Retro reflections by Matt S.
This week brings us a brand new Worms game from Team17. One of the most venerable franchises in the industry, Worms has been around since 1995, has seen over 20 releases, and has continued to delight audiences over the years thanks to its tight, balanced gameplay, and utterly hilarious sense of humour.
Worms WMD – the new game – we will have a review up later this week for, but in short it’s another 2D, turn based, tightly balanced strategy game, as many Worms games have been over the years. Many, but not all. There was a period back when the PlayStation 2 was king that Team 17 got downright experimental with its series. Clearly going in with the intention that it needed to “modernise” the franchise by bringing it in to three dimensions, the developer built a couple of Worms games that seem really quite weird now.
The oddest in this odd period of Worms history was the hugely underappreciated Worms Forts: Under Siege.
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The typical Worms game is strategic because you need to move your little fellows around, and position them just right so that they can inflict maximum carnage on the hapless sods that you’re up against. It’s simple strategy, sure, and most Worms games are accessible to all players, regardless of skill level. At the same time, the turn-based systems that power these games manages to be deep enough that as you get better at thinking about the game you’re harder to take out.
Worms Forts was different. Worms Forts also had the titular forts, and this feature was both wonderful and highly divisive. You’ll start out each match with a single, central fort, but in each turn you’ll have the opportunity to construct a tower, which will connect with the base fort via a wall, and extend your overall castle network outwards.
In addition to providing a buffer for the home base (you lose if that home base is destroyed), these towers are important because you’ll be using them to set up catapaults. The weapons that individual worms have access to are quite weak in this game. Instead, what you need to do is position a worm on a castle, and then use the catapault to launch missiles that do great damage to the enemy from them. Bigger towers are able to launch more powerful weapons, but naturally become a bigger target for opponents.
There is also a couple of special buildings, such as a medical centre, which will heal Worms that have taken damage (important because you’re also knocked out if all four of your worms perish), and a supply depot, which will drop you plenty of powerful items to us. These buildings are very weak, though, so you’ll want to protect them with standard towers as much as possible.
After a while, each player’s base becomes a sprawling network of towers and connecting walls, and then the conflict with the other players starts in full. Players with skill and experience in Worms Forts have a distinct advantage, not just in building a efficient and defensible network of towers, but also in dismantling their opponents. A tower that isn’t connected with home base is automatically destroyed, for example, so players looking to go for a hail Mary will target the buildings deep in an opponent’s castle. These are difficult to hit, but if destroyed could potentially destroy a massive section of the base in one shot.
The downside to all of this is that matches can really wear on. Normal Worms games are over in half an hour, tops, as befits the party game atmosphere, but in Worms Forts I don’t think I’ve ever had a match last for less than an hour, and most much longer than that. After an hour “armageddon” strikes and each turn causes some disaster to hit the play field (such as a flood that automatically kills all worms not on a castle, or a meteor storm that causes random damage to all buildings in the play field. But a good player can even compensate for these challenges, and I’ve had games of Worms Forts that have lasted hours.
Something odd happens to Worms when games become that extended. A great deal of the humour is lost. Yes, the weapons are still amusing exploding sheep and similar, but after an hour they become just weapons. A key part of the Worms humour is those massive weapons that can wipe out half the field in one go, but in Worms Forts the levels are too spaced out for that to happen – defeating opponents is, for the most part, a matter of increments, not big plays. And the other hilarious thing in conventional Worms is when a player misaims a weapon and own goals their own team into oblivion. There’s very little potential for this to happen in Worms Forts. A bad shot in this game just doesn't do anything, which can lose a person the battle, but isn't nearly as funny as the spectacular own goals of other Worms games.
In that context it’s easy to see why some players were put off by the game. It’s a Worms game in name, but one of the great reasons that players come to the series is greatly de-emphasised. For my mind, though, the team at Team17 deserves more credit than it gets for replacing that humour with something of substance. Worms Forts: Under Siege is a challenging and engaging tactical strategy game. One that could easily work as a weekend buster by getting a bunch of like-minded friends around for a marathon session.
The experiments with 3D Worms didn’t pan out quite as Team17 hoped. Beyond Worms Forts, the other 3D Worms titles were not the resounding successes that the developer was likely looking for. Since those heady days on the PlayStation 2, Team17 has retreated back to remixing the 2D formula that the franchise was built on, and while those games are almost universally entertaining, there isn’t a huge amount done from one to the next to really freshen up the series. Worms Forts: Under Siege was genuinely creative and different, and it’s worth a look to this day. There’s no guarantee that you’ll enjoy your time with it, but it will be a Worms experience that you’ve never had before.
- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld