Game Name: Worms: Reloaded
Platform: PC (reviewed)/Mac
Publisher: Team 17
Developer: Team 17
Release Date: August 26, 2010
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
Price: $19.95 BUY NOW
People settle arguments in different ways. Some talk it out, some debate, others work it out with their fists. In high school, our group of friends used to settle most arguments with a round of Worms. Of course, by the end of the round we could never remember what the argument was to begin with, but still, it was a good system.
That was back in the days of Armageddon and World Party. After that, Worms followed the 3D craze, and somewhat lost the magic. I haven’t played a Worms game seriously for years, even after the retro 2D revival brought us a slew of old-school Worms games on most platforms. So picking up Worms Reloaded on the PC, I was unsurprised to feel a nostalgia rush, but surprised to find that the series I’d returned to deserved the fond memories I had of it. It wasn’t a case of “oh, this used to be awesome” – it was “I remember why I thought this was awesome!”
While keeping the core mechanics of the previous games pretty much unchanged, the worms have received an HD facelift and a revised physics engine, as well as the customary addition of new weapons, voices, landscape elements and themes. The game has no shortage of things for you to do by yourself, but as usual, it’s best played with friends.
Since Worms 2, the series has adhered to a cute, cartoony art style, and in high definition it looks fantastic. Every element of the game oozes personality, from the varied themes of the environment to the damage and explosion effects, and of course, to the main stars – the worms themselves. Their design gives off a cheeky, fun attitude that is infectious, making it near impossible to play the game without a smirk on your face. Their already too-cute faces have been made more expressive, and if possible, I suspect their eyes are bigger than usual. Even in their base form, before you customise your team of invertebrates, they have more personality than most FPS characters.
Their animations are smooth and quirky, elegantly adding character to the characters. Land a grenade near one, and it’ll scream. Miss a shot, and your worm will facepalm. As they stand around awaiting their turn, they run through a series of randomised idle animations. They might dig a handful of dirt out of the ground below them for a quick snack. Or, my personal favourite, they can pull their eyebrows down to form a makeshift moustache.
The backgrounds also appear to have been given a makeover. While they haven’t been static for a while, they have never been this animated. And it took me a few matches to realise that the background set pieces appear to be cell-shaded 3D. Watching the Titanic sink as you battle pink squishy bugs to the death with various animal weapons is a deliciously bizarre scenario that no other game can provide.
The gameplay remains largely unchanged throughout iterations of the series. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, your basic goal is to use your team of worms to dispose of the other teams of worms, set across randomised landscapes and using a wacky but effective arsenal. Your worms have limited movement, but can use tools like ninja ropes, parachutes and jet packs to traverse the terrain for a better shot. Each weapon has its own properties, and the strategy lies in knowing when and how to use each weapon in a given situation. The standard bazooka, for example, will launch an explosive shell a fair distance, depending on how much power you put into it and the strength and direction of the wind. The grenade is similar in destructive power, detonating not on contact but after a few seconds, meaning it can be bounced and rolled into position. Or for a particularly humiliating victory, try the prod; simply pushing a nearby worm into danger.
This is just some basic weaponry, and they get much more outlandish. The sheep will run horizontally and deal massive damage when detonated on demand. The Banana Bomb acts like a bouncy grenade with a larger blast radius, releasing smaller bananas to cause extra damage. Or trigger Armageddon, raining down huge fireballs that destroy much of the terrain and is known to sometimes take out every last player. Worms are killed when their health reaches zero, or when they fall into water. The last team with any worms standing wins. On the surface it’s simple, but with strategy, skill and a large dose of luck, the game can be quite complex.
The physics have received some tuning in this version. The effects are subtle and will usually go unnoticed, but there are times where it becomes obvious. Grenades don’t seem to have the same bounce they once had, meaning veterans will have to rethink their grenade strategies. Oftentimes they stop rolling long before common sense tells you they should; bouncing and rolling one towards an enemy at the bottom of a ravine will sometimes result in it exploding halfway down, after it stops on a slope that defies logic. Conversely, mines have become overly bouncy. If a blast pushes a mine off a cliff, it’ll bounce around for far too long, and at unpredictable angles. Mines dotted around the landscape during the match can be a valuable strategic asset, giving extra oomph to your damage-dealings. But now their unpredictable physics can make them less effective in some situations, and useless in others.
The game offers a wealth of single player modes, most of which are variations of the basic turn-based, strategy-focused mechanics. You may be required to defeat a team of worms within a set time limit, or only using certain weapons. In some you can’t move, and have to attack from wherever you are placed. And Body Count mode sees you killing as many worms as you can before your single worm is killed. These modes are fun, but playing alone loses the edge after a while. The enduring portion of the game is in the multiplayer. Facing off against computer-controlled worms can be frustrating, as they regularly pull off flawless shots. Their bazooka launches almost always hit target, and when playing against multiple NPC teams, they seem to gang up on the player, only hurting enemy NPCs when no other option is available. Only human players make human mistakes, and as the game often relies on carefully judging distance and power, the ability of the NPCs to perfectly judge their shots every time creates an unbalanced battle.
Customisation is an increasingly large part of the Worms experience. Players can create their own teams of worms and individualise them with different voices, skin colours, gravestones, dances, and now, carried over from Forts Under Siege, hats. Your worms can don sombreros, bandanas, pirate hats, wigs, helmets, and a whole range of headwear. Not only does it help you differentiate allies from enemies on the battlefield, it can, in conjunction with voices and names, let you give your team a theme. One of my teams, The Salty Sea Dogs, spoke in pirate voices, wore pirate hats and had names like Scurvy and Landlubber.
The voices used are hilarious as always, but the frequency of specific lines can become quite grating. Reloaded contains twenty new speech banks, including L33t, Movie Announcer, Advertising, and a David Attenborough-style Wildlife presenter, in addition to the fifty classic ones. All are fantastic, adding charm to the characters and the game. There is now also a speech bank editor included, which allows you to use .wav files as lines of dialogue for your worms. Your teams can now really be your own. I spent a lot of time (some would say, too much) creating my own speech bank – made up of Coach’s lines from Left 4 Dead 2.
Players can customise the landscape they play on each time, adjusting the height, type (cavern, island, etc), theme and elements like mines and oil drums. And with the randomised terrain, no two games ever play the same. The game modes can be fiddled with as well, giving players the power to change the turn time, edit the frequency of weapon drops, toggle destructible environments, and tweak the weapons and ammo available to players at the beginning of a match, among many other options. It really allows players to set their own rules, according to their own play styles.
The new features in Reloaded aren’t especially noteworthy, but do shake up some strategies. The Bunker Buster is the most useful of the new weapons, as it is airstriked in, drills vertically down through the land and explodes on contact with a worm. It’s perfect for uncovering those pesky tunnelers. The Worship item can also change up the way people play, as it takes health from enemy worms each turn and gives it to yours. To cancel it enemies must destroy a statue, so when used it’s best to hide the statue somewhere out of reach.
New persistent elements on the landscape will also force some strategists to rethink. Along with the classic mines and oil drums, sentry guns and magnets have been added. Sentry guns will fire upon detecting movement, making them a handy defence tool. Magnets will either repel or attract metallic weapons, meaning they can be dropped near an enemy to ensure your attacks are on target, or you can stand near a repelling one to ensure safety from attacks.
One other element, which is unjustly being hyped as new to the games, is fire. If an oil drum explodes, a crate is damaged or a petrol bomb or napalm strike is used, fire will start on the landscape. It burns for several turns, creating opportunities for further injuring opponents. Worms that come into contact with fire will sustain slight damage, but if they are caught in it, the damage adds up fast. But why it’s being touted as “new”, when it’s been present in every Worms game that includes napalm and oil drums, is beyond me.
Reloaded doesn’t change the strong Worms formula in any meaningful way. The franchise has churned out a game every year or so since the original in 1995, so one regular criticism is that each release is little more than a repackaging of the same game, with insignificant additions to make it seem worth the purchase. Unfortunately, these observations are hard to deny, especially when the new weapons, a key selling point of each iteration, are often little more than re-skinned variants of weapons from previous games: one new weapon in Reloaded, the Buffalo of Lies, behaves suspiciously like the Mad Cow of old. That said, if you’re new to the series, you won’t notice the game’s shortage of innovation, and experienced Worms players may get too caught up in the nostalgic visuals and classic, solid gameplay to care.
So does it even matter? Everything old is new again, and Reloaded is the first 2D Worms game on the PC since World Party in 2001. The worms have ventured into the third dimension in Worms 3D, Worms 4 and the formula-departing Forts Under Siege. There were even pinball and golf spinoffs. The fact is, the series has experimented some in the past, and is now returning to the roots that made it so successful. In the last few years we have had two Open Warfare titles on DS, Space Oddity on Wii, and versions for the iPhone and Xbox Live Arcade, but Reloaded really feels like the pinnacle of this generation of 2D worm warfare. Those listed above felt looser and somewhat lacking in features, but with Reloaded, your boneless hosts endeavour to make your time with them entertaining and quirky, whether you’re an Armageddon veteran or a Battle Island rookie. Judge the game on its own merits and overlook the influence of other Worms titles, and you’ll likely find Reloaded to be solid and thoroughly entertaining.
I give Worms: Reloaded 8 Capsules out of 10.
* Strong return to the series’ roots
* Gameplay is solid and as fun as ever
* New HD visuals look fantastic
* Bursting with personality
* New features don’t add much to series
* Unbalanced enemy AI
* Less customization options than previous games