Worms Battlegrounds review
There seems to be a fundamental problem with trying to iterate on the foundations Worms was first built on. The state of play has remained largely unchanged for close to two decades. Any attempt to revitalise the core gameplay loop inevitably ends in disaster – as those who played Worms 3D can attest to – so what is Team17 to do? The studio has exhausted its opportunities to re-release the classic titles, and the Xbox One is /begging/ for new games following the post-launch drought. And so Worms does what it always does. It persists: it makes the jump to Xbox One and scratches the itch for local competitive multiplayer fun, but does little else to retain our intrigue or interest.
Then again, this is Worms we’re talking about here. We never expected it to, nor do we particularly want it to evolve significantly. There’s a purity to the Worms experience to be rediscovered here, especially as the series is back in its native 2D point of view. The moment-to-moment gameplay still revolves around precision and tactics: you’ll manoeuvre a team of warmongering worms across a randomly generated battleground and look to eliminate your enemies with strange weaponry and strategic advantage. Though that isn’t to say that all is well with worm warfare.
Despite Battlegrounds appearing to have a classic 2D point of view, the environments are actually made up of polygons instead of 2D sprites – this has been the case since 2010’s Revolution first played with 2.5D perspectives. Sadly, the same problems exist in Battlegrounds as before, with the 3D landscapes and models still leaving a lot to be desired. Knowing how a grenade will cascade down a landscape, lining up the perfect rocket arc, and discerning whether your worm can jump and backflip between ledges is still the difference between success and failure. The 3D landscapes throw far too many variables into the fray to properly support the precision that Worms requires.
Sometimes it’s something as simple as trying to ascertain whether a slant in the ledge will have the intended influence on weapon bounce. Other times you’ll see projectile based weaponry miss the mark or stop in its tracks entirely because a near-unnoticeable piece of the environment remains in play. This wasn’t an issue back in the retro days, where environments were clear and crisp – the pursuit of a slight graphical revolution continues to hold Worms back from reaching the multiplayer plateau it once dominated.
It’s a shame because the other slight improvements across the board continue to entertain. The class mechanic has been further refined from Revolution, adding another well thought out variable to the Worms formula. In addition to the standard soldier worm, there are also scout, scientist and heavy troopers on the battlefield. It forces you to take new tactics into consideration before rushing in with a deadly Dragon Punch: do you want to chip away at the powerhouse heavies or do you want to target the scientist and put a stop to the steady slow of healing. It forces you to make the most out of each unit at your disposal, to reconsider your tactics and positions before making your move.
These new mechanics, including many of the 65 weapons and utilities, are introduced and taught through a lengthy tutorial masked as a single-player campaign. An evil worm is attempting to take control of a museum, and so you battle through various periods of history from the prehistoric era to the industrial revolution. As always, it’s a chore. For those sadly frequent times when you just don’t have any friends to play local or online battlegrounds with, the single-player is an unwelcome alternative.
Puzzle levels are hampered by the 3D environments, with precision platforming suffering massively, while the battles against AI is still wildly imbalanced – there’s no telling whether it will produce a tactic that’s stupid ingenious or disastrously foolish. Slogging through the campaign isn’t made any more attractive by IT Crowd’s Catherine Parkison, who provides commentary throughout, either – Team17 seems to have lost its touch when it comes to off-hand ‘British’ humour.
Thankfully, Worms is still at its strongest in multiplayer. And those with a group of friends that feel the need to indulge in some nostalgia on their Xbox One will be right at home. There are exhaustive and extensive customisation options for multiplayer, letting you set everything from weapon strength, turn time, terrain types and even settings to let you tinker with weapon drops.
You’re also able to customise your squad of worms: letting you decide what classes to bring into battle, change their voices and attire, as well as giving them custom names.
The Xbox One version also introduces the level editor that was previously only available on the PC iteration of Revolution. It’s as robust as ever, letting you get fairly inventive with your battlegrounds of worm destruction – though Microsoft restrictions mean these can only be shared with friends over Live and not the greater XBL community.
Worms Battlegrounds is a fine Worms game. In truth, that’s a bit of a backhanded compliment, but you should know exactly what you’re getting from this franchise by now. The series is slowly iterating, some of the additions are welcomed while a couple leave us a little bewildered. As always, if you’ve got four friends around and a penchant for blowing each other up with Holy Hand Grenades and flying sheep, then there’s no substitute for the Worms experience. But don’t come in expecting anything else.