I guess the most important thing you need to know about Worms Battlegrounds before we get into it is that it isn’t an entirely new entry in the long running series. It is in fact the new gen console version of last August’s Worms Clan Wars for PC, which is itself a direct sequel to 2012’s Worms Revolution. It is however, the first entry in the series on new gen consoles and apparently the biggest entry in the series to date.
For anyone who’s never played a Worms game before (have you been living in a cave?) the basic set up of the turn based strategy game is the same as it has been for nigh on twenty years (damn I feel old). Up to four players take it turns to take command of teams of heavily armed invertebrates using all kind of weird and wonderful gadgets and weaponry to out manoeuvre and slaughter the opposition. Last team standing is the winner.
This time the worms are bringing their unique brand of mayhem and mass destruction to the Museum of World History. Helping barmy ‘Historical Hooligan’ Tara Pinkle, played by the IT Crowd’s Katherine Parkinson, to stop a crazed hypnotist called Mesmer from taking over the worm’s world by using the Stone Carrot to amplify his abilities to such a degree that he’ll have every last one of the gun toting annelids under his thrall.
It’s a suitably silly set up for the game’s 25 single player missions (and 10 Worms Ops time attack missions) and Parkinson does a wonderful job as narrator. I do wonder if it was a conscious decision to get another star of The IT Crowd to be in the game though, as Matt Berry played the role of crazed wildlife documentary filmmaker, Don Keystone, in Worms Revolution. If it was let’s hope we get to hear the dulcet tones of Chris O’ Dowd, Richard Ayoade or Noel Fielding in the next installment.
Just a quick aside if you’ve never seen the IT Crowd, or any of the other sitcoms written by Graham Linehan before for that matter, they’re all on Netflix and easily some of the best shows to come out of the UK in the last 20 years. Anyway, back to Battlegrounds.
In a clever twist, the worms battle through the museum exhibits, working your way through the games five different historical themes, from Stone-Age, through to the Vikings and then finally onto the Industrial Revolution. Each of the missions offers a fair bit of variety in terms of objectives and act as a great tutorial for the ensuing multiplayer carnage. From straight death matches and even puzzle levels in which you have to pull switches and use various gadgets and items creatively, to others in which you play as a single worm that require some degree of platforming skill to complete. These all work towards improving your ability to get around the map effectively in the process.
Once again the game is presented in 2.5D like Worms Revolution; in fact the game in many ways is a much more refined version of it, in a similar manner to Worms Armageddon being a better version of Worms 2.
The Class system from Revolution also makes a return and once again your basic team is comprised of a mix of four different types of worms. These are Heavy (slower, harder to kill, hits harder), Scientist (weak, good with gadgets, regenerates team HP), Scout (smaller, faster, more acrobatic, does less damage) and Soldier (average for everything, basic bog standard worm). They’ve also been given extra abilities to help better differentiate themselves from each other and give them greater tactical importance on the battlefield. For example, Soldiers can now remotely detonate grenades, Heavies do more damage with shotguns and dynamite as well as produce a larger explosion when they die and Scouts no longer trigger mines and can see what’s inside nearby crates.
Although these new additions are useful, they still don’t fundamentally change the game in any meaningful way. Still, if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
The same can’t be said of physics objects and dynamic water which were the most drastic changes in Revolution and also used to great effect in Battlegrounds. The ability to change the lay of the land and drown your opponents in Revolutions was by far one of the best additions to the series in years. Adding an extra tactical element to deployment and enabling players to use the scenery to their advantage in new and interesting ways.
The only problem was that the console verisons of Revolution often had trouble keeping up when the action got a little hectic. In Batlegrounds this is no longer a problem, the PS4 version we tested had no issues at all, running at a steady frame rate and looks lovely in 1080p. In particular the water effects look much better, acting less like jelly. amd more like, well, water. The improved fire and additional particle effects also help to make this the best looking game in the series to date.
