In the list of franchises with confusing naming conventions, Worms places… well, just below Trackmania, actually. The series has been cut up into numerous spin-offs and reinventions that have a tendency to regrow in strange ways. Just like real worms then. The latest result of this process is Worms: Ultimate Mayhem, a revamped compilation of Worms 3D and Worms 4: Mayhem.
As a reworking of the two previous 3D titles, Ultimate Mayhem offers nothing new, bar a few extras and some engine tweaks. A cynic would argue the same is true of all Worms games, and certainly the series isn’t known for making drastic changes to the turn-based action formula. But even though it’s old content, there’s plenty included in the package.
Both campaigns make the transition. Rather than a simple procession of increasingly difficult battles against AI opponents, these missions contain a surprising degree of variety. Objectives include destroying buildings, defending worms for a set period of time, collecting objects, reaching a specific area and plenty more. Worms 4 is the headline campaign, and has been given full voice acting for its agreeably naff time-travel story. Despite this, I found myself preferring the simpler, self-contained Worms 3D levels. The objectives are less imaginative, but the locations of battles are vastly more interesting – ranging from beach-head invasions, to alien planets, before finally fighting around a computer failing to run a copy of Worms 3D. Presumably because it was too meta.
Not all of the mission types work, and some accentuate problems that persist throughout the game. Any time you’re required to perform precise movements or platforming, the limitations of the engine are betrayed. The main issue is with the camera, which seems to move quicker along the horizontal axis than the vertical. This makes it almost impossible to fine-tune movement, as it’s far too easy to send the camera into a 180-degree spin to face exactly where you didn’t want to be. While this is fixed by lowering the mouse sensitivity, the trade off is it becomes difficult to adjust the view to see opponents at different heights. On three-dimensional maps, that tends to be most of them.
To make matters worse, the chunky objects and terrain can easily lead to your worm getting stuck, or even falling through seemingly passable gaps to your death. The game seems to recognise this: on maps with perilous drops, the enemy’s aim has all the finesse of a drunk at a urinal. As a result, it feels like you spend more time fighting the controls than you do the opposing team. When the game lists “camera enhancements” and “optimized AI” as selling points, such obvious flaws show an overall lack of polish.
Despite the effort to introduce new ideas, the game is at its best when you’re given a straight fight against an enemy team with varying sets of weapons and conditions. This isn’t limited to the campaign. Customisation options allow a remarkable degree of power over the creation of versus matches, either against the computer or a human opponent. Like Monopoly, Ultimate Mayhem is a game best played by your own rules, backed up by your preferred weapons. Almost every element can be tweaked or toggled, and then saved as a custom style to be used in future skirmishes.
There are a number of modes to choose, from traditional deathmatch variants to assaults against an enemy building or statue. Each match can be further complicated by the Wormpot, a jackpot wheel of special game bonuses and hindrances, such as increased damage for specific weapon types or lower gravity. In all, it’s a staggering amount of subtle changes to the way you can play the game. As a result, experimenting with different set-ups to use against friends or bots is far more enjoyable than the tailored experience of the single-player content.
Customisation isn’t limited to game types. As always, there’s the option to create a new team of Worms made up of whoever you want to play as or repeatedly murder. The options are mostly cosmetic, but each team can be equipped with a custom weapon, which can be tailored based on a number of options. While you aren’t given free reign to make anything comparable to the game’s more hyper-destructive arsenal, there are enough variables to change that online matches always have a potential surprise waiting.
Most of the series trademark silly weapons reappear, including super sheep, banana bombs and the holy hand grenade. Unfortunately, where they would create gaping chasms in the mountainous 2D maps, the more level terrain of Ultimate Mayhem means the feeling of immense destructive power is necessarily reduced so that the map won’t be destroyed in minutes. The weapons introduced specifically for the 3D versions feel much better. The best is the Fatkins airstrike, which drops a giant man who tears huge chunks from the level as he wallops about the map. On top of these are some interesting tactical options, such as the Inflatable Scouser – who can pick up worms and and drop them further down the map – or the Starburst – a suicide rocket that can be manually controlled. It’s a mixed bag, but the sheer quantity of weapons ensures there’s always plenty of favourites to pick from.
All of which may lead you to the conclusion that what Worms: Ultimate Mayhem offers is, at its heart, just another Worms game. It’s hard to argue with that assessment; however many dimensions it’s presented in, it’s essentially the same concept. In some ways that makes it hard to get too excited about, and certainly the limitations of the engine make me wish they’d instead built something tighter and more responsive. But at the same time, the Worms series has, ironically, always had legs. Enough of the core ideals of customisation and light-hearted warfare are preserved to keep it a largely enjoyable experience. Play with a few friends, either online or taking turns at the monitor, and the flaws become unimportant. Instead you’ll start to remember exactly why the series has lasted as long as it has.