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Worms W.M.D. PC Review

The life of a long-time Worms fan is bitter-sweet. On the one hand, you’ve got a series whose name, at its best, is synonymous with incredible skill-based gameplay, all the wacky thrills and spills you could want and, most importantly, the greatest local ‘hotseat’ multiplayer the PC has ever seen.

But on the other hand, there’s the uncomfortable fact that, at its worst, the series is just plain pants. The last truly great game in the series – according to me, and most people who were there – was Worms Armageddon, all the way back in 1999.

Since then, we’ve seen two major economic crises, the emergence of the internet as an epoch-defining technology and incredible political upheaval in the UK and the wider world. But one thing we haven’t seen is a decent Worms game.

From the absolute nadir of spin-off titles like Worms Golf and Worms Crazy Golf to the it-wasn’t-broke-so-we-broke-it experiments of Worms 3D and Worms 4, it seemed developers Team 17 were willing to trade their increasingly shaky legacy away in the name of shoddy, boilerplate titles.

But once, they were great. For the uninitiated, the games see two teams of worms scattered across a randomly generated 2D landscape, with the simple objective of blowing each other up – preferably in the most skilful, or at least dramatic, way possible. The game is turn-based and requires a cool head, careful aiming and no small amount of luck.

When it all comes together in an outrageously flukey bazooka shot that knocks your opponent’s last worm into the water from the other side of the map, there’s no greater thrill in multiplayer gaming – and while the game does reward skill, the unexpected consequences of your haphazard shots will have you in stitches. At least, it used to. Before the games got crap.

Which brings us to Worms W.M.D. In the run-up to release, the whispers grew louder: Team 17 were working on a genuine successor to Armageddon – a game that would salvage their reputation, remind the veterans of everything they love about the series and introduce it to a new generation of gamers.

And you know what? They’ve done it.

Worms W.MD. in action

Worms W.MD. looks immediately familiar to veteran fans – but with modern HD polish

A little background on where I’m coming from: I’ve loved Worms since playing the demo version of the very first game on a PC Gamer cover disc in 1995, more than 20 years ago. To this day, my pal Dickon and I play Armageddon in its legendary local hotseat mode almost every week.

For that reason, I was initially sceptical of W.M.D. Could it really buck the trend and give us something worthy of the Worms mantle at long last? And even if it did, could it really improve on what we took to be perfection?

So, to tackle the first question: yes, it can. From my very first game, W.M.D. just felt right. The way the worms move and jump across the map, the angles and trajectories of bazooka shots and grenades and – of course – the notorious ninja rope physics, mastery of which truly separates the annelids from the nematodes.

It’s all there, it all works, and it feels great. And perhaps even more miraculously, the new additions – chiefly vehicles and buildings – actually manage to improve the game somewhat.

A building in Worms W.M.D.

Buildings offer a degree of cover – but can also contain nasty surprises

The vehicles are probably the most significant new addition. With the default beginner’s settings, my friend and I found that there were generally way too many of these scattered around the map – but after a little tweaking of the numbers, we concluded that they were actually fun and fairly well balanced too.

Vehicles – including helicopters, tanks and even mech suits – don’t belong to any particular team: you can walk up to one anywhere on the map and hop in during your turn. Their weapons actually take a decent amount of skill and care to use properly – particularly the unruly helicopter – and in a wise balancing decision, you can’t use them to run down a row of worms en masse, GTA-style. They won’t be to everyone’s taste, of course – but it’s a doddle to disable them if you prefer the classic experience.

As for the buildings, they offer a little shelter: enter one on your turn, and the facade fades to reveal the interior. Attacks from the outside will chip away at the building’s externals, eventually revealing what’s inside – but taking shelter can be an interesting tactical choice, not unlike desperately tunneling into the ground with a blowtorch in previous Worms titles.

But they’re not always a blessing. In one memorable match, I jumped into an unexplored building after particularly brutal turn – but when the interior was revealed, I noticed a landmine just inside the entrance. Beep beep beep… boom! Unexpected interactions between the game’s various systems will certainly keep you on your toes.

Armageddon in W.M.D.

The cheekily named ‘Armageddon’ device is one of the most over-the-top weapons in the entire Worms series

So yes, this is a Worms game of the old school, fully worthy of the name. But is it a necessary game – and will it replace Armageddon as my go-to game for local-multiplayer mayhem?

Well, old habits are hard to break, and I doubt I’ll ever stop playing Armageddon entirely at this point. But then, most people don’t have the patience or inclination to play a 17-year-old game – and so, W.M.D. has the potential to introduce this fantastic game to a new generation of players. The new art style is gorgeous, it runs easily in modern resolutions and the core gameplay is as fun as it’s ever been.

That’s why W.M.D. feels like a necessary game, and why I’m so delighted that Team 17 have pulled it off. And, at least for now, it’s my Worms game of choice.

Of course, it’s not perfect. At times, the humour falls flat, and some of the voice packs are downright cringey – but Worms has always been that way. We were also disappointed that the wacky awards handed out at the end of each match – ‘Most Useless’ and the like – are absent. More significantly, I initially had some issues with choppy framerates and stuttering, although I’m pleased to report that these seem to have been fixed in a later patch.

More disappointing are some issues around customisation. While you’ve got an impressive array of options to tweak your arsenal for each match, you don’t seem to be able to modify the characteristics of individual weapons – so if you want to increase the relative power of the bazooka, for example, you’re currently out of luck. We were also a little disappointed that there’s no ‘random’ fuse setting for landmines: a feature we loved in Armageddon that really encouraged you to push your luck in getting around the map.

But this is 2016, and we live in the age of the Steam Workshop. I’m confident that mods will soon come along to expand the game’s features. And the weapons themselves, it must be said, are fantastic – from series stalwarts like the holy hand grenade and banana bomb to new additions like the bunker buster missile and goat-on-a-rope, there’s a wide range of death-dealing toys to play with.

All told, then, Worms W.M.D. is a triumph. Sure, we could tie ourselves in knots asking why they didn’t come out with something like this sooner, but what would be the point? For now, let’s just bask in its wormly glory.

8 out of 10