Team 17's quirky, turn-based war game goes 3D in this release for home computers and 128-bit generation consoles. The added dimension allows players to view the action first-person, from above in "blimp" perspective or from behind their invertebrate warriors. It also creates yet another variable for which to account when firing off any of the game's numerous, unpredictable weapons. Battlefield landscapes are randomly generated and, of course, fully deformable. Other additions include a deeper training mode and improved AI opponents for engaging solo play. Worms 3D is designed to retain the style and feel of its 2D predecessors, with the return of such favorite armaments as banana bombs, "Holy Hand Grenades," and exploding sheep, as well as deceptively simple-looking gameplay that seldom fails to surprise.
The premise is deceptively simple, recalling golden oldies like Scorched Tanks and... some other things I can't remember right now. Two teams of worms are placed in random locations across a completely destructible level suspended above water. One member of a team picks a weapon from an occasionally bizarre arsenal ranging from bazookas, shotguns and Uzis to bananas, bouncing sheep and grannies. All of which explode, of course. Mass destruction ensues as each team takes its turn to knock shades out of the other, with both worms and the scenery suffering. The loser is the first to have all of his worms blown away.
The majority of the Worms charm comes from being able to crowd round one computer or console with your chums and devise the cruelest, most callous way of offing your mate's earth-dwellers. The 'playful' bickering that often ensues may result in hospital treatment, but at least you can laugh about it afterwards. It really does house one of the finest multiplayer experiences we've had to date, and one that remains largely unchanged. In fact, it's immediately clear once you've got the tutorial out of the way that the entire game is still fundamentally intact apart from the addition of a few new weapons (the gas grenades and nuclear attacks, for example), and this is probably to the relief of teary-eyed nostalgia and to the disgust of dismissive remake cynics.
Worms 3D looks great. It's not the most technically impressive title you'll ever see, certainly, but it's perfect for the franchise. The simple worm models manage to convey an impressive amount of character through facial expressions alone, with cartoon awe, delight, fear and cockiness brilliantly realized along with those trademark high-pitched vocals. Each level (both randomly generated and pre-designed) has a themed appearance, but is presented in an almost cel-shaded light, very close to the second generation Worms titles in style, and they are - for the first time - completely destructible 3D landscapes.
I'll have to admit that at first I was concerned; we needn't dwell on the incredible failure of 3D updates of classics in the past, but at least the original developers were behind this one. I negotiated through and took in the menus as fast as I could, as the licensed track "Shake Your Coconuts" from popular young person's beat combo Junior Senior playing in the background was doing its damnedest to aurally violate my eardrums.
This was when I stumbled into Videogame Creation Crime #3263: 'Having menus with pictures for buttons that require you to hover over each and every one to discover their function'. Worms 3D's front-end interface, while quite bouncy and pretty, irritates more than a game's front-end really should. More thought really should have been put into streamlining the interface since the player is forced to use it so much; all of your match and team customization takes place through the use of big fat chunky cartoon buttons and, while less irritating on a PC with its mouse pointer, it's frustratingly cumbersome on a console.
After the surprisingly useful tutorial section, the best way to get to grips with the game is the quick start mode, which sets you up on a map with a random team of worms, default match settings (such as round time, move time and worms per team amongst other more detailed parameters) and an opposing AI team of average difficulty. This also serves as the game's perfect pick-up-and-play mode, since each quick start match will usually last between five and ten minutes, perfect for a quick rumble before work.
From quick start to campaign, then; the result of Team 17's determined quest to craft a half-decent single player Worms mode. This time, I dare say it's worked rather well. You're given objectives and sent off into the field to complete and unlock subsequent missions, which in turn unlock challenges to take part in elsewhere in the game. The missions are quite varied and occasionally memorable, such as the mock D-Day landing opener or the jet-pack task which forces you to hop from one exploding barrel to another attempting to pick up a set number of crates. Not all of the missions require the destruction of entire enemy teams, some don't even require the use of weapons, and the specially constructed maps on which they take place are brilliantly designed, full of the charm that characterizes Worms. They are, for the most part, a pleasure to take part in.
The unlocked challenges that serve as rewards your efforts in the campaign are a lot less satisfying. They come in the form of basic time games, like a quick-fire deathmatch against an opposing team, firing at targets with a shotgun or collecting target emblems while negotiating levels with a jet-pack, all the while a clock ticks down, only getting small boosts each time a target is shot/collected. There are more rewards for gaining a high-scoring time, but the challenges often felt such a chore that I didn't really make much of an effort with them.
But of course there still remains the reason everyone loved Worms in the first place: multiplayer. It's as compulsive as it ever was, simple enough to drag girlfriends, boyfriends, parents and siblings into the battle, and yet deep enough to allow some truly dastardly tactics. Going head to head against a pal with customized teams (and personalized flags and voices) to pursue long-fought personal vendettas hasn't ever been quite so dramatic as it is in Worms, especially since the outcome could be swayed dramatically in one direction or the other by the random level generator. This can be sidestepped in favor of pre-designed maps if you like, along with a lot of the other features - power-ups, time limits, falling damage etc - that you can alter to fit your specific requirements. It's remarkably detailed, this art of Wormage.
But still, Worms has lost something in the translation to 3D. Firstly, the weapons feel less powerful than they should be, with a tiny amount of splash damage barely injuring worms only inches away from a huge explosion. The game also seems to be missing those wonderful chain reaction effects when worms and mines would ricochet off of exploding barrels to create spectacular displays of pyrotechnics, carnage and death. Worms now either flop into the water, land nastily, or roll about a bit. Come on Team 17, we want stuff flying about all over the place! It's sadly all too rare an occurrence these days.
Much of 2D Worms' beauty lay in its simplicity, and the 3D aspect creates complications that detract from that. For example, it's far trickier to judge projectile trajectories thanks to a number of factors, like scenery blocking your view and the way first-person aiming belies the distance and height of a shot - this wouldn't be a problem in a point-and-fire first-person shooter, but it is with Worms' one-shot, arcing projectiles, properly affected by gravity and wind.
Negotiating the scenery has become more difficult, with the blowtorch and drill digging tools sadly stripped from the game, forcing players to either climb, make use of the ninja rope or more likely the jet-pack or teleporter. The ninja rope is naturally the more entertaining option, but the 3D scenery rarely offers the opportunity to make proper use of that classic entry in the Worms toolbox.
Despite the criticisms, Team 17 has still managed to pull off an impressive evolution of a much-loved series. The core game has remained barely unchanged, but the 3D engine introduces a lot of unexpected elements to get used to, both good and bad. The PC remains the definitive Worms platform, as its version not only looks the best but features online and LAN play. The consoles versions are slightly less great, thanks to the cramped controls, rougher visuals (especially on the Cube) and - gasp! - there's no Xbox Live support. Nevertheless, Worms 3D remains one of the most satisfying, addictive and downright enjoyable multiplayer gaming experiences I've ever encountered, online or no, and for that it scores highly.
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