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People still remember 1999's Worms Armageddon fondly, and in some ways developer Team17 has fought against that nostalgia as it continues to develop the series. As a lifelong Worms fiend, it s been hard for me to enjoy the most recent Worms games on PC Worms Revolution in 2012 and Worms Clan Wars in 2013 because they just seem so different. They are both good games, but Worms with varying stats and the cheesy 3D graphics kept it at arm s length from the Worms experience I remember.
But the next installment, Worms WMD, is a love letter to Armageddon. It s a homecoming for a series that may have strayed a little too far down the path of modernizing for the sake of modernizing. Team17 has stripped out the different worm stats and fancy water physics, and returned to 2D art that looks the way you (incorrectly) remember Armageddon looking. Digitally painted environments and characters that are downright gorgeous, especially compared to the 3D models of the games that came before it. The whole game looks stunning for its simplicity, and it feels like Worms.
Despite being made on a brand new engine, jumping, ninja roping, and carefully firing bazookas into the wind all worked just as I d hoped. And the cheeky sense of humor present through all the games is still there, now updated with even more references. The voices available in the preview build I played included one that sounded like Bear Grylls, a cheese-obsessed character that sounded like Wallace of Wallace and Gromit, and (I imagine a recent addition) a worm clearly meant to be Bob Ross who would tell me there are no mistakes, just happy accidents every time I whiffed a shot.
Despite its reverence for classic Worms, WMD does introduce a handful of new mechanics to shake up the formula. The best of these new additions are buildings areas of the map that look solid, but are actually mostly hollow. When one of your worms enters a building, the facade disappears to reveal the area inside. It s pretty much just normal terrain, but the health bars and names of worms in a building don t show up unless it s your turn, and even then only if you are controlling a worm in that building. It s a unique moment in a game of Worms where all the information isn t clearly laid out in front of you, and remembering who's indoors is key.
Unfortunately the addition of vehicles doesn t add nearly as much to the game as buildings do. The preview build I played had pilotable tanks and attack-helicopters scattered around the map, and they felt like a weird sidestep for the series. When jetpacks have such limited fuel and expert ninja rope skills can get you to otherwise unreachable locations, it seems wholly out of place to be able to spawn right next to an infinitely flying helicopter, entirely undermining both of those items. Additionally, each vehicle only has one mode of fire, which makes them a predictable set piece in a game that s otherwise about variety.
Something I'm still undecided on is how the addition of crafting fits into Worms. A second tab in the weapon select screen reveals the crafting menu, where you can construct most of the weapons in the game. You can even make special upgraded variants of weapons, like a flame-launching bazooka or a proximity mine version of the iconic Holy Hand Grenade. Crafting requires crafting materials which drop from the sky in specially marked crates, similar to health packs and other supply drops.
It s actually a pretty cool way of letting players tailor their arsenal to their needs mid-match. If you see the enemy is turtling up, craft more (or better) bunker busters. If they re exposed, craft napalm air strikes and homing missiles. You can open and use the crafting menu while you are waiting during an opponent's turn in an online match, but I worry the feature was created entirely with online play in mind. In local games the best ways to play Worms you can only craft on your own turn, and those who can t craft quickly will be at a pretty big disadvantage, especially considering turn time is usually of the essence for inexperienced players.
But even with these new changes, playing Worms WMD felt like familiar in all the right ways. I wasn t able to play around with customizing my team or changing the ruleset of a match at all, so we ll have to wait until the game to see if you can do things like turn off vehicles or alter crafting options, but WMD is a whole lot of fun. It brings back the Armageddon experience while still feeling like a fresh take for the series.
In the 21 years Worms has been in existence, the turn-based strategy-cum-murder playground has spawned over 20 main series entries and a smattering of supplementary spin-offs. Over 3,000,000,000 worms have met their maker in that time, says developer Team 17, which is a number sure to rise further still when Worms WMD arrives on August 23.
Expect new additions such as tanks, rocket-launching choppers and concealable buildings when it does; not to mention huge falling Concrete Donkeys because, well, this is Worms.
Should you wish to commit to the frontlines early, WMD s All-Stars pre-order edition adds a whole host of familiar war-faring faces to your ranks too - from rocket-propelled cars, to raging orcs; from prison escapees, to dubstep gun-wielding saints. Check out highlights from the All-Stars pack ensemble below:
Fancy that? The All-Stars Pack will be available to everyone who pre-orders before August 23. The Steam pre-order is set to go live at 6pm BST/10am PT today, and will cost 19.99/$29.99/29,99 .
In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, we get into the swing, as Phil explains his love of grappling hooks.
If you go back through the Why I Love articles I've written to date—stealth on ships, TF2's Scout or playing Chinese-style opera in Audiosurf—all have, to a greater or lesser extent, been about systems or experiences that change how you traverse through a level. The Scout can double-jump. Ship-based stealth levels are tighter and more claustrophobic than their inevitable "big warehouse" counterpart. Monkey Bee has one of the most distinct middle-sections I've yet to see emerge from Audiosurf's level generator.
