Worms 2: Armageddon Review (PSN)

Game Review: Worms 2: Armageddon
Release: September 8, 2010
Genre: Turn Based Combat
Developer: Team 17
Available Platforms: PSN, XBLA
Players: 1-4
MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: E 10+

First off, I have to admit that I was a bit confused by the title of this game.  Is this a port of good old Worms 2 from the PC?  Or maybe it’s an updated version of Worms Armageddon?  Turns out it’s neither, and Team 17 needs to work on less confusing nomenclature for their releases: there was apparently a new worms game released on XBLA (and later PSN) a few years back called simply “Worms,” though it wasn’t a remake of the original game.  But then that game got itself a sequel, and I suppose somebody decided to slap the word “Armageddon” on it for a gas, because it has little to do with its antecedent outside of the titular weapon.  And just as that final curve in this garden maze, this game was then tweaked and rereleased on PCs under a completely different name: “Worms Reloaded.”  Maybe I’m making too big a deal of this, but I feel like the developers should at least try to make it clear what you’re buying, and make a distinct differentiation between the older games and the newer ones.

But enough of all that.  For those unfamiliar with the series, Worms is a 2D (I’m ignoring the ill-conceived ventures into 3D) turn based game revolving around projectile warfare, much in the fashion of Tank Wars or Gorillas.  Each player controls a team of worms with limited mobility and a large armory, and much of the challenge revolves around properly judging launch strength, angle, and wind direction in order to deliver your explosives securely to your opponents’ noggins.  Destructible terrain is also a long-standing feature, and is very important, as knocking a worm into the murky depths below spells a swift and certain death.
Worms 2: Armageddon does an admirable job of translating the traditionally PC gameplay over to the PS3 (though I can’t imagine why X is fire and Square is jump; it’s usually the other way around, and I ended up self-destructing and jumping off cliffs an embarrassing number of times before I adjusted).  Circle brings up your inventory, and you aim your reticule with the up and down arrows in lieu of a mouse.  It actually makes the game feel a bit closer to a platformer, which isn’t a bad thing.  The addition of a wind gauge in the corner of the screen to replace blowing leaves / snow / etc. is a welcome one.  It’s more reliable than the airborne detritus and gets rid of distracting background clutter.  There are also options to zoom in and out to get a better picture of your surroundings, but there are only two options which can be slightly clunky; I wish there was more of a sliding scale.

The new weapons are a good deal of fun, and the ones they replaced, such as the old lady and the skunk, will not be missed (Wait.  One exception, actually: the flamethrower.  Where’d that get off to?).  Bunker busters are great alternatives to air strikes when the enemy is deeply entrenched, and poisonous gases seep through tunnels with an efficacy that throws the Geneva Protocol merrily to the wind.  Sentry guns and electromagnets also provide welcome defensive options, the latter of which can be set to attract or repel most projectiles.  Also new are a variety of hats with which to customize your invertebrate army, which joins the palette swaps, grave markers, voices, and names to compose a respectable amount of worm variety.
Online play works well, though there are some hiccups between turns.  This is a very good thing, as multiplayer is really the core experience here.  Ranked matches are always 1v1 “Standard” games, whereas Anyone games can include up to four players on any of the predesigned game types.  Finally, matches with friends and local hotseat games give you the full gamut of game customization options, allowing you to manually change everything from the frequency of crate spawns to team sizes and turn timers.  As wide as this customization is, though, there’s somewhat less of it than there has been in past games.  Most notably, team sizes are capped at four worms instead of eight, and there is no option to allow players to switch between worms at the beginning of their turn.  (As a side note, perhaps because of the reduced scale, most weapons seem to have smaller areas of effect and just don’t look as impressive.  Napalm just looks downright sad.)  Though it could be argued that four worm games with no switching provides more manageable and strategic games, huge eight worm wars were also a lot of fun, and it’s disappointing to see a reduction of range, especially after an eight or nine year gap.

This is one of the big problems with Worms 2: Armageddon.  For every new thing it brings to the table, which isn’t terribly much, something else is taken away.  Worms has a tried and true formula, and it’s just as much fun now as ever, but a handful of new weapons and hats (charming as they may be) do not a new game justify.  The other big misstep is the uninspired single player campaign.  Single player has never been the main focus of the series, but it’s really phoned in here.  The vast majority of the levels are just deathmatches with an enemy team with various handicaps, and there’s not even much of a variation in map layouts – it’s almost always a single open air hill.  One level actually opens up with this introduction: “Well, this is the sports theme.  Let’s hope you can step up a division to take out the enemy worms!”  There’s very little effort to set up scenarios – just a palette swap and some handicap tweaks.  There are some puzzles and races tossed in for good measure, but these are all comically easy and boring lines to the finish.  On top of this, the AI has the exact same problems it has in every Worms game, vacillating between shooting itself in the foot and performing near impossible trick shots.  The fact that you have to earn points for unlockables (cosmetic changes and a few weapons) through this mode adds insult to injury.
In the end, this is largely the same Worms game you played a decade ago.  It’s just as much fun as ever to set off a chain reaction of explosions with a holy hand grenade and some fortunately placed mines and napalm barrels, and then watch the whole thing in slow motion and try to figure out exactly what happened.  But for every step forward Team 17 takes here they seem to take two steps back.  The arsenal changes are nice, but explosions and napalm have been toned down.  Worms have silly hats now, but you don’t have as many custom options in multiplayer games.  Oh, and did I mention the menus are something of a mess to navigate?  Overall it’s a solid addition to the PSN, but you already own a Worms title I would give it a pass.

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