Worms: Ultimate Mayhem – Review

Title   Worms: Ultimate Mayhem
Developer  Team17
Publisher  Team17
Platform  PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre  Turn Based Strategy
Release Date  September 28th, 2011

You know what’s weird? One day, a guy called Andy Davidson decided that he was going to make a game about some small pink worms who’d kill each other with Bazookas, explosive sheep, old ladies and grenades straight out of Monty Python films. Weirder still, it ended up becoming one of the best known and most loved turn based strategy franchises around. My first exposure to Worms came in the form of the World Party entry on the PSOne – a game which has still routinely been fired up by my friends and me over the years when in need of a pick up and play party game.

Available for the PC, PSN and XBLA, Worms Ultimate Mayhem isn’t strictly a new title; rather, it’s a ‘best of’ compilation of Worms 3D and Worms 4, packaged into a single download. Rather than call it a day at that though, Team17 dove back in and fixed several problems that plagued the originals to bring a more refined experience. Your worms are now silhouetted when behind objects, there’s a picture in picture view showing the path of your projectiles, Binoculars and aim assists now exist to help slowly accustom players to the new dimension, and there’s now a narrator who introduces the story missions and challenges from Worms 4: Mayhem.

Jumping into worm-related carnage in the third dimension is something some players may not be familiar with, and to help alleviate any potential issues the game opens with a narrator and a film encouraging you to check out the tutorials and visit the options menu to customise some worms. It’s something I had to check out, and you’ll find that it does well to ease you in and make you feel more adept at handling everything in a 3D environment, though no longer being on a 2D plane does change the game more than you’d think.

Worms: Ultimate Mayhem still has destructible environments, as the levels are created with something Team17 termed “poxels” – essentially a hybrid of polygons and voxels which allow the environments to be deformed in the same manner as the two dimensional games. It also gives the game a rather brilliant graphical style that hasn’t noticeably aged since since the games were originally released. Those expecting to be able to employ defensive tactics like drilling into the environment and blocking the entrance with girders (not that I’d encourage that behaviour… against me) may find themselves having to reassess tactics, as the pneumatic drills and blowtorches are gone, allowing for more dynamic and offensive matches. There’s still a lot of strategy to be had in employing the landscape to your advantage, and on some maps it’s even more important than before if you want to get to the end of the battle with all your worms left alive.

One brilliant thing about the game is just how customisable your versus experiences can be. On top of the massive amount of maps the player can unlock through natural progression, those which have a more generic theme can be randomised and come with a code that can be noted if you want to use that exact arena again. It makes for a great touch and it means that there are so many more combinations of environments the player can have on top of the standard maps available, and if those don’t tickle your fancy you can create your own landscapes.

Customisation doesn’t end there, because on top of the randomly generated terrain available there’s also something called the “Wormpot”.  This is a slot machine which, upon activation, comes up with three alterations to the standard match set-up and adds another element of strategy. How do you play when you’re no longer able to use the overhead view to further plan your actions? Is the baseball bat now a more viable weapon to use because of the game’s low gravity? How do you protect the VIP worm, knowing his demise means your team loses? Having alterations to the match formula isn’t something worms veterans will be unfamiliar with, but the Wormpot allows that process to become more randomised than considered, though if you disagree with the set-up you can spin again or change them individually.

Those somehow finding themselves disappointed with the massive selection of weapons or wanting to put their own personal spin on invertebrate annihilation can find that they’re also able to create their own, from projectiles to new homing devices and alternative air-strikes.  From that starting point, you can change everything from its appearance to if it’s affected by the wind, if it deals poison damage and how much blast damage it deals to worms and the landscape. Don’t think you can simply whack them all on full and come out with an omega weapon, however, as there’s a dial in the bottom left which will fall into the red and refuse to let you save the weapon if it’s too overpowered.

Of course, there’s the bit any Worms fans anticipates with glee: being able to create your own battalion of custom named worms, whether they be people you hate and want to see destroyed, your friends, terrible worm related puns, or a combination of everything. This time around it’s even more enjoyable than ever, as you’re able to give them hats, different hands, eye-wear, facial hair, and underwear. Okay, not that last one, but you’re also able to give a team flag, graves, a custom weapon and a themed soundboard, from gangsters and Scotsmen to suave secret agents. There are plenty of options to choose from, and this may be a minor point, but you can only alter the appearance of the team as a whole, and not individual worms. It’s understandable considering how confusing it could get, but it does take away some of the individuality after naming them after various GamingLives writers and then not being able to customise them further with individually selected soundboards, at least.

If you do find yourself wanting more customisation options, however, then you can always make your way to the item store, which’ll slowly accumulate more maps, soundboards and customisation options as you progress through the game. Anyone with any previous Team17 titles on their console will be able to unlock various loyalty items, which sit at the top of the list and can’t be acquired by any other means. If there are any complaints to be made about the item shop, then it’s that it can be slow to scroll through, it doesn’t make clear what items are newly unlocked and you can’t preview costume items before you purchase them, meaning that you may often buy something and find you’ve wasted precious coins. In order to get those coins, you need to progress in the story and challenge modes and beat the Team17 times for an additional bonus.

