Everybody knows the Worms franchise, whether they are gamers or not. It’s a mindless forray into the world of using your army of worms to blow up other worms with bazookas, bombs, sheep, exploding grannies with zimmerframes and Holy Hand Grenades.
Anyone who knows the name Team17 knows them first and foremost as the developer of Worms. The latest addition to the series, Worms Battlegrounds, may often feel as though it’s simply an enhanced port of 2013’s Worms: Clan Wars, but it’s by far the most complete, most definitive edition of Worms that money can buy.
The first big change to this game which makes it stand head and shoulders above previous titles is the inclusion of a story mode. The game opens with an amusing cinematic where the narrator, Lady Tara Pinkle – artifact hunter, tomb raider, monk slayer, and crypt-blower-upper-extraordinaire – gives you your mission: you are to hunt down the evil worm Lord Crowley Mesmer. He has stolen the Stone Carrot – a magical artifact which helped create the Worms World many eons ago, and shrug him off this wormy coil. He is hiding out in the museum you find yourself in, searching for the Golden Child of Worm Lore who can put a stop to his wormy plans. Your mission is to find the Golden Child before Mesmer so that Pinkle can fence the Carrot when this is all over and done with.
While this may sound like a load of old tosh, the writing is nothing short of brilliant; between BAFTA award-winning writer Dean Wilkinson and some great voice work courtesy of Katherine Parkinson (as Lady Pinkle), the narration gives just enough of a kick to keep the game fresh with sarcastic, incredibly British input from Pinkle. If nothing else, Battlegrounds may even bring the word “div” back into our lexicon.
While the story mode is thoroughly amusing, it’s also just vehicle to provide the sketchiest possible excuse to blow up history-based environments. It does feel like a fully-fledged campaign however; there is real structure and variety to the levels with some designed almost as a logic puzzle, where the optimal solution may or may not be easy to spot at first glance. Other levels are more unique – one level, sees you commanding a single Worm on a mission to break out of Worm Prison, stealthilly killing guards at Lady Pinkle’s polite request. To paraphrase the Lady Pinkle, don’t feel sorry for them: they knew what they were getting into when they were hypnotized, so go kill them.
Engaging though the campaign is, the difficulty unfortunately ramps up to staggering heights towards in the end of the campaign in ways which sometimes feels as though the enemy AI is intentionally cheating. One mission saw us spending half an hour gradually chipping away to reduce the enemy to 2-worms-standing – we had 4 worms to take them on and things looked good.
Unfortunately, at this point the enemy decided to focus purely on the Golden Child, with cheap attacks which would strike from anywhere on the map. 3 turns later, we faced defeat.
Individual character classes – first seen in Worms Revolution – return to add a new level of depth to your tactical slaughter, each with individual perks. These classes may help with keeping the game feeling fresh and new, but we still found that Worms Battlegrounds is best played in small stints of an hour or two at a time. Dynamic water also returns, allowing you to blow up sections of scenery and drown your enemies, who take damage for every turn they’re submerged. There are often pools of water interspersed throughout the level which can be used to your advantage. At heart though, this is still the same Worms that we’ve been playing for over 20 years; it’s certainly fun, but it’s never revolutionary.
A nice addition to the game is Worm Ops, basically a level-based tutorial mode where you are tasked with navigating mazes and levels with particular weapons and utilities, as explained by Lady Pinkle. While you probably won’t cover all 65 weapons and utilities in this mode, it’s an amusing distraction and the puzzles can be surprisingly difficult, even for veterans. One mission sees 2 Worms set up on a pinball-themed map, with unlimited Holy Hand Grenades and Whoopie Cushions – they must fire these weapons over a wall, (as if they were the pinball plunger,) and rain holy/smelly death from above. As fun as it was, it also called no small degree of frustration.
Finally we have the multiplayer, which has always been where the long-term appeal of any Worms game lies. While this is much of the same as what we have come to love over the years, it’s once again the most fully-featured iteration to date. In terms of game types, we have the classic Team Deathmatch and the new addition, Forts. This is effectively the same as Deathmatch, but with a Fort which you must protect. You must breach the enemy’s fort in order to get at their Worms, and kill them.
While this is a lot of fun in local co-op, passing the controller around like the games of old, we now have online support in order to play with friends near and far. You can also invite your friends into a Clan, creating your own Clan name, logo, outfit and even voices and personalities for your Worms.
You can enter your clan into ranked matches in Battlegrounds Mode, where you can battle other clans fighting for leaderboard dominance. Friendly matches are available too, though we found that getting into matches with random people on Xbox One was quite a struggle; by contrast, matches were easily located on PS4, so your mileage might vary. It would be a shame if the wealth of options don’t receive the attention and love they deserve, because it’s clear that Team17 has put a lot of care and attention into ensuring that Battlegrounds is the definitive multiplayer Worms experience.
All in all, Worms Battlegrounds is a surprising amount of fun for what could otherwise so easily have been just another Worms game. Sure, it doesn’t do anything drastically new, but it’s well worth getting if you’re a fan of the franchise – especially if you have friends who you’ve always wanted to compete against, but could never get to sit in one room at the same time. A cracking campaign and murderous multiplayer provide hours of mindless fun, and despite a few frustrating difficulty spikes in the single-player modes and the occasional feeling of over-familiarity about the whole thing, it nevertheless remains the definitive Worms title.
At least, until the next one crawls around.