Worms Battlegrounds – Review

Title   Worms Battlegrounds
Developer  Team17
Publisher  Team17
Platform  Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Genre  Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date  30th May 2014
Official Site  http://www.team17.com/

Long ago, I professed my fondness towards Team 17′s long-standing series about long pink objects that try to blow each other up and occasionally find themselves exploding in the process. Stumbling upon them in my early teens, I’ve been known to throw myself into the kooky world of Banana Bombs, Flying Sheep and Concrete Donkeys, on occasion. Recently, that realm changed for the better with the arrival of Worms Revolution, a new take on the series that bought with it destructible 2.5D environments, a class system that allowed you to think more strategically than ever before, and the booming tones of Matt Berry.

Marking the series’ début on eighth-generation consoles, Worms Battlegrounds aims to be the biggest and best entry in the series yet. Unfortunately, they underestimated the wind-speed and accidentally blasted themselves in the wormy equivalent of the foot. Things start rather shakily when you’re first introduced to this iteration’s central concept; an evil magician (magiciworm?) by the name of Mesmer has infiltrated a museum in order to steal an important artefact that’ll allow him to control the minds of all of his fellow worms. As such, your band of merry men (sorry, worms) must battle their way through the myriad of exhibits and take back the great stone carrot left behind by the Concrete Donkey God that created the universe of Worms. This story is bought to you by a multiple-BAFTA award-winning writer.

I was a little surprised to discover that they were also behind the script for Worms Revolution, especially given the complete scarcity of laughs to be found in Battlegrounds. Even though the script before wasn’t exactly weak, it was definitely bolstered by the performance of Matt Berry, whose booming voice and odd inflections are enough to make reading the phone-book a giggle. The role of narrator this time around goes to fellow IT Crowd alumni Katherine Parkinson who plays Tara Pinkle, a Lara Croft expy who likes blowing things up and isn’t very good at saving people. I hope you find that concept funny, because the descriptions and openings to pretty much every single-player mission will feature about those last two descriptors. The joke format of ‘I went to this silly-sounding location to collect this ludicrous-sounding artefact, but I blew everything up and didn’t save anyone I was supposed to, but also kill these worms please’ gets old the second time, let alone the fifteenth. It simultaneously feels like it’s phoning it in and trying too hard at the same time

Sadly, Parkinson isn’t able to save the lacklustre script, and it’s frequently the case that the joke will fall absolutely flat, even if she nails the delivery. Her overall performance is definitely weaker, but it doesn’t feel like her fault. Instead, it tends to feel like she’s been given the wrong direction for most of her lines, along with the fact that it sounds like most of them weren’t read out concurrently. As a result, you’ll sometimes come across entire dialogues where every sentence will have a completely different inflection and tone to each other when the situation doesn’t call for it.

In the end, I found myself skipping these moments or simply muting them as long as they weren’t mid-mission, as I soon found out that doing so would prevent mission-critical objects from appearing or moving. As a result, I spent about twenty minutes jumping around a battleground trying to progress only to find out that because I’d skipped the cut-scene before a gate opened, that the only way to continue was to restart the mission. Luckily, this frustration is mitigated somewhat by the presence of mid-mission checkpoints that have to be manually activated before you can utilise them. Switching them on will also sacrifice the rest of your turn, so there can be some strategy to picking the best moment to use them.

You may have to rely on the checkpoints more than you’d initially expect to, but overly relying on them is also a risky business, as restarting from a checkpoint has the chance of causing a glitch that then necessitates you going back to the beginning of the level to fix it. From what I can gather, part of this is because the cut-scenes take place in-game, as I’ve found when I’ve started a turn, been made to sit through one, then discovered that I’ve suddenly far less time to make a move. It becomes a Sophie’s Choice of sitting through someone trying to make the best of a bad script, or skipping it and risking the chance that something won’t activate and you’ll be forced to restart the entire level, or give up and do literally anything else.

There is a good chance that you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to see the game’s single-player mode to the end, not just because of the glitches and irritating script, but because it’s just not very good. A great many levels feel like someone threw a level design together with a vague goal, but didn’t bother going through it themselves to see whether it’s fun or even playable. You’ll go through some poorly-constructed death-matches, some shoddily-made sections with vague pretensions of stealth, and square up against some puzzles that deserve to be referred to with quote marks more than they need to be solved. The level designs may seem inoffensive at first, but become aggravating the moment any form of precision is required. This is never more apt than when you’re given the Ninja Rope and expected to traverse the environment with it. The amount of times I tried to use it, only to get caught on a corner, become totally unable to move further and be left hanging would put any worm on a fishing line to shame.

The thing is, apart from the single-player, there’s so little to differentiate this from Worms Revolution that I wouldn’t have blinked were this just one of the many expansion packs it received. It’s a massive shame that after making such a big step forward last time this feels like an incredibly timid step sideways. There’s no real progression of the formula, just some very slight refinement and enough new single-player content to temporarily convince you it’s worth the investment. If you’ve played Revolution, it’s the equivalent of trading in your old car, only for them to put a new air freshener in, wipe some of the dirt off, then try to sell it back to you for the same price you originally paid for it.

