Worms: Revolution Extreme Review
Sony PS Vita
Franchises can come and go in the blink of an eye in gaming, partly due to publishers wanting to fill their grubby little hands with the profits of sequels and partly because, as fans, we seem to have fairly short attention, er, you know, whatever. Things. Unless you’re Call of Duty we guess. Anyway, it’s always worth keeping some respect for those that manage to transcend this cycle then, and Worms is certainly a series that deserves respect. At eighteen years old with around twenty main series releases over twenty-nine platforms that we could count it’s easily one of the most prolific series ever. It’s worth noting that eleven of those platforms could be considered to be mobile or handheld, which probably also makes it the franchise that has appeared on the widest array of handhelds. In other words, Worms has been around the block a fair few times then.
This latest release, Worms: Revolution Extreme, is a port of last year’s PC and console game Worms: Revolution. It helpfully bundles together the main game with all of the released bits of DLC and then throws in cross-save functionality if you happen to own both the PS3 and Vita variants (but not cross-buy, so you’ll have to pony up the readies if you fancy a bit of transfarring). Unfortunately this release isn’t cross-play, but you’ll still be able to take the battle online against the other twenty-four Vita owners worldwide. Learning from both the franchise’s 2D roots and more recent 3D experiments, Revolution Extreme presents a 2.5D game, complete with basic physics engine and water. That’s right playa – water! Along with helpfully washing worms into mines or some of the new physics objects you can slowly drown your enemies in it. A nice bazooka to the face might be a bit faster though. Features new for the port include menu touch controls (including rear touchpad aiming for some weapons) and a treasure mode where you can unlock chests using keys, but only if you know someone with the PS3 version and the matching item.
The main campaign consists of four stages of eight levels, with the first stage acting as a series of tutorial levels. It’s amazing that after so much time and so many releases that Team 17 still can’t get tutorial levels right, with the stages consisting of a series of painful A to B exercises and specific actions. They offer no real introduction to the nuances or skill requirements of the game, and, even worse, they only present players with a fraction of the weaponry on offer, leaving the rest to be used in a trial and error way within a live battle. Or, you know, read the in-game help hints – but who does that anymore? Knocking the tutorial levels out of the way you are left with twenty-four other single player levels, which are happily then augmented with a series of puzzle levels, and then the DLC content giving you a respectable amount of worming to do before you are done.
It’s probably worth pointing out now that the whole artillery battle genre is almost non-existent these days, with Worms being the only mainstream example that springs to mind. It’s sad then that Worms continues to feel so inaccessible, with much of the single player content feeling unsatisfying until you’ve finally managed to learn how to shoot accurately – and even when you do you’ll be frustrated at the expert-level accuracy with which an enemy worm can lob grenades. Easing newer players in with suitable tutorials and a decent learning curve could have opened the game up to new faces, instead of pandering to the same crowd of followers it’s had for previous releases.
From a handheld perspective probably the most damaging aspect of the gameplay is the sheer amount of waiting around for the AI that you’ll be doing. Finished your turn? Great – have a five second handover period that the AI almost certainly doesn’t need. Bored? Just wait for the upcoming five to ten seconds while the AI decides what to do with their current worm, a dancing thought bubble and question mark your only entertainment during this time. These pauses can be annoying at the best of times, but when you know that the current worm has already scored a perfect Bazooka hit against one of your own worms in a previous turn and that they will, finally, decide to do it again then it’s simply unacceptable. Over the course of an entire match this downtime can add up quite significantly, and while you shouldn’t ever be upset at losing a match due to your own lack of skill or experience, you’d be forgiven here for a slight shudder at the thought of having to face all of that waiting again. This kind of considered action is fully expected when playing a human opponent, but when facing the AI it’s a waste of time and makes the game less accessible for those looking for a quick blast on the go.
Looks-wise the port doesn’t do the franchise any favours either – non-native resolution and blurry destructive foreground give the appearance of cheapness, while pixellation of water and other features at medium to high levels of zoom-out (where you’ll be a lot due to the size of the overall battles) are fairly distracting. Other features also rankle – the narration from Matt (Darkplace Darkplace!) Berry is unnecessarily annoying and regrettably unfunny, which is a very, very sobering thing to say. You can, helpfully, skip it, but you have to wonder how so much of the dialogue made it into the final product. Somewhat amazingly Team 17 also seem to have managed to turn off the ability to take screenshots in game too – hardly a game breaker, but one has to question why this game in particular couldn’t cope with the functionality.
Like any Worms game though the real pleasure comes in battling real people rather than the AI. Here, as long as you find someone of a similar skill level, the game comes alive. Each missed or nailed shot is sheer pleasure, each deployment of more powerful weapons proving themselves potential game-changers. The pain at being smashed by a better opponent is diminished by the knowledge that you were undone by real skill rather than the random AI from the single player. Customised forts, uniforms and teams with different types of worms add a layer of freshness that felt a little missing from the single-player campaign (the AI may well use the different worms in the campaign but it certainly treats them all the same).
Worms is unashamedly old school, from its steep learning curve and high skill requirements right through to the lack of handholding and gruelling punishment of any mistake. The clue in how to approach the game though comes from its history, from its presentation – instead of entering each game with the determination to win you have to enter each battle with the intention to have fun. And blow stuff up – in fact, blow stuff up before trying to have fun. Each time you drop a mole onto one of your worms, or the wind sends a bazooka shot right back into the face of the worm that fired it, you have to just smile. The magic of the game comes from those random moments - the deflection of a grenade off of a minute piece of scenery, the explosion that bounces a mine right across the map to land next to your last worm, the mistimed jump that sends you off to a quick drowning death, all of these are part of the semi-organised chaos that is Worms. That is the important thing to take away from the game – that, and blowing things up in a cool way.