When we asked creative manager Kevin Carthew whether it's WMD or Weapons of Mass Destruction, he put us straight, it's just an acronym, the new game from Team 17 is called Worms WMD, plain and simple. With their latest offering the studio is trying to channel the spirit of Worms: Armageddon, with that entry in the long-running series (it's twenty years old now!) identified as a genuine highlight and fan favourite worth drawing from.
Worms has enjoyed a steady evolution over the years, and it's appeared on most consoles in some form or another. We all have our own stories about how we got started with the franchise, memories of a title that excels in social environments, the archetypal party game if you like. We're playing the new build of WMD at Team 17's Wakefield office and in-between concrete donkeys and exploding sheep, we're sharing our respective histories with the game, whether it be collecting old boxed editions on PC, or passing a PSOne controller around a room full of people in front of a small twelve inch screen that was as deep as it was wide. In a way that very few franchises can genuinely say with any authority, this is a bonafide classic, a series bordering on gaming institution.
While there was plenty of laughter, competitive banter, and more wasted turns that we'd care to admit, during our hands-on demo we didn't actually get to see much in the way of variety. Procedural level generation, a series staple, isn't up and running in this build so all the games we played were on the same map. We did get to see the new artwork, and we were told how they've changed the way they construct levels to accommodate the new art assets. Simply put, it's the best looking game in the series to date, with a revised worm design (the first in years, the new design drawing inspiration from anarchic cartoon characters like Ren & Stimpy and their more contemporary peers), more variety in each level, and more interesting environments to wage war across.
Where before, under the surface of each stage, the land mass was just coloured-in with a specific background pattern, now the whole level will be made of new hand-drawn assets. It's a subtle change, and it doesn't alter the flavour of the matches per se, it simply makes for a better looking, more visually stimulating level. Via a brief video presentation where they demoed the procedural generation of maps using the specific art assets on display during our demo (broken buildings, smashed concrete, wreckage - see below), we were shown how the revised code is making sure that the new assets are dispersed appropriately and that there's some method to the madness.
Elsewhere, much is as you'd expect it to be given that straying too far from the roots of the series would be the equivalent of hitting kamikaze in a game; unhealthy for all concerned. WMD is full 2D, there's no mucking about here. This is a back-to-basics offering, built on top of a new game engine with a handful of changes that will hopefully accentuate the atmosphere rather than unbalance the experience for seasoned veterans.
One new feature that will change things up a little is the tanks and turrets. There might well be more vehicles in the game, but all we saw during the demo were tanks. Hopping tanks, no less. They provide a handy protective shield, although they also make for a popular target. They didn't feel too overpowered, and so grabbing one shouldn't be a surefire route to victory. It's the same with turrets, but their lack of mobility makes them a less appealing option.
Perhaps the most interesting change is the new buildings, and in online multiplayer they'll make a big difference. Now structures are enterable, their internal compositions only visible to those on the inside. In a local game of course the advantage is lessened, as your opponents simply need to remember where you stopped once you've gone inside. Online, however, the anonymity afforded by slinking indoors could create interesting moments, surprise attacks for those with the patience to wait for the right moment to strike, as well as shelter from incoming explosions.
We only got to see a singular weapon set, but one thing included that Team 17 were keen to highlight was the ninja rope. It sounds like they're working to make sure this popular tool is up to scratch for this iteration. We also got to play around with some of the classic Worms weapons during our hands-on, with farting grannies, holy hand grenades, and super sheep lining up alongside regulars that include banana bombs, homing missiles, shotguns, baseball bats etc etc.
There's plenty of familiarity here that will play to longstanding fans of the franchise. Indeed, Team 17 doesn't really deviate beyond the tried and tested apart from with a couple of new ideas, but then again, we're not really sure that they needed to. Encouragingly, the changes don't appear to have knocked anything loose, and from the demo we played it seems that the traditional Worms flavour has been retained for WMD. The new additions are fun, but not overwhelming, and it looks better than ever before, with fresh art and a revised, more modern worm bringing the series up-to-date. We're still waiting to see how the new art style will affect the procedural generation of each level, but it certainly doesn't look like anything's broken or unbalanced. For series fans awaiting a triumphant return to form, Worms WMD is certainly a contender.