Developer: Team 17
Publisher: Team 17
Platform: PC (reviewed), XBLA, PSN
Release: 29 September 2011
Price: $US15 (PC), 1200MS Points (XBLA), $TBA (PSN)
The transition to 3D with the PS1 and N64 showed us new ways to play, but killed off some of the old ways in the process. The Worms series, to name just one, had some trouble with the transition, but the resilient little invertebrates nonetheless survived the harsh new climate.
Team 17’s new game Worms: Ultimate Mayhem is essentially a remake of both Worms 3D and Worms 4: Mayhem, but how far does it go towards fixing the issues raised in these titles, and in making Worms gameplay as much fun in 3D as it was in the classic 2D games?
Narrative in Worms games is usually relegated to providing simple context and themes for each level, and that’s all that’s required. It may give you a bit of a spiel about how you’re infiltrating enemy territory to make off with their secret plans, but it all boils down to another “get the crate, destroy enemy worms” mission, with the theme dictating the environment and the enemies’ clothing, names and voices.
Only the missions pulled from Worms 4 have continuity across them, and it’s fairly loose. Not that the game is weaker for it; it’s simply a broad frame that allows the developers to use all their environment assets and character accessories.
The important part is the gameplay, and specifically, how Ultimate Mayhem improves on the issues that plagued earlier 3D Worms titles.
Traditional Worms gameplay involves teams of the little dirteaters battling it out in turns across randomly generated terrain, using all manner of zany weaponry. The games ooze personality from every pore, bringing some much-needed character to a medium obsessed with too-serious dudebro marines. Strategy, precision and sheer luck are key to victory, and with mates swapping the hot seat, matches have a frantic, exciting pace.
Both 2D and 3D entries in the series play mostly according to the above formula, but the third dimension dramatically changes the gameplay dynamic.
It’s difficult enough to master the required tactics in two dimensions – adding a third really complicates the gameplay at its core. Culminating with Armageddon and World Party, the 2D games were increasingly fantastic. But in 3D it was difficult to judge the important tactical stuff like distances, angles, power, etc, exacerbated by the need to wrestle with a disobedient 3D camera. Worms 4: Mayhem went a fair way towards fixing these problems, but niggles persisted.
Ultimate Mayhem further deals with these issues, and to a degree it succeeds, but some are too fundamental to fix by simply hiding them under a shiny new coat of paint.
Problems with the camera were lessened with each 3D game, and in Ultimate Mayhem it functions better than ever. It’s far less schizophrenic than it was, but still exhibits some strange tendencies. Raising the camera for a clearer view of your surroundings is more arduous than it should be, and the ability to move your worm while viewing from the overhead camera would have been welcomed. When pushed into a corner it will zoom right in and obscure your view; had players been given the ability to zoom in and out at will while they moved about or lined up their shots, things would have felt much more intuitive.
Some aspects do help though. If your worm slithers behind part of the scenery, its silhouette will show you where it is and what it’s doing – provided the camera has enough room behind the obstruction to not zoom in.
Previously players had to decide whether they retreated, or watched the results of their shot. Move an inch and the camera would shoot back to your worm as it shuffles away, meaning you missed the satisfaction of your shot. Probably the handiest new feature for Ultimate Mayhem is the Picture-In-Picture function, which shows the aftermath of your attack in a smaller window, while the main screen keeps focus on your worm as you move it to relative safety. Although the angle it chooses for the smaller window often obscures the action behind scenery or simply doesn’t show everything you need to see, the PIP succeeds in alleviating one of the main issues with previous 3D games.
Less successfully dealt with are the combat mechanics. Whether it’s a product of the camera or just that pesky third dimension, it’s often difficult to judge where your shot will go, and how hard it should be. Your attacks will often crash into the ground much closer than expected, or go sailing over your intended target and plonk into the sea, miles offshore. In a game that relies on precise aiming, this is a serious problem. It does get easier with experience, but the learning curve is much steeper than in 2D Worms. If you and your friends, or people online, are evenly matched, the game becomes quite fun. Just don’t expect your noob friends to pick it up so quickly.
Inconsistent AI only exacerbates the problem; they can pull off really accurate shots, with basic weaponry, with ridiculous frequency. If you’re within bazooka range – or even sometimes when you don’t think you are – expect an uncanny bullseye to fling you waterwards.
Other times, they’ll derp around for a while and finally just skip their turn. If you aren’t in their direct line of sight, you’re pretty much out of mind. Sure, they’ll occasionally call in an airstrike, but often they’ll stand on the spot, scan through some weapons, then whip out the skipping rope. It’s apparently not in their powerful strategist minds to use utilities like the ninja rope, or even just move a few feet to line up a better shot.
It’s 50/50 whether they’ll grab a weapons crate within a few steps of them, and once sudden death mode kicks in and the water level starts rising, human players will be scrambling for higher ground, while the AI will do nothing to prevent their imminent drowning.
Almost as compensation, the game provides a very generous amount of content. Included in the package are all the single player missions from both games, totalling around 60, plus challenges which task you with using a particular weapon or utility to collect crates or destroy targets, meaning they double as handy training tools. Perfectionists can also aim to beat each mission and challenge within the specified time limit to earn you in-game credits, which can be spent on new game modes, levels, hats, speech banks, and accessories for your worms.
When you get sick of facing the idiot-savant AI, grab your friends for some hot-seat multiplayer, and the game’s entertainment value skyrockets. Playing against opponents who actually strategize is much more fun, and adds potentially endless replayability.
Deep customization allows you to tweak pretty much every aspect of the game. You will spend way too much time dressing your worms up in various costumes and giving them voices to match (or not match, whatever). Players create their own characters, making it easier to differentiate friends from foes on the battlefield – which itself can be customized to an obscene degree.
Want to play a match where the water rises right from the start? How about having no weapons at all, using only what you pick up in crates? Double damage? Mines everywhere? Really windy? Any combination of these? Done.
Tweaking every aspect of the game mode allows for some very interesting matches, and throw in randomly generated landscapes and you have literally thousands of possibilities.
The cartoony feel of the series has always been a strong point, and it’s now prettier than ever. The worms have undergone a facelift, but have retained their quirky personality, putting the latest characterless marine douchebag to shame. They are brilliantly animated and lively, even in their idle state: walk past an enemy and he’ll taunt you. Look down your sights at him and he’ll hide his face or try to move your focus to a nearby worm. And the way they flail their arms while flying through the air after a particularly good shot makes attacking them much more satisfying.
But the most interesting aspect of their behaviour is the way they watch you as you walk past. They’ll face you the whole time, turning their heads or their whole bodies. Your own worm will look at the camera, no matter where it is, and give a thumbs up or facepalm, depending on how well a shot went. It all implies some kind of unspoken dynamic system is in use – a small but noticeable, and appreciated, touch.
While the textures have clearly received much love, models are still rather low-poly. The cartoonish style hides a lot of this, but occasionally it’s noticeable, particularly in first-person view when you see the weapons close up.
The music is not particularly noteworthy, with mostly ambience during matches. Once sudden death kicks in, the sense of panic and impending doom is brought to the forefront through some tense music, but the rest is rather forgettable.
Perhaps the music is subdued so it doesn’t obscure the sound effects, which really add character to the worms and the game itself. I love the grumbling of the Old Woman as she shuffles towards a helpless enemy, but obviously the stars are the worms themselves. Four teams with different speechbanks of different stereotypes make a match audibly chaotic, in a good way. They’ll brag about a great shot, trash talk each other for missing a shot or injuring teammates, and scream as they fly through the air. It really brings the characters to life in a way not seen in many other games, and brings great satisfaction in wiping out your enemies.
It may not be as accessible for newbies as the 2D games in the series, but if you have friends around the same skill level, the multiplayer can be endless fun.
Despite some frustrations with gameplay, none of them are game-breaking. So if you’re already a fan of Worms in 3D, 2D, or are patient enough to give it a go for the first time, Ultimate Mayhem is the pinnacle of 3D Worms gameplay.
That pinnacle isn’t quite as high as that of the 2D series, but considering the expansive single-player content, exciting multiplayer made better by heaps of game mode possibilities and ridiculous amounts of customization, it’s well worth the price of admission.
– Heaps of single player content – Difficult to judge distance, angle, etc in 3D
– A great multiplayer experience – Some camera issues still persist
– Huge amounts of customization – idiot-savant AI
– Quirky style
– Reasonable price