Since 1996, Team 17 has been bringing us one Worms game after another, proving once again that you really can milk a good idea to death. The various 2d versions were solid games; simplistic yet engrossing gameplay, a nice blend of humor and cruelty that harkened back to the golden days of cartoons, and tons of destructive weapons to choose from. Each new version brought only incremental changes to the successful formula of the first game, but the recent jump in 2003 from 2d to 3d has been a flawed translation at best.

Worms 4: Mayhem is the latest 3d offering in the turn-based strategy series. In addition to the classic multiplayer team vs. team play, the single player campaign features objective based missions and several levels in five themed zones- Jurassic, Arabian, Construction, Wild West, and Camelot. So is Worms 4 as addictive as its two dimensional predecessors? Let’s find out:

Something was lost along the way when Worms added a dimension. The cute little 2d cartoon worms now look like they would be right at home in a Veggie Tales movie. Every texture in the game makes everything look like it is made out of shiny plastic, and the lighting is so diffuse that everything looks flat, making distances very hard to judge. Honestly, this game would probably look better if it was cell-shaded as it would hearken back to the charm of the original games.

The environment is very blocky and barely textured. True to its roots, Worms 4 has destructible environments. Unfortunately, it looks like Team 17 faked it as bits of real estate seem to come off in predetermined chunks. Also, there is no discernible way to tell non-destructible areas from the destructible ones.

All in all, the graphics are trying real hard to be cute, but they really come off as flat and boring.

A standby in the series, the helium induced one-liners that the worms spit out on occasion can get rather repetitive. Sure, there are 40 different voice themes to choose from for your characters, but each theme has only a handful of phrases, and you will hear them several times during the course of one game. Curiously enough, they seem to have forgotten how to speak english during the cutscenes of the single player game, instead sounding like a cross between Beaker from the Muppets and a fly buzz, with subtitles providing the ‘translation’.

Pretty much every sound effect has been carried over since the first game; grenades provide that familiar hollow clank as they bounce around, explosions have the same loud boom, and worms still fall in the water with that same ‘ker-plunk!’. The music is light and cheery, but mostly forgettable.

Simply put, the controls in Worms 4: Mayhem are horrible, especially in the single-player portion which incorporates several missions with platforming. For instance, when you are too close to wall when trying to hop over it, you bounce backwards, which can be fatal depending on where you are (splash!). The game gives you the option to go to a first-person mode when firing certain weapons like the bazooka, but it may take half your turn to coax the crosshairs right where you want them, and then, due to the poor depth perception of the graphics, your shell has a better chance of completely missing your target than hitting it. In 2 dimensions a certain level of skill could be attained by adjusting your shots for wind speed and direction, but adding that extra axis just makes it a guessing game unless your opponent is close up and visible. Also, the camera in first-person mode doesn’t always match up to what you think it should from third-person mode, a situation that can be extremely hard to manage when up in high places.

Worms 4 boasts a single player game that is both frustrating (due to poor controls) and boring (long nonsensical cut scenes that push along a paper-thin plot). While I applaud Team 17 for trying to mix things up a bit and add some item collection and platforming levels, the controls are so wonky when it comes to progressing through them that I found myself repeating things over and over again. Too often, each level ended up feeling like a chore to finally get through.

When the goal is simply to destroy the other side’s team, however, hints of the original’s gameplay would shine through. Multiplayer still has it’s charm, but the inconsistent AI when playing against the computer became very tiresome- the AI either whiffs it completely or perfectly annihilates you every time, there is very little middle ground.

With an already huge grab-bag of weapons and accessories, the addition of the poison arrow and the sniper rifle seem rather superfluous. A good chunk of the weaponry is so unwieldy and difficult to use that I found little reason to stray from the old standbys of bazooka, grenade, and flaming fist. Besides, what is the point of including a sniper rifle if you can’t do a proper head shot?

Finally, I would probably be willing to overlook some of these problems if the game were a little faster paced. The amount of time it takes the game to switch from one player to another is exceedingly and unnecessarily long, so long that I was actually able to get up and make myself a snack one time while waiting for my next turn. For a game as simple as this one, I don’t understand what the point is in waiting around like that.

On paper, there is a lot of re-playability inherent in Worms 4, but the glaring flaws in the control scheme and gameplay just don’t make it worth the effort. Customization is huge, with the ability to customize your team of worms, create a map, create a weapon, etc. There is even online play with Xbox Live, though good luck finding anyone out there to play with. It would have been nice if Team 17 had added the original game as an unlockable, but that might underscore how much better it was than their current offering.

n/a