Explosions litter the battlefield, reducing soldiers to nothing more than corpses and gravestones. A poisonous gas sneaks around, grasping its enemies and withering them away to a point of no return. A hawk-eyed missile eerily seeks out its victim, locating and dispatching them with mechanical ease. War, you see, has changed.
But all is not as it seems. Those explosions? Caused by a bouncing banana. The gas? Produced by an old woman who ate too much fruit. The missile? Simply a flying sheep with a cape on. The soldiers?
Dramatic openings aside, one of Britain's most beloved game series is back with Worms W.M.D, and it's good. Team17 has brought the series back to its 2D roots, showing signs of Worms Armageddon, while also adding plenty of new content and mechanics to take the franchise one slither forward.
Chief among the new content in W.M.D is the addition of vehicles, which may seem strange for a turn-based strategy/shooter, but ends up working terrifically. All three modes of transport have their advantages: tanks can traverse even the most harsh terrain, and have an explosive six-shell burst; mechs are manoeuvrable and can use their fists to send worms flying, and; helicopters let rip a barrage of machine gun fire. Yet they all have their respective weaknesses, too, and while they can do a lot of damage, they don't feel overpowered. Tanks and mechs are susceptible to vehicle mines and are bigger targets for your weapons, while 'choppers plummet to the ground if you don't land before your turn is over.
Interestingly, crafting – as if we need more games with that – is also a feature, yet oddly ends up being one of the standout mechanics in the game. Weapon components can be gathered from crates that drop throughout the game, and can used to construct over 80 weapons and utilities, from classics such as the Bunker Buster and Super Sheep to new additions like the Mega Punch and Dodgy Phone Battery. Each weapon takes a turn to craft, and overall crafting makes battles that much more interesting; turning each conflict into an arms race that sees which player can stockpile the most flatulent Old Women.
Speaking of weapons, Team 17 has also added mounted guns, with both stationary sniper rifles and machine guns being available to use. Frankly, it's astounding just how many weapons and utilities are available to use in W.M.D – beloved classics like the Ninja Rope and Banana Bomb brings the franchise back to the glory of the older 2D instalments, while the Holy Mine Grenade, Unwanted Present, Super Flatulence Sheep, Training Shotgun, OMG Strike, Bazooka Pie, and Agile Old Woman keep things moving in a forward direction.
Weapons aren't the only thing that W.M.D has in abundance: as well as the usual local and online multiplayer, there are tutorial missions that show you the ropes of almost every base weapon and mechanic in the game, a 30-mission single-player campaign with objectives and challenges to fulfil, and 10 challenge missions.. The single-player content isn't just made up of normal battles, though, as fresh stipulations, scenarios, and modes keep things interesting.
Of course, the single player pales in comparison to the incredible fun of playing with friends. Since up to six teams can play (and, with eight worms on each side, there can be up to 48 worms on the field), multiplayer can fall into absolute chaos as explosions and vehicles cut down swathes of worms, sending them barrelling into each other and into the water. Even if you're losing, the crafting keeps things fair, allowing even the weakest team to make the biggest impact if they have the weapon parts. With random map generation (and a number of variables to control), it offers great replayability.
The maps aren't the only thing that are customisation – this is a Worms game, after all. Teams can be created and customised, with a big choice of hats, victory dances, and voice packs, but most importantly new modes can be made, allowing you to curate your own set of rules, deciding everything from timings and handicaps to which weapons players can use to the abundance of mines, crates, vehicles, and more. Want a classic Worms experience with no crafting, vehicles, or turrets? Go ahead and make it. Want to flood every map with mines, explosives, and tanks and watch the chaos unfold? There's nothing stopping you.
It's a shame that maps get disfigured and destroyed so quickly, because all of the assets and textures in Worms W.M.D are hand-drawn. They don't look particularly striking, but they're nice and stylised, and the visual themes, from the English countryside to a Russian metropolis, are all appreciated.
In fact, the biggest problems with Worms (apart from its price, which is hard to justify for those who don't game with friends) are minor annoyances that mildly infuriate. The left analogue stick is used for both moving and aiming, giving ground for mix-ups and mistakes, and while jumping with your worms is more responsive than ever, it still feels somewhat clunky. These may seem like small problems, but they can frustrate hugely in the wrong situations.
Worms W.M.D brings back the classic 2D joy of Worms Armageddon, yet mixes it with new and interesting ideas that keep you on your worm tail. Though some may wince at the price, it's hard not to love the chaotic multiplayer and extensive customisation, and the addition of crafting adds a new lease of life to an already timeless formula. Forget the series going stale – this is one of the freshest cans of Worms to date.