While many people who hear “Worms” and “Story Mode” in the same sentence may roll their eyes or expect nothing more than an extended tutorial for the multiplayer (and I wouldn’t blame them to think so), I can assure you that this is not the case here or, at the very least, didn’t feel like it. Granted, the first few levels ease you in to a point where you could probably skip the tutorials, but it evolves into a great experience that lets you have fun with Worms without having any friends around. I had a lot of fun with the story mode, and battling worms in various eras in time and indulging in the silly madness of it all was one of my highlights.

One thing that the Story mode showcased to me was just how funny Ultimate Mayhem can really be. Throughout my time with it, I found myself laughing more than I ever expected to, and it’s because, for the most part, the game has such a great sense of personality. From the cut-scenes with Professor Wormwinkle to the opening moments of each level courtesy of the Narrator and your team of worms talking amongst themselves, right up to the out-takes and extra scenes in the credits, you’ll be hard pressed to come out of this game without a smile on your face. Sure, there are plenty of groan inducing puns, but then there are the awesome little touches too: worms holding their hands in front of their faces when you aim at them, pointing to their team-mates as an alternative target or even waving at the camera when you look at them from the blimp view, all of which add to that personality.

With the various challenges available to the player, the Team17 scores to beat, and the story and challenge modes from Worms 3D available, there’s a smorgasbord of single player content here well before you even move your way to the multiplayer. Unfortunately, you won’t feel the same incentive to work your way through the Worms 3D content as much as the Worms 4 content as it’s far more coldly presented and feels more like a series of levels rather than interconnecting chapters.

Sadly, the single player content isn’t without flaw and, while I admit I enjoyed a lot more of it than I thought I would, I was often left frustrated and disappointed. From what I can understand – or rather, imagine – during development, some of Team17 must have tested out new potential drinking games, gotten utterly wasted and coded some platforming sections on a drunken dare. That’s the only way I can justify it to myself, because otherwise it’d mean that they willingly made some of the most terrible platforming I’ve seen in a game this side of the millennium. Okay, some of it isn’t totally irredeemable but, for the most part, platforming sections fall into the distinct fields of “broken” and “when can I go back to having fun?”

Movement within the world is fine, but when you throw platforming into the mix and the game demands at least semi-precision on the matter, you’ll find Worms at its weakest. I’ve lost several turns just trying to navigate the game’s landscape, and I’ve seen others fall prey to it online too. There’s a specific Arabian mission late in the story mode which, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that it was put in to highlight all the main flaws and faults with the game in a handy five minute chunk of gameplay. Not that it’ll take you five minutes though, as you’ll find yourself restarting the level over and over again when you realise that trying to be somewhat precise with a jet-pack is like performing keyhole surgery with a screwdriver, the grappling hook often gets you stuck on pieces of the environment, and screwing up in any way means you’ll likely have to start from the beginning again. I should mention at this point that if you fail a mission or challenge you’re booted back to the level select menu, and loading takes half a minute whether you’re starting a level anew or restarting halfway through.

On the subject of problems… the shadows look jarring and blocky, the game randomly pauses for a second when worms are about to drown, and there have been more than a few occasions when a worm has become stuck in scenery or started spinning on the spot in first person mode. The camera fixes have helped to a large degree, but there will still often be issues with it, especially when the picture in picture ends up showing just as little as the main camera, defeating the main purpose of it even being there. Acquiring one of the hidden easter eggs is glitched, and the ‘Pimp My Worm’ achievement is glitched as well; while there is a workaround and it is possible to get it, it’s a lot more effort than it should be.

Of course, there’s also the issue of the notorious Worms enemy AI. In the 2D games, the AI was notorious for being either blitheringly brain damaged or robotically accurate, gunning you down with expert precision and scoring seemingly impossible shots against the wind. In the original versions of Worms 3D and Worms 4, the issue instead was the fact that the enemy would often process potential moves for ages and then skip their go. While I can safely say I very rarely experienced either of those problems until the final deathmatch challenges, what I will say is that the AI decisions on the whole tend to be… odd.  In the first game I played, an enemy worm decided to shotgun a worm from across the map with pinpoint accuracy, rather than finish the near-dead worm right in front of him, despite having to aim above that worm’s head to shoot a worm with full health. I’ve come across plenty of moments where the enemy will ignore worms right in front of them or go for illogical attacks which don’t pan out and therefore leave themselves open. As a final note, be prepared to utterly hate cluster bombs by the time you finish a session, as the AI spend so much of their time throwing them at you that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were corporately sponsored by the damn things.

If you don’t fancy playing against the computer, then you’ll feel a lot more at home with the multiplayer, and alongside the standard deathmatch there are plenty of other modes to try out. Survivor Mode involves each team only having one worm at a time until all four of their worms are wiped out, which is an interesting take on the standard formula, but it makes the larger landscapes seem a bit barren and you’ll often find matches ending in a draw when the timer runs out and none of the sides have been wiped out. Homelands seems to just be a deathmatch mode with both sides starting on forts, whereas Statue Defend gives both sides an island with the match only being over when the other side has destroyed all of their pigeon statues. The final mode, which is sadly the most boring, is Destruction mode. As in Statue Defend, both sides are given an island each, but the match isn’t over until enough of the other island has been destroyed. While it sounds fun at first, it soon begins to seriously drag on, especially when both islands are down to their last few bits of health and there’s little else to destroy.