A satisfying traversal system isn't the only thing I look for in a game, but it is one of a few broad areas that define my taste. If I can move around a game in interesting ways, then I will probably like it. I like Prototype—a game in which you can run up, and leap off, and glide over buildings—even though a part of me suspects that it's really a bit rubbish. I'm a somewhat overweight guy in his thirties. Sometimes it's nice to tell gravity to go and do one.
There's another traversal tool that I consistently love in games: the grappling hook. My appreciation for good grappling hooks—and good here doesn't mean realistic—started with the original version of Worms. Friends and I would play multiplayer matches with a very specific set of rules: no turn timer, unlimited girders, and unrestricted access to the grappling hook (or "ninja rope," as it's called in-game). You can use the ninja rope multiple times per turn, and we gave ourselves unlimited time to make our way across the map. With these rules, a worm can travel from one side to the other—their turn ending only if they take fall damage.
That's where the girders came in. We'd place them above the level, both to protect our own guys from air strikes and to have more surfaces to grapple on to. Worms' rope mechanics are, in essence, bizarre. They're also consistent in their implementation, which led us to a great understanding of their potential. With some effort, it's possible to swing 180 degrees and beyond—eventually landing on top of the platform the worm is swinging from. The trick is to extend the rope fully, smack into a solid surface, and then retract. That maximises the speed boost from bouncing off the wall, and, with luck, propels the worm up and around.
To anyone but those directly involved in the match, this was an unspeakably tedious spectacle. To us, it was thrilling.
Subsequent Worms games enforced turn times, essentially ruining my enjoyment of them. But a few other 2D games feature that same spirit of exploitable traversal. Trine is, intentionally or not, all about this. One of its three characters is a Thief, and her grappling hook allows for a similarly awkward battle against physics. Here, you can even grapple onto one surface, break off and re-attach to another, all while still in mid-swing. You can, on select levels, chain these swings—at times resulting in long, unbroken stretches of undulation.
Used properly, it can be a graceful tool. But both Trine games also contain a secret hidden mini-game for grappling hook aficionados. This game is called "can I use the Thief to complete this section, even though it was obviously designed for the Wizard?" Often, the answer is yes.
At this point, I should probably point to another 2D grappling hook game—one designed entirely around swinging as the main method of level traversal. It's called Floating Point, it's free, and it was made by PC Gamer's former section editor Tom Francis. It's a more sedate grapple-space to move through, and rare in that its freedom of movement is the idea rather than an exploitable quirk in the engine. If you're here because you like grappling hooks, then it's relevant to your interests.
In three-dimensions, the grappling hook is a less sure-fire hit. Too often, it's restricted—kept to specific grapple-points in order to stop the player breaking the level in ridiculous ways. Most recently, you can see this in Far Cry 4. You have a grappling hook! You can jump from the rope and re-attach it to another point before hitting the ground! You can only do this at specifically marked points around the map. I'd like you to imagine a sort of anti-exclamation mark, and place it on the end of that last sentence.
Some games are better at it this than others, and they tend to be the ones that are more open about their freedom of movement. Arkham City's Grapnel Gun combos satisfyingly with the glide. You can't swing, but you can shoot it to build speed across the map—using it to all but fly. And then there's Just Cause 2, or Let's Do Fun Shit With A Grappling Hook: The Game. You can attach onto a plane, or to cars, or to an explosive barrel that is shooting vertically into the air. You can use it in conjunction with a parachute to create a free-form system of movement more distinct and enjoyable than any of the game's vehicles.
Maybe that's another reason why grappling hooks, specifically, are one of my favourite methods of traversal. They're inherently ridiculous. There is no way to put an unrestricted grappling hook in a game and still have it be a serious tool, because it's either inherently exploitable or inherently unrealistic. It is a jointly a tool for motion and a tool for fun.
Case in point: the 3D version of Bionic Commando. It had a grappling hook as its central gimmick, and yet its story still felt the need for a Serious Emotional Payload. How was that done? With the late-game reveal that your bionic grapple-arm was also your wife. Your wife, who was used to create a strong emotional bond with the robo-limb.
That is dumb. But that is what happens when you try to inject emotional pathos into a game with a grappling hook—it throws off your sense of what's appropriate. At some point, a developer must have questioned whether wife-in-a-robo-arm was good storytelling. I suspect they saw their hero swinging care-free through a city and lost all sense of perspective. "Yes," this hypothetical employee thought, "it makes total sense that this bionic commando's arm is his wife."
It didn't, though. It was stupid. That's why grappling hooks can never be serious. Not true, freeform, use-'em-wherever-you-like grappling hooks. They're silly and fun—a tool for engaging with, perfecting, and enjoying the feeling of motion. They are, in practice and philosophy, the opposite of a wife in an arm.
More grappling hooks; less wives in robot arms. That feels like a strange place to end things, but also like good words to live by.