When it comes to releasing the same game over and over, the collective developers of Call of Duty have nothing on Team 17.
To be fair, artillery strategy franchise Worms was birthed pretty much feature-complete, and most of its subsequent releases for PC – a venture into the third dimension aside – have tweaked rather than overhauled the formula, spawning a popular course, the Doctorate of Worm Game Distinguishing in the process.
A direct sequel following just nine months after last year’s ironically-named Worms: Revolution, Clan Wars will be a tough sell for owners of that game, but is an appealing title nonetheless. Unsurprisingly, the two games have a lot in common. Both feature fully animated backgrounds, a “2.5D” perspective, water that behaves like blobs of gel, an IT Crowd actor on narration duty, and the same weapon sets and character classes. Only Steam Workshop and Clan functionality set them apart in a meaningful way.
That isn’t to say that other things haven’t been attempted. By Team17’s own admission, singleplayer experiences in the Worms franchise have been subpar, so to its credit a decent effort has been put into crafting the 25 mission campaign available here. Set inside a museum, the story has the player pursuing an evil stage hypnotist who has made off with an ancient stone carrot.
The puzzle mode from Revolution has been incorporated into the campaign here, shifting the focus from outright warfare to a mix of shooting, platforming, and solution-seeking. Most of these puzzles are staged using physics machines – amalgamations of objects that respond to the laws of physics. Ropes must be burned through and magnets carefully placed to trigger mines, activate switches, lower bridges, and the like.
It’s fleetingly distracting, but all too soon dragging a slow-moving worm between puzzle objects and checkpoints becomes tedious, and the presence of the turn timer that forces pauses in play even when there are no enemies around is infuriating. The puzzles represent a dilution rather than an expansion of what makes Worms fun in the first place. In addition, the mode’s enthusiastic, jokey narration from Katherine Parkinson is completely undercut by its mandatory subtitles, which spoil every punchline.
But the singleplayer’s worst sin is a familiar one for the series: the AI simply isn’t particularly good. It takes altogether too long to decide to do anything at all – even if the only option available is to discharge the second barrel of the shotgun an enemy quivering in front of it – and rarely are its moves in any way inspired. Instead, it will perform the most improbable of grenade tosses to kill the player from across the map, or it will shoot a bazooka at its own feet – there seems little middle ground.
This has the effect of making every victory in singleplayer appear more a result of good fortune rather than skill, particularly as the stages wear on. Things get tough too, so it’s probably just as well that standing on an enemy worm will see it run out the clock attempting to jump rather than do anything useful, and that other worms will be very reluctant to attack the player out of fear of hurting said tactical genius.
There are also things that rankle regardless of game mode, such as the incredibly laggy mouse input, the handful of worm catchphrases that loop ad nauseam, and similarities between safe solid ground and not-actually-there background.
However, many things that are infuriating in singleplayer are a part of what makes Worms multiplayer so amusing. A parachute gets caught on a stray piece of terrain and the only option left is suicide. One health point of falling damage prematurely ends a turn. The series’ trademark fiddly and unresponsive controls result in a player nuking themselves with a bazooka. Indeed, cheap deaths are Worm’s playing field-levelling chaotic bread and butter.
Indeed, the multiplayer in Clan Wars is probably the best the series has seen simply due to the excellent weapon balance (except the sheep, which is far too easy to control these days), the customisation options available, and the clan side of things.
The latter allows players to form teams which earn points each game and will be promoted and relegated to different leagues depending on their performance relative to others.
Each clan has its own and web page which tracks its stats and provides a social platform for its members, as well as an emblem, and all the usual customisations from names to accessories and speech bank can be altered.
On top of that, a mobile app will also give access to stats and the stats of friends in the manner of something like Battlefield's Battlelog.
Customisation of the rules for the up-to-four player multiplayer matches is equally strong, with everything from number of ninja rope uses per turn to retreat time to fall damage able to be tweaked. Explanations for each of the 14 stock weapon sets would have been nice, and it’s an enormous pain to have to back out to a separate menu just to be able to mess with custom weapon sets, but the matches themselves are often hilariously entertaining.
Fittingly for a series that has stuck to the same blueprint for so long, Worms: Clan Wars’ problems can be found in all its predecessors. However, its best moments are monumental: a tiny cluster of pixels intercepts a just-launched missile, nuking the aggressor; a fluky last second Hail Mary grenade throw rebounds its way to its target; a bungled Ninja Rope effort that a worm into the drink with a satisfying plop; a poorly-placed Concrete Donkey decimates both teams. These are the moments Worms is at its best, and Clan Wars makes it easier than ever to share them with others.