Xbox Live. The PC version of the game supports the same number of players via LAN or Internet play. There are four match types: basic deathmatch; homelands, which is basically deathmatch, except each team starts out in its own fort; destruction, which has you trying to destroy your enemies' land rather than their worms; statue defender, which requires you to defend your own statue while trying to destroy your enemies' statues; and survivor, where each team uses one worm at a time until it runs out of worms. The multiplayer matches can be a lot of fun, but unless you set up a Worms league among your friends, you'll have a hard time finding anyone to play against online.
The graphics in Worms 4: Mayhem are the same as they have been since Worms 3D. The worms themselves are cute, and they have a decent array of silly animations and facial expressions. You can customize your team of worms with a variety of hats, glasses, and gloves as well. The stages are bright and colorful, and there are plenty of different themes to choose from. And in the single-player missions, you'll see construction sites, castles, diners, volcanoes, palaces, and more. Unfortunately, you'll often have a hard time getting a good look at the world around you due to some bad camera control. On the PC you can control the camera with the mouse, which works fairly well given the sensitivity of the device. However, on the Xbox, the camera control and aiming are far less precise because you have to use the right analog stick, which just isn't as responsive as a mouse. In both cases, the camera often bumps up against a wall, making it difficult to see exactly what you're doing. This can be particularly frustrating when you're inching along and you suddenly fall through a hole in the terrain that you couldn't see. There's also the same old collision issue here that's plagued the Worms series forever. Sometimes your worms will get into tight spots that they can't get out of because some tiny invisible piece of land is blocking their movement.
The sound in Worms 4 is rather subdued. There are plenty of silly and often funny voice sets you can assign to your worms, but each set only has a few phrases. Consequently, you'll hear every one of them multiple times during the course of a battle. The weapon sounds are pathetically weak here as well. The explosions lack some much-needed kick, and the guns only emit a faint pop. The sniper rifle is entirely silent sometimes, while other times you'll hear a small click at most. Additionally, the music is light, and it simply fades in to the background, where you'll never notice it.
It's not necessarily a bad thing to stick to a proven formula--as Worms does--but there at least has to be some reason to keep playing each new installment of the franchise. Even though it's being offered at a budget price, there just isn't any reason to play Worms 4: Mayhem if you've played either of the last two games in the series. If you've never played a 3D Worms game, this is as good a place as any to start. Still, you'd be better off playing one of the classic 2D Worms games instead.