By my count, this is the seventeenth Worms game in as many years. That number skyrockets when you include the various remakes, ports, sports games and other weird spin-offs. On the Xbox Live Arcade, there are currently four Worms titles and several packs of downloadable content. Needless to say, Team 17 has kept fans of this addictive turn-based franchise busy, no matter what system they own.
But as I play Worms Revolution, I find myself starting to resent this series I loved so much. Playing this perfectly good, but mostly unspectacular Xbox Live Arcade release just reminded me of how many incarnations there have been since 1995. Worse, I think about the toll it has taken on Team 17. In the past ten years, this UK-based developer has only strayed away from the Worms series a few times. I can't help but wonder what amazing ideas were discarded in an attempt to perfect this one popular franchise.
To Team 17's credit, Worms Revolution brings a lot of new ideas to the table. With the exception of the ill-advised 3D installments, this is the most progress I've seen in a Worms game since 1999's Armageddon. Here we are given more realistic physics, class-based soldiers, a new graphics engine and lots of water. The good news is that a lot of these new concepts work to freshen things up. Unfortunately, some of the changes makes this version of Worms a lot less playable.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Worms Revolutions is a lot like any Worms game, in that you take a team of four elongated soft-bodied invertebrate insects into a turn-based battle to the death. Although everything is presented using polygons, this sequel is played entirely from a 2D perspective. Each side takes turns moving their worm soldier and firing one of the dozens of unique weapons. On top of grenades, bazookas, shotguns and homing missiles, players are also able to teleport, fly using a rocket pack and swing on the ninja rope. Your job is to be the last worm standing.
Although the core fundamentals remain the same, Team 17 has made some smart changes. For starters, players can now customize their team with four different types of worms. These different classes include the slow moving yet powerful Heavy, the health-giving Scientist, the fast moving scout and, of course, your normal all-around worm. I can see how these characters can really change the strategies at play, since some characters can fire stronger bullets and others can sneak in small areas.
Another big change involves the addition of water. Liquid has always been part of the series in one way or another, but here you can use it to flush your enemies off the map. Some levels will feature pockets of water (or, in some cases, water bottles), which send a flood liquids onto the playfield. If your worm is submerged, he will begin to run out of oxygen and eventually drown. The water can also work as a way to move characters across the level, or better yet, to their death.
Unfortunately, the water effects don't work as advertised. For one thing, the water doesn't actually resemble any water I've seen. It has the consistency of Jell-O. But not even the wildest Bill Cosby sweater is going to be able to sell the see-through gelatin found in Worms Revolution. As a result, the water never acts like you would expect. Sometimes it actually flows up hills, other times it stops on sharp slopes. It's even more frustrating when an enemy is saved from certain death because of the funky water physics.
Speaking of physics, all of the Worms mechanics have been tweaked to be slightly more realistic. That is to say, moves and strategies you've honed over a dozen years of playing will no longer work. The ninja rope feels entirely different and all of the attacks feel as if there is more gravity holding everything down. I'm fine with the addition of soldier classes and water (even unrealistic water), but I'm of the mind that the gameplay wasn't broken and didn't need fixing. Some of the changes break many of my favorite items.
It's also worth noting that the world doesn't transform in the way we're used to. Now there are solid items on the field, which can be moved and exploded for devastating results. Sometimes it's a water bottle blocking a path, other times it’s a lighter just waiting to explode. These objects don't radically change the way you play Worms, but it's a good idea I would like to see in the future.
You would think that after seventeen installments and countless remakes, Team 17 would be better at starting Worms games. Here we're given an intro tutorial level that quickly leads into another eight (!) stages of lessons. While this covers a few of the new additions, it also spends too long dwelling on weapons that have been in over a dozen other games. At this point I'm not sure I need a tutorial about shooting the bazooka or throwing a grenade, thank you very much.
Frustratingly, none of the campaign's missions have checkpoints or a rewind function. This isn't so bad when you finally get into the real missions, but I found myself constantly getting stuck in the eight tutorial stages. As silly as it sounds, it's incredibly easy to jump into a pit and not have the right kind of items to save myself. My only recourse was to start the level all over again, completely erasing all of the hard work I put into that level. The never ending tutorials certainly soured my mood right from the start.
Thankfully things pick up when you get past the training stages. Eventually you'll go up against teams of worms, usually with more than the usual four. The idea is to use your surroundings to pick them off. The problem is that the difficulty is wildly inconsistent. Some levels feature enemies see no problem with jumping to their death, while other levels are full of enemies with pinpoint accuracy. You never know what you're going to get until it's too late, and by that time there isn't much you can do about it. It's not that the game steadily builds the difficulty, either. I found myself going from brutal matches to fighting enemies that might as well have not shown up at all.
The game's puzzle mode is a little better. Here you'll start with limited resources and be expected to defeat the one or two worms on patrol. It's not turn-based in the traditional way, so you'll only need to focus on your moves. The other side has kidnapped your worm king in one early puzzle. Your job is to get him back without being noticed or tripping the mines. You do this by sneaking your way past the gates and using an airstrike to take out the guards. It's not rocket science, but it's a fun way to spend an hour or two. Sadly, there aren't nearly enough of these puzzles in this fifteen dollar release.
Of course, most people coming to Worms don't care for the single-player experience. They're here to go up against friends and strangers. In that sense, Revolution delivers the kind of mayhem you expect from a Worms game. We're given a few different play types to select, plus complete controls over what weapons and items are selected, whether people can teleport, the countdown for special items and much, much more. You can create the experience that you want, both online and off.
Visually, Worms Revolution is all over the place. The first large chunk of the game takes place in the smelly sewers, where everything is green and there's a giant rat roaming around the backgrounds. Eventually we find ourselves next to a haunted house and on the beach, both significantly more interesting. On the other hand, the worm animations are hilarious and Revolution has the best smoke effect I've seen in a game.
Although a competent multiplayer game, I just couldn't overlook some of the problems I had with Revolution's mechanical changes. The few great ideas are largely overshadowed by a series of new problems created by the funky physics. With so many other Worms games on the Xbox Live Arcade, I find it hard to recommend Revolution. It's not a bad game, but it doesn't offer the weapon variety or strong single-player components of the other iterations. These ideas may eventually flourish into an incredible experience, but Worms Revolution only hints at what's to come.