While most multiplayer modes are at least interesting ideas, it won’t be surprising to anyone to hear that the standard deathmatch is still the best choice for your multiplayer mayhem, although if you want to play online, it’s going to be your only choice. At the time of writing I’d made several attempts to play the game online and found any mode that wasn’t deathmatch to be completely barren. I even found that upon exiting a deathmatch and entering another one I ended up against two of the people I’d just lost to. When you set up a match yourself, the game will wait until someone else joins then begins a thirty second countdown until the match starts. People can still join in before the countdown finishes, but if you’re trying to gather several people to face off against you may find yourself disappointed more than once.

The online problems don’t end there, as there are few options to customise each match, with the Wormpot and randomly generated maps unavailable for use online and your view of what’s happening lags several seconds behind what the opposing player is actually doing. When you’re playing with strangers its not too worrying, but it took some of the fun out of playing online with friends, as taunting your mate with their imminent destruction is slightly less exciting when they won’t see what you’ve done for another five seconds anyway. Having said that, it was a lot more fun playing online with a friend and experimenting with what could and couldn’t be done and having victory between us being a mere afterthought in comparison to the wholly more competitive matches when playing against strangers.

My main problem with playing online is just that it feels too slow, especially when your avatars will show up every now and then to react to the proceedings. It’s a cool feature, but it makes the pace feel slower. Granted, if you’re playing four player matches then it’ll always mean that there will be a period of doing nothing in-between turns, but I guess this is another problem of online versus your friends. I can easily imagine putting on the game whenever I have mates round and having those awkward pauses filled without issue (and relish the opportunity to do so in future), however, I can’t really imagine myself mustering the same enthusiasm for the game’s online component down the line -and I doubt there will even be one soon.

When it comes down to it, Worms: Ultimate Mayhem is an especially difficult game to ultimately assess. With two games worth of content wrapped up into a single package, with a bunch of improvements, you’d be a fool to dispute the 1200 MSP it’s being sold for on XBLA. It’s a good title to both pick up and play and tackle extended sessions on, and it’s a title with great personality that you can easily imagine picking up and playing with friends. There’s plenty to customise, loads to do and it proves that Worms can work just as well in three dimensions as it can two. However, there’s the fact that the online experience is lacklustre, with your view lagging behind the real action, fewer options and entire modes deserted. The raft of glitches will, more often than not, force you to restart and cause you to be subjected to the lengthy loading times, and the platforming sections are so hateful that they outright ruin several challenges and levels of the story mode, exposing several of the game’s flaws. More often than not, I enjoyed my time with the game; Worms: Ultimate Mayhem isn’t a bad release, and at times it’s pretty great… it just pains me to say that it’s not an amazing game either.

  • Two Worms games worth of content at an affordable asking price.
  • Tutorials help ease newcomers into the game.
  • Great sense of humour and personality.
  • Still looks great graphically.
  • Plenty of options to customise your experience.
  • Proves the franchise can work in 3D as much as it can in 2D.
  • Some of the worst platforming you'll see this generation.
  • Online component lacks customisation, is mostly deserted so soon after release.
  • Non-Deathmatch multiplayer modes can get boring quickly.
  • Several environment and achievement related glitches will frustrate.
  • Lengthy loading times.

Worms: Ultimate Mayhem has more than enough content for the asking price, and you'll probably find more to do in this downloadable title than you would a full retail game. Whether you want to play for hours on end or for a few minutes, with friends or by your lonesome, there's plenty to do, plenty to customise and plenty of worms just asking to be blown up with a sheep. Considering the improvements introduced, it makes quite frustrating that there are multiple glitches and problems with the platforming sections that will negatively impact your experience with the game. It's a game that won't feel out of place when you have friends around, but leaves little to encourage you to try online. Personally, I enjoyed my time with the game and had a lot of fun, and there was a lot I enjoyed about it, but there were more than a few issues which prevented it from being a must have XBLA title. Any Worms fans who haven't tried out the 3D iterations have little excuse not to try out Ultimate Mayhem, as it proves that Worms works as well in the third dimension as it does in the second, but those who play this as their first Worms experience may find themselves wondering what all the fuss is about.

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One Comment

  1. Lorna Lorna says:

    I can’t get used to the look of Worms in 3D. As much as I love the franchise, haivng played it from the first ever game back on the Aminga, I don’t think that this is a game I’ll be picking up, sadly. I think that looks aside, the series hasn’t changed a great deal, and there isn’t really much they can do to alter it without destroying what makes it a Worms title.

    The AI has always been bloody awful – either terminally stupid or ridiculously accomplished – but it is par for the course in these titles really – I enjoy them regardless. Shame that the ‘darkside’ tools have been removed for this title – I suppose with it being 3D it wouldn’t really work out, and the reduction in tactial play means that it will likely be a more frenetic shooter experience.

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