Team17’s Worms series has been happily bumping along since the mid-'90s with no signs of stopping. Despite some absurd spin-offs and missteps, the franchise’s tried-and-true turn-based, scorched-earth-style formula has allowed Worms to become one of the most consistently entertaining series around. The latest game, Worms W.M.D., is an excellent example of why Worms continues to thrive, and why it's original formula had the right idea all along.
If you’ve never played a Worms game before, the concept is simple: opposing teams of well-armed worm commandos face off in a turn-based battle in a completely destructible 2D landscape. Physics play a key role; gravity, acceleration, charging power, and even wind direction affect the huge array of weaponry. The old standby bazooka, which you can charge to adjust its range and power, is still the default weapon, but exploding sheep, airstrikes, a variety of grenades, melee weapons, the dragon punch, and more are up for grabs. Jetpacks, the ninja rope, teleporters, and other vital tools are at your disposal for traversing the landscape. But no matter what you choose, you still have a limited amount of time to perform any action.
Airdrops keep more supplies coming. Some of these actually deliver parts instead of complete weapons or power-ups and are used for crafting--a new wrinkle to the series. It’s not a sea change, but the ability to make new weapons and supplies (even during an opponent’s turn) can occasionally help turn the tide of a battle.
W.M.D. adds two other major facets that make considerably more impact. The first is the inclusion of vehicles. Tanks and helicopters appear on some levels and greatly change the dynamic of the action for the brief period of time they’re in use. Tanks, in particular, provide exceptional protection and firepower to chew through the terrain and other worms with a multi-shell attack.
Meanwhile, the helicopter has a killer mini-gun assault and is comically awkward to control and aim. There are even mounted guns to be had, which provide ample firepower but can also leave your worm incredibly exposed. Worms isn’t, in any way, a “driving” game, but these new elements feel like natural additions. Aiming the tank gun or helicopter is far from a sure thing most of the time, and these vehicles don’t feel so overpowered that a normal worm can’t destroy them. Using the left stick for both moving and aiming, however, makes the controls feel a little finicky on consoles, since it’s easy to accidently move when simply trying to line a shot up using the analog stick.
The other interesting addition comes in the form of structures. You can actually enter houses, barns, pubs, bunkers, and other buildings now. They frequently hide goodies like supplies and vehicles, and buildings can also provide invaluable protection from attacks and add much more compelling reasons to explore the map. At times, enemy worms can be hiding in a structure without you even realizing it, leading to extra reasons to destroy more parts of the map.
Given that you stand to benefit from surveying the map, it's unfortunate that W.M.D.’s camera feels unreliable at times. Even when you take manual control, the game has a tendency to just whip the screen back to a less-than-optimal spot. As a result, you regularly fight with the camera when you try to take in all the action or focus on a specific worm. It’s by no means a game-breaking problem, but it’s certainly in need of refinement.
Typical of the series, W.M.D. offers an array of single-player levels that cover all aspects of the game. Unlike recent entries into the series, however, there’s no underlying plot thread or story. Instead, the single-player game feels like an extended tutorial. Playing through various offline modes unlocks new ways to customize your worm team--voices, skins, clothing items, and so on--and there are tutorial maps, themed campaigns, and special challenge maps.
Playing Worms against an AI-controlled opponent is still tons of fun, but there’s something intrinsically entertaining about mixing the hilarious graphics, audio, and action of Worms with multiplayer. So, whether your opponent annihilates your worms with expert finesse or totally crashes and burns during their turn, the game is almost always fascinating just to watch.
Online play can support up to six players in ranked or friendly matches. While there isn’t much variety in terms of game modes (it’s pretty much all worm-versus-worm), Worms W.M.D. is a great reminder of how far humor and sheer wanton destruction can carry a game. Which is to say, it’s still terrifically fun after more than 20 years.
W.M.D. is easily the best game in the Worms series in several years. It stays true to the 2D, animated roots of the ’90s games while adding enough new features to keep it feeling fresh and relevant. The relatively simple gameplay is overflowing with finesse and strategy, the presentation is fantastic, and offline or on, Worms is just incredibly fun.