Reviewed: April 11, 2004
Released: March 11, 2004
UK-based Team17 Software has been in the gaming business since it was founded in 1990, making popular games for the Amiga (remember that machine?). But it wasn’t until they came up with a new game that incorporated the whimsy of Lemmings and the strategic depth of - what would come to be called - RTS games that they started to really come into their own as an exciting, dynamic development house.
The Worms “saga” has undergone many changes throughout its duration. And it has managed to make its way to just about every major platform there is on the strength of its gameplay and indefatigable sense of humor. In 1995, both strategy games and the next generation of modern consoles in the form of the Sony PlayStation were just getting started. Command & Conquer had only just come out on the market a couple of months before the first Worms game, both for the PC.
Now for a game that loves to be silly, Worms 3D actually takes its lineage very seriously. Coming from the if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it school of thought, Team17 has never forgone the elements of the franchise that make it so endearing. The game is all about our titular heroes, and they are rendered here in full 3D in much the same design as their 2D forerunners. Up until my mid-20s I assiduously avoided even a casual use of the word “cute” unless burly men with large weapons coerced it out of me. Nevertheless, these creatures are relentlessly cute. But this is exactly what makes it work.
There’s about as much of a story in this game as is necessary to get you into the world of Worms. Veterans will most likely bypass this meager backstories of each mission, while newcomers will have something to read during load times.
Team17 seems to have taken a page – make that a chapter – from the Nintendo playbook. The bright colors and cartoony style of the big N’s Mario series work well in the Worms universe. This aesthetic is carried over into the game’s interface as well, despite a tendency to occasionally clutter the screen with confusing icons. Still, many developers would do well to follow Team17’s example of an otherwise clean and simple design.
The combat system, like most of the other series’ elements, is essentially the same as the original. There’s a large array of weapons available and they are deployed in user-adjustable angles and intensities. This is where the new 3D perspective can be either a help or a hindrance to the average gamer. To fire a bazooka, one can go into first person perspective, move the targeting reticule to the appropriate position and fire. But without taking into account the relative elevation between attacker and target as well as wind direction and speed (something more appropriate to a 3D environment), it can prove frustrating to actually land a hit.
Unfortunately, switching to the “Blimp View” perspective isn’t much better, as the depth perception is difficult to...well, perceive. It’s the weapons that provide most of the fun in this game. Among the usual shotguns, Uzis, bazookas and grenades, you can find the Holy Hand Grenade (yes, that one), air strikes, Fire Hand (which results in a ninja style dragon punch), mad cow & sheep attacks, and many, many others.
The traditional utilities include the girder, ninja rope and jet pack, and add a great tactical dimension to the gameplay. While there is a ridiculous amount of offensive weapons, one more often than not ends up just using a few of them that do the most damage with the greatest possibility of a successful hit. For instance, the sheep attack that sends a bomb laden ruminant towards a target is only useful if the target is on the same plane and there’s nothing between them.
Not that there’s no fun to be had. The rounds tend to balance out nicely even with the average AI that the game employs, especially since the campaign mode is more than just a series of kill-the-other-team scenarios. Completing various missions in the campaign mode unlocks the predictable extras, adding to the game’s longevity. Additional challenges are for those master “wormsmen” to show off their skills. New? No. Fun? Yes. Like I said, this game is all about fun.
Load screens are made palatable by rendered interludes of worm based slapstick, and who doesn’t love that? I mean, if you’ve got to have load time, why not enjoy a quick, violent vignette? I do however have to play that reviewer’s broken record called “camera issues”, which is the bane of the modern developer – particularly those that are challenged with taking a popular 2D franchise into the unforgiving world of three dimensions.
Some methods for dealing with camera issues have become quite familiar, such as making an abutting wall transparent so that the character isn’t lost onscreen. Unfortunately, in the case of trying to get a worm on top of some sort of small mesa, the top of it did not become visible until I was jumping over it, making it very difficult to judge my landing aim. Not good, seeing as these boneless creatures don’t handle falls very well.
Thankfully, Team17 resisted the knee-jerk reaction these days to make yet another cel-shaded game. By avoiding that crutch, they were able to focus on a tighter conversion of the original 2D graphics into their full 3 dimensional counterparts. The familiar crates o’ goodies and special weapons and utilities have translated very well, but the worms themselves are fantastic. Their expressiveness is quite amusing, especially when you’re about to deliver a death blow at point blank range. Eyes expand, mouths grimace, and their whole bodies shake in terror; a sight to behold in the first person perspective. The deformable terrain is another really nice touch, especially when you consider the tactical possibilities of stranding enemy worms on little islands made from your well-thrown grenades.
Back in the 2D days, Worms looked similar to Lemmings, though the game play was decidedly different. In the console arena, Hogs of War for the Playstation foreshadowed [some might say ripped off] Worms 3D’s mechanics, only blurry textures and the limited horsepower of that seminal console kept it from acclaim.
The aforementioned cut-scenes that follow the end of each round are very funny and of high quality, calling to mind something from Pixar’s people. They don’t add to the gameplay, but hey they’re fun.
While the sound is amusing at first, and quite serviceable for the game, it quickly gets old. Still, I have to say that at least Pro Logic II output is available for those interested.
The music is atrocious. This is the kind of forgettable background stuff that is easily replaced on the stereo with your favorite tunes (I’m a metal guy myself) once you turn the music volume down to nothing in the settings.
The sound effects are the usual fare and while enjoyable at times – such as with the Holy Hand Grenade – aren’t anything to rock your world like the Medal of Honor series.
While you can select any one of dozens of different voice schemes (English, Alien, Viking, et al), they do get tiresome, as many of the phrases are repeated ad nauseum.
Considering the amount of options (as many as 10,000 different gaming combinations are available, the game proudly states), gameplay can last for as long as you’ve got the interest.
The multiplayer game allows for up to 4 different players to command 8-worm teams. In addition to existing rosters, you can create your own, complete with customized flag, tombstones, voices, and names. As for game modes, you can choose from preset schemes, or tweak the hell out of almost every aspect of play. A nice touch.
All in all, Team17 has delivered on the promise of taking its baby from 2D to 3D. As we all know, it’s been tried many times before with a spectacular lack of success in too many cases. I won’t mention names, but you know who they are.
This particular game is essentially a glorified chess match. What sets Worms apart is the plethora of strategic possibilities and its sense of humor. While I don’t expect the series to develop much beyond this point, it’s a pleasant diversion.
This game isn’t for everyone due to its look and style. RTS fans might enjoy the premise, but might be turned off by the look, whereas the younger crowd may be blind to the richer, tactical side of things. If you’re able to cross between the two camps, you’ll probably enjoy owning this game for the multiplayer fun it promises - though online play would’ve been a no-brainer. Otherwise, it’s still a party rental waiting to happen.