There are a couple of new items that don’t show up enough to make any significant changes to the balance of combat, and all the classes except the Scientist have gained an extra perk. Soldiers can detonate grenades, Scouts won’t set off mines, and, upon death, the Heavy’s explosion radius is now as big as some of the more devastating weapons. In practice, these will rarely factor in to any strategies you’d already compiled, and it’s not hard to forget about them entirely.

One of the very few differences is that the Worms’ voices will come out of the DualShock controller now, which is especially useful in multiplayer if you’ve not been paying attention and weren’t aware that it was your turn. It’s novel at first, but will drive you mad within the first hour. As always, each sound-bank is funny for roughly half an hour before you’re clamouring for the mute button or the customisation menu to find one you haven’t exhausted yet. Even worse, some bright spark had the incredibly rational decision to have all of your worms sneeze every twenty seconds on top of the infinitely-repeating sound-bytes every time you do absolutely anything. You could throw hundreds of hay-fever sufferers in a convention centre, replace all the oxygen with pollen, and you’d still hear fewer sneezes than I was subjected to within a day’s gameplay. Before long, I had to go to the settings in the PSN menu in order to turn the controller’s speaker off, because there’s no option to do it in-game, and if I let it go on any longer I’d probably have turned into a serial killer.

In the end, I decided to leave that to my worms, but I was also slightly disappointed to find that most of the customisation options were the same as they were in Revolution. It’s good for consistency if you had a style that you didn’t want to change this time around, but for those looking for something new, the results are a bit lacklustre. It’s also a shame that there’s not much of a deeper level of customisation between your squad members, as it’s still the case that everyone wears exactly the same thing as each other. It would be great if there was a way they could have the same uniform but then have another item that only belongs to them.

The ability for each worm to have individual sound-banks would also be welcome, because otherwise (if you’re anything like me) you’re dashing off to the customisation screen every twenty minutes to change them up because they’re either the same as they are in Revolution or you’ve heard anything they could possibly say for the umpteenth time. There’s a level of customisation here that’s familiar to any fans of the series, but it’s one that doesn’t go far enough anymore, especially considering the significant lack of progression elsewhere.

At the end of the day, Worms Battlegrounds is so similar to Revolution that you’d almost be forgiven for thinking they’re the same game at first glance. If they put games in the dictionary, this is the one they’d use to describe ‘lazy’. It’s graphically identical, even on next-gen hardware, the music is mostly inoffensive, but will sometimes have you reaching for the mute button, and enemy AI will still either miss you woefully with a bazooka or snipe you expertly from the other side of the map with the shotgun which, incidentally, is the exact opposite of how they’re supposed to work. There are so few tweaks and differences that I’d never have noticed them if I wasn’t consciously looking for them.

The kicker is, Battlegrounds is just a console re-release of last year’s PC-exclusive Clan Wars, albeit more refined – allegedly – except that half of the level designs don’t work, there are enough bugs to recreate a Pixar movie, and at several points the entire thing crashed on me and forced me to send error reports to Sony. I didn’t even know that consoles could do that. I had no idea that was a thing. If nothing else, Battlegrounds is a slightly shonky port of a sequel that was released so soon after its predecessor that there’s no real way it could have properly justified its existence. In essence, it’s barely a re-release of something that should have been an expansion pack at best, sold for even more than both Clan Wars and Revolution put together just because it’s got a different name and it’s on a new console. It’s lazy, cynical, slightly insulting to consumers, and only worth recommending to people who haven’t played the series in years or the most rabid of Worms fanboys. Even then, only tentatively.

  • There are some new hats and glasses to customise your worms wit.
  • There are some new jokes and someone different is reading them out to yo.
  • Some new single-player levels
  • New perks for all but one class of worm
  • The 2.5D look still suits the action perfectly
  • There aren't enough new customisation options to keep you entertained for long
  • Most of the jokes are terrible, while the voice-acting is poorly-directed and falls flat
  • The single-player content is lazy and sometimes barely works
  • The new perks add little and are pretty forgettable
  • I could show you a screenshot from Battlegrounds and one from Revolution and you couldn't tell me the difference
  • More game-breaking bugs, glitches and crashes than there should be for something that's essentially just a port
  • You might as well be playing Worms Revolution instead

If you haven't played a Worms title in years and desperately need something to justify the amount of money you splashed out for a new console, but you're also lacking in imagination and ambition, then it's not too hard to go wrong with Battlegrounds. However, if you've played Worms Revolution, then there's nowhere near enough here to warrant your purchase. In fact, if you haven't played it then I'd recommend picking that up instead; it may be on last-gen hardware, but even if you buy the season pass it's still a fraction of the price of Battlegrounds and slightly more fun.

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