Republished on Wednesday 1st November 2017: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of November's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Way back in the hazy days of 1995, we doubt that plucky British studio Team 17 imagined that it would be making Worms games a couple of decades later. Alas, we’re now gaming on Sony’s fourth major home console, and the developer’s recognisable wrigglers have arrived to bring their own brand of genocide to the next-gen machine. The big question is: does the franchise have the stamina to successfully leap to the Japanese giant’s latest super system – or does this edition of the age-old strategy series end up slip, sliding away?
Worms Battlegrounds continues the trend of recent instalments by being utterly hell-bent on delivering a story mode to placate single player fiends. Sadly, as with many other entries, the narrative is nothing to shout about. An evil tyrant named Crowley-Mesmer is on the hunt for the precious Stone Carrot, which he hopes will boost his hypnotic powers and ensure his goal of world domination. As such, it’s your job to find the Golden Child, a worm with the power to resist the above antagonist’s dastardly deeds – and destroy all of the archfiend’s goons once and for all.
While the cliché riddled narrative is far from the greatest, the tongue-in-cheek delivery elevates it above the sum of its parts. This is partly due to the way that it’s written, but also the excellent voiceover provided by The IT Crowd’s brilliant Katherine Parkinson, whose work as Tara Pinkle – the game’s ominous, crypt thieving, explosion obsessed narrator – is nothing short of smashing. Again, it’s not going to win any awards, but it helps to flesh out the package, and adds to its overall roster of content.
Of course, the actual gameplay core will come as very little surprise, as it remains faithful to the franchise once again. If you’re somehow unfamiliar with the format, the game sees you take command of an army of worms. Playing against the computer or another real world opponent, you take it in turns to carry out time-limited actions with your team, moving them around the map and attempting to kill your adversaries with whatever means possible. This version allows you to play with up to four players both locally and online, allowing more people to engage in the action.
The package sports five environments for you to fight on, ranging from an Inca-inspired arena through to one based upon the Industrial Revolution. However, it doesn’t really take advantage of its parent platform’s next-gen hardware, with surprisingly unpolished textures on display. Moreover, old problems die hard, as we found that our invertebrates would still get stuck in the scenery far too often, leading to more restarted matches than we cared to count. Destructible environments have always been a fundamental part of the property, but they merely lead to frustration here.
Character movement still feels like it’s stuck in the dark ages, too. The game always was a little clunky in its original guise, but it’s amazing that the titular characters still move like they’re made out of lead. The turn-based structure of the gameplay means that it’s deliberate for a reason, but the slow-paced nature of the experience certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. Fortunately, you’ve had almost 20 years to figure out whether you like this type of game or not, as this version’s very much built from the same blueprints as its predecessors.
Assuming that you are a fan, the online play is the package’s best asset. Customisation options allow you to kit out your squad in sweet gear, pick their tombstones for when the worst occurs, and even change their voices – with the Rastafarian being a particular highlight. You can even give your team an epic name, design an emblem, and much more. League games are ranked, and will measure your aptitude for wiping out the opposing team, while friendly matches allow you to compete with pals without the same sense of pressure. All of the above issues remain prevalent, of course, but if you can look past them, you’ll definitely have fun in this part of the package.
Still, it’s the weapons that have always been the franchise’s draw, and you’ll find 65 worm eradicating tools in this edition of the release. These include some welcome classics such as the hilarious Concrete Donkey and Super Sheep, as well as ten brand new additions that will aid you in your efforts to destroy as many garden dwellers as possible. With such a large amount of artillery at your disposal, the title’s use of the DualShock 4’s touchpad is appreciated, as you can assign your favourite weaponry to it, which can then be activated by a swipe.
Of course, if you get bored with the game’s core battlegrounds, the series’ Level Editor makes a welcome return, but, as alluded already, don’t expect to be building anything that will make you gasp. Despite the added horsepower enabled by the PS4, this doesn’t look like a next-gen game at all, with the same soulless environments preferred over more inviting arenas. Make no mistake, they’re lavishly coloured and serve the gameplay just fine, but it would have been nice to see the developer take more of a technological stride with the new hardware available at its fingertips.
With such a long-running pedigree, it’s easy to see why Team 17 hasn’t even attempted to re-invent the worm destroying wheel with Worms Battlegrounds. This is a competent game, but it’s barely a refinement of a release that you’ve almost certainly already played. The dated gameplay, exaggerated British humour, and wacky weaponry mean that this will please if you’re looking for more of the same – but while fans will simply be satisfied to see the series slither onto the PS4, newcomers may ponder how the franchise has even made it this far.