Worms W.M.D. Has, Well, Worms

Most of my time with the preview build for Worms W.M.D. was not spent actually playing the game. No, a majority of it was used up wrestling with my Task Manager, troubleshooting compatibility, and other non-gaming things. Team17’s newest entry in its hallmark franchise is riddled with bugs, and not the kind they intended. True, this is a preview build and Team17 has time to work these kinks out, but the game launches in under a month.

It doesn’t bode well for a game that so much is riding on. While the Worms brand has been around for a while, it’s not necessarily the beloved franchise it once was. The consensus on the past few entries is that they’ve been same-y at best, uninspired at worst. It’s a brand that needs some serious reinvention to justify the continued entries.

Luckily, what I was actually able to play did feel good with a gamepad. Players control cute military worms, who are armed with an arsenal of crazy gadgets including grappling hooks, jetpacks, and parachutes. That’s not to mention the weapons, which range from guns to bazookas to a Street Fighter-esque “Fire Punch.” All of these have a mélange of uses, and you’ll have to strategize which ones work best for a given situation.

When I was actually able to play the game, everything worked as I assume was intended. The five levels of story missions consisted of controlling worms, protecting a base, and crushing enemy forces. It’s basically a mixture of methodical platforming and strategy, which works pretty well all things considered. I didn’t run into any gameplay snags, and it really was satisfying when everything clicked and I was able to crush the opposition.

New additions to W.M.D. include enterable structures and vehicles. The structures are a neat twist, as they keep your worms out of the line of fire, and allow you to stash your units under one roof to plan ahead in the moment. As for vehicles, they work as expected. Tanks let you mow down units en masse, and helicopters allow you to zoom around the map and rain hell down on the enemy. It’s kind of surprising these weren’t in past games, but hey, better late than never, I suppose.

I can see why this core Worms formula still has a dedicated multiplayer following all these years later. Local matches are satisfying, visceral affairs. While local is generally the way I prefer to do multiplayer, W.M.D. will also offer online multiplayer for up to six players at launch. The campaign (which will eventually have around thirty missions) will probably pan out to be a good time, but I honestly see myself spending more time with the multiplayer if I get my hands on a final build. It’s a good time to kick back and play with friends, and more maps will seal the deal of me putting this in my regular rotation.

Also aiding W.M.D. is an overhauled art direction. Frankly, I like the aesthetic of this game better than any prior entry; everything up until this point just felt like dated mascots of yesterday. Now, there’s a legitimately charming and endearing art direction that borrows a few tips from Rayman Origins’ playbook. It’s all 2D and cute, which is something I can appreciate. The cartoonish score and amusing voicework help give the whole game an atmosphere of a modern cartoon brought to life.

You would think that with solid gameplay and a fun atmosphere that Worms W.M.D. couldn’t go wrong. Yet, spending time with the game didn’t give me a whole lot of confidence in the finished product. The fact of the matter is, I’m not entirely sure how Team17 plans to address all the technical issues this game has in under a month. The random crashes, the inability to tab through the crafting menu, the freezes, the camera snags, the lock-ups… it’s a lot for a game that’s out in a few short weeks.

Yet, I do want Worms W.M.D. to succeed. The gameplay is accessible and tight. The overall look of the game is arresting, and the multiplayer potential is huge. None of that will matter, though, if the finished product doesn’t actually work consistently. Even though I’m not confident the myriad of technical issues will be fixed in time, I’ll still hold out hope that this fresh new direction for the series pans out for Team17. It feels like they’re trying something new for the first time in a long time, and if they pull it off, it could attract a whole new generation of players.