Worms. Surely there's nothing we can say about it that you don't already know? I'm not sure if I've met anyone who hasn't played that most accessible of turn-based strategy classics. Being a young sprog whose fondness for the battling earth-dwellers transcended both Amiga and PC ports and consumed much of his teenage years, the idea of a 3D revamp seemed both unnecessary and slightly worrying to me. Team 17 couldn't possibly improve on the tried and tested original formula right? Right?
The Worms Have Turned And Left Me Here
The original Worms gathered mass appeal thanks to its bold visuals, irreverent humour and accessible gameplay. However, just below the surface lay a brilliantly strategic turn-based war game played out by screeching, squirming soldiers, appealing to hardcore fans and mass-market gamers alike - surely one of the holy grails of game design. Team 17 pulled it off magnificently - owing a lot to the 2D landscape. Indeed, we couldn't really see how the move to 3D would bring with it much in the way of 'improvements' or adjustments to the gameplay without making the concept seem contrived, evading its original charm. Most of you, like us, will be thankful to know that the game has barely deviated in playing style at all.
From our very first go, it felt like Worms again. Perhaps we're stating the obvious, but this really is just Worms Armageddon in 3D, right down to the font the worm's names are written in and the taunts dealt by the HUD when a player bites the dust. We sat and grinned and got back into our Worming shoes, getting used to the way the wind affected our rockets again, the way a few degrees of an angle could make all the difference on that cluster bomb lob, and getting that damned exploding sheep to do its job right.
As well as the gameplay, the visuals have retained their familiar, bold cartoon look without resorting to the cel-shading that seem to be en vogue at the moment. The worms themselves still express more than you'd ever imagine almost-featureless pink blobs could, they still hurl insults at each other in a wide variety of helium-pitched dialogue (and the old packs will still be compatible), and they still even traverse the terrain with their requisite rubber balloon squeak.
On closer inspection though, the 3D aspect seems to have affected the game more deeply. For one, it has apparently forced the removal of the pneumatic drill and blowtorch digging tools that have been the staple of cowardly defence tactics in past Worms titles, but it seems sensible to assume that digging a tunnel through a 3D landscape and expecting players to be able to see what they're doing would be a little silly. Also thanks to the journey into 3D, there are the extra complications of navigating the scenery with 360-degree freedom, and having your projectiles affected by wind blowing in all directions instead of a mere left or right - it would seem this new perspective has detracted slightly from the previous simplicity of Worms.
The controls are expanded beyond what we've previously come to expect of the series, with WSAD handling worm movement, the arrow keys handling the fine art of aiming (the first-person mode is far more useful for this) and the mouse controlling the somewhat wayward third-person camera. We couldn't help but feel this set of controls was designed with consoles in mind, and we cancertainly imagine ourselves getting our heads round it a lot easier while gripping a Cube [or PS2 or Xbox! -Ed] pad - good job Worms3D is console-bound, then.
The camera which provides your primary viewpoint pulls off a mixed performance, working fairly well until you attempt to get it to work its way around some scenery that's close to your worm, at which point it gets stuck and refuses to move in certain directions. Whenever this happened, we either resorted to attempting to plan our attack from the first person view, which is typically reserved for aiming, or holding E to get an overhead view. Despite the main camera's occasional problems, at least the alternatives are there.
World War Worm
The majority of our time with the game has so far been spent experiencing the staple of any Wormfan's diet - multiplayer. However, with the lack of Internet play in this early version of the software, we were forced to drag our better half to the PC with promises of a ripping good laugh with our pink slithery friends [quite a pitch -Ed]. Luckily she was willing, and two hours later there we were, hunched over the keyboard and bickering over "cheap shots" and "cheating". That's how it gets you, you see - the same compelling gameplay remains intrinsically unchanged, so much so that even girls like it.
The one thing we really are missing from the originals though are those enormously satisfying chain reactions, where a shotgun blast could send a worm rolling towards a mine, which could send him hurtling through the air, knocking another worm into another mine which could result in the catastrophic loss of half a team. The reliance seems to be very much on single shot tactics, usually winding up with attempts to knock your opponents into the surrounding waters, and exasperated gasps of disbelief from your nearby opponent are sadly few and far between.
Some of Worms 3D's instant and massive appeal can be attributed to the fact that no one game is quite the same as another. This is thanks in part to the ability to randomly generate levels from voxels, which offer far more flexibility than traditional polygon-based worlds. These can obviously then be blasted to tiny smithereens by warring worms, and the random level generator more often than not will cobble together something that has just as much entertainment value as one of the few themed and carefully hand-designed maps included with the game. Simply clicking the generate button or inputting a number of your choosing (allowing you to note favourites down at a later date) will trigger the creation of a new battlefield, complete with bridges between the randomly placed islands and cleverly positioned scenery providing cover as well as eye candy. For the record, one such example of a Worms world wonder included one of the ugliest monkeys we ever did see. Hurrah!
But what of solo play? Well, as we said, most of our time has been spent in multiplayer, partly because of deadlines [and I pushed it back twice... -Ed] and partly because it's just so damn addictive, but it has at least been apparent to us that Team 17 is having a decent stab in the name of lone players. First there's the quick match mode, which is basically the same as multiplayer, setting you up with a random level and a CPU team to play against. The AI pulls off some seemingly impossible moves of course, but with practice and a simple understanding of the physics at work, you'll soon reach its level.
Elsewhere there is the campaign mode which has you taking on a series of objective-based missions in themed lands, and the challenge mode in which you take part in timed games against the clock - shooting targets, or wiping out a team as quickly as possible and such. If it sounds like we're being vague, we are - we did say we spent most of our time in multiplayer! From what we played of the single player modes, it's a much bigger dish than before, and there seems to be a wealth of unlockable content hidden away in there somewhere, so we're looking forward to getting out teeth into it properly come review time.
Frankly, we were surprised at just how timeless the Worms formula appears to be. Team 17 could well be criticised for merely inflating its classic franchise into three dimensions, but when it's this damn compulsive who honestly cares? It's a classic reborn the way it should be, and we're just as happy it hasn't turned into a watered down shadow of its former self as we are to let it consume our lives and friendships once more. We had a whale of a time. In fact, we're off for some more. See you online in October, then.