After you’ve made something perfect, what do you do with the rest of your life? That’s the question that’s long crippled Team 17, creators of the Worms series. Because at some point, they produced a perfect video game. Fans can argue endlessly about which title was the best (if we’re honest, it’s whichever one came out when we had cool roommates), but anyone who tried the series has fond memories of passing controllers and bongs while reveling in the cartoon carnage. Unfortunately, fans all agree that the best Worms game was one of the old ones. For the last few console generations, Team 17 has tweaked the basic Worms formula—teams of comical invertebrates hurling explosives across a destructible landscape—to little effect, with some barely playable 3D installments and 2D ports that were clearly placeholders. Worms Revolution is the first game to try to do something new within the classic 2D gameplay, and it’s the first important Worms game in years.
New players are welcomed in with a series of tutorial missions, made hilarious by the voiceover work of The IT Crowd’s Matt Berry. Team 17 has taken a hint from Portal in using a voiceover to enhance a game’s entertainment value without getting in the player’s way, and even experienced players might want to give the whole single-player campaign a try just to hear all the jokes. They’ll be making a good decision, too, because this may be the first satisfying single-player campaign in the series. Worms A.I. has always been erratic, but this time there’s a logic to what the computer can and can’t do, as it shamelessly exploits its mastery of ballistics calculation to teach the player zoomed-out, full-board strategy.
The excellent first impression is furthered by the game’s graphical overhaul. This is the first game in the series to take full advantage of HD visuals, and it’s a rare case where high definition really does increase playability. For new players, icons that used to be fuzzy blobs of color are now instantly identifiable, while experienced players will enjoy the charming worm animations and fun backgrounds. Even zooming in and out is brisker than ever, so you can check your position without burning up too much turn time.
Of course, single-player has never been the point of Worms; the heart of the game is the laidback murderousness of deathmatch. And that’s where Worms Revolution’s gameplay changes make themselves felt. The first new addition is a class system, with different worms getting various buffs and debuffs to health, attack, speed, and defense. The classes add an interesting resource-management aspect to the straightforward blowing up of stuff; now that your units aren’t interchangeable, you have to deploy them much more carefully.
The other big addition is physics objects, including dynamic water. The objects are mostly a wash: Though their unpredictable behavior can result in some fun surprises, they don’t really change gameplay. But dynamic water dramatically alters traditional Worms strategy. In previous installments, water meant instant death. But while dynamic water won’t kill your worm, it will cause them to lose health at a steady rate, while protecting them from flame-based attacks. It’s a little conceptually confusing (water at the edges of the board kills you, but water inside the board doesn’t), but it makes for a much more strategically dynamic game, as previously unassailable bunkers become deathtraps and every sloped plane begs for a real rain to wash the scum off the sidewalks.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be a Worms game without a few major programming bugs. In my playthrough, I had at least one incident where hitting the edge of an object trapped the game in an endless loop that forced a full-console restart. Sound effects and graphics occasionally glitch. And these are all small things compared to the appalling mistake Team 17 made in linking teams to console profiles. In previous games, you could create a range of teams, and all your friends could have their customized worms instantly available whenever you were up for a game. Now, making and playing a custom team is a nightmare of button-diddling and preparation, mostly because the game only allows one team per player profile.
I can’t entirely blame the developers for being flummoxed by the conceptual challenge of adapting player profiles to in-room co-op (even the great Rock Band sometimes degenerates into a bureaucratic nightmare of controller sign-ins), but forcing players to choose their custom worms one by one suggests that no one bothered to test play the game together with custom teams. Considering that much of the fun of Worms is coming up with an amusing theme for your team and cackling with your friends as “Lenin” drops a stick of dynamite on “Oinkless,” it’s a disgraceful mistake to make the system so gratuitously obscure, and I’m docking half a star from the game’s score because Team 17 needs to have their knuckles smacked hard for such an unforced error.
There are other small sorrows for the experienced Worms player. Most of the charmingly provincial British voices have been replaced by boring old American speech, some of the more destructive weapons have had their explosive potential reduced, the comical awards given at the end of a match have been replaced by blandly expository stat reports, and have I mentioned what a bummer it is not to have multiple custom teams?
But all of this fades away when you actually sit down and start playing. A great game of any kind, whether it’s football or Call of Duty, is one that creates a space where dramatic narratives can play out with neat stuff happening along the way. And Worms Revolution is that kind of great. The physics and weapons provide a structure that’s both quickly comprehensible and full of surprises, most of them involving great big explosions. But the best thing about the game is the social space it creates. Every time I played Worms Revolution with a group, whether it was veterans of the series or newcomers, the session involved 30 minutes of learning the ropes followed by several hours of laughing hysterically, swearing vengeance, enthusiastically strategizing, and having a great time. Rarely has an ESRB rating been so accurate: There’s cartoon violence and comic mischief a-plenty, and it’s just wonderful.