Battlegrounds has the biggest roster of weapons in the series to date, 65 in total. Featuring old favourites like the super sheep, the homing missile and the Holy Hand Grenade as well as ten new weapons like the flying monkey which lets you place physics objects anywhere on the battlefield, Bovine Blitz that allows you to drop a heard of exploding cattle on your opponents and The Teleport Gun, a high tech version of the Ninja Rope, that teleports your worm to where ever you point it without ending the players turn.
There’s also a wealth of customisation options, over 200 in fact, for you to personalise your worms to make them as savage or as silly as you want. You can give them all manner of beards, glasses, silly hats and fake noses, as well as choose their voices from the games massive bank of speech samples that includes the classic worms squeak, angry Scots, Scousers and many more besides. I am still waiting for unnecessarily censored worms though. If you’re feeling morbid you can also customise the gravestone they leave behind when they finally snuff it too.
There’s also a plethora of game options to choose from, so you can have matches just the way you like them. Including whether the playfield will include mines and oil drums, the frequency of crate drops, what weapons will be available to each team as well as which turn they’ll become available in, how destructible the terrain is and much more besides.
The biggest problem that Battlegrounds still has is that the AI is still somewhat schizophrenic. One minute an enemy worm will make the most unlikely of shots with almost unnerving accuracy, getting grenades to bounce half way round the map and land by your feet. Then in the next turn, the same worm will pull out a shotgun and start blasting at the scenery in your vague direction or on a rare occasion blow themselves up in the process. It’s not the end of the world but you would think after 25 years they would have found a way to fix it, or at least provide a bit of consistency.
Still these problems are non-existent when you have someone to play with. Multiplayer once again is the best part of Worms Battlegrounds and both online and local multiplayer are supported.
There are two types of matches to choose from: Team Deathmatch which is the classic worms free for all. Or Forts, which is basically the same as Team Deathmatch, except for each team starts in their own base and you have to either invade the other player’s base or blow it to bits in order to take out the other team.
The online functions have also been expanded with the introduction of the new league based Battlegrounds mode in which you can create your own clan (or randomly join an existing one) and battle against other clans to collectively gather points to climb up to the top of the leaderboards, though you can play friendly matches too if you want. It’s a brilliant concept and its clear a lot of thought and work has gone into it, however like all persistent online modes it’s going to require a very active community in order for it to remain engaging.
If that’s not your cup of tea though, you can still enter normal online matches as well. Overall, online play is relatively hassle free as long as you can find a game, although the netcode isn’t perfect and the game will often lag a little between turns. Thankfully, this doesn’t affect the actual gameplay at all, just the flow of the matches a little.
But, without a doubt, the best way to enjoy Worms will always be via local multiplayer. Passing the controller around the room and giggling like idiots whilst you take it in turns to throw explosive sheep and drop giant concrete donkeys on each other is still as fun now as it was twenty years ago, and that really does say something about the core game play of the franchise. It’s simple, it’s silly, it’s a hell of a lot of fun and it never gets old.
If you are looking for a decent party game for your PS4 or Xbox One, I would highly recommend Worms Battlegrounds, because not only is it great to play after a couple of drinks, but you also only need one pad to play it. However, I would recommend getting the digital version over a physical copy because it’s actually cheaper and doesn’t take up that much of your hard drive either at around about 2gb. Although at £20 for the download, and £28 for a physical copy, I could still see some people put off by the relatively high price, despite the overall package being pretty robust.
In short, Worms Battlegrounds is another fine entry in the long running series, retaining the core anarchic gameplay and gleeful sense of destruction that continues to make the series so compelling, whilst further refining the formula by adding enough interesting new twists and features to make it stand out from its predecessors. The single player is well written and laugh out loud funny, local multiplayer continues to be a blast and the new online Battlegrounds mode has the potential to be something very special indeed.
Both fans of the series and newcomers alike will be able to find something to enjoy in what is possibly the best game in the series since Worms Armageddon.