The Worms series of games has earned a place among some of the longest-running cult favourite video games. Since its inception in 1995, Worms has slithered through nearly every gaming platform ever conceived via the steady release of sequels, expansions, and spin-offs. While the series has never quite reached the notoriety of more iconic gaming franchises, it has recognition for its unique gameplay mechanics that have rarely been replicated elsewhere.
The latest entry in the franchise, Worms: Clan Wars, follows the same turn-based mechanics as its predecessors, rather than trying to reinvent them like so many of its spin-offs. The Worms series has often been criticised for failing to reinvent the very concepts that once heralded its innovation, and that argument does hold some merit. Simply put, the gameplay in Worms is a love-it-or-hate-it affair, and it offers little in the way of gameplay adjustments to make the series more friendly to beginners.
The game is framed as a 2D platformer that foregoes tight controls in favour of strategic thinking and multiple ways to proceed through the destructible terrain. The closest approximation to another game would be Lemmings, which is hardly a surprise given that it served as inspiration for the original games. Rather than indirectly influencing the cartoonish critters, players are given full control of their worm soldiers to run and jump across numerous levels… or rather, wiggle and hop clumsily around even the most simple of stage layouts. For better or worse, the game accurately captures the feeling of guiding a slow-moving creature with no acrobatic abilities; don’t expect any blue hedgehogs or fighting turtles here.
Taken at face value, Clan Wars would seem like an incredibly boring platformer with a poor control scheme. In fact, that is exactly what it is. However, the real draw among Worms fans is the large variety of tools and weapons that can be equipped, each featuring a different control scheme and purpose. Throughout each stage there are crates that, once touched, will add the contents to that worm’s inventory. Each item can be equipped one at a time to serve that worm’s needs depending on the situation: the Uzi can be used to deliver ranged damage to a nearby enemy; the grappling hook can help traverse large gaps; the parachute can ensure a safe landing from a high jump; the airstrike can damage multiple enemies from above; and so on. That is just a small taste for the many bizarre items that each provide a specified use while also playing up to the series’ referential (and occasionally very British) humour.
But don’t expect to go willy-nilly with the arsenal. Like with the majority of Worms games, Clan Wars adheres to turn-based rules, meaning that with each turn players are given a limited number of actions to complete within the allotted time. Successful strategists will use that time to perform a crucial blow against enemy worms, while poor planners may end up wasting a turn due to a mistimed jump or overshot aim.
While it is always encouraging for games to reward patient planning over impatient ineptitude, the sad truth is that the clunky controls will punish players whether they deserved it or not. Keyboard and mouse controls simply do not carry the precision one would expect from a strategic PC game. Gamepad support fares a bit better, but also has the drawback of not having gamepad-specific icons on the screen while playing. In addition to the mediocre controls, the game’s performance is also sluggish with low framerates, even with all the settings set to minimum. At least the narration during single-player features some amusing dialogue, though the overly snarky British accent will either prove endearing or infuriating depending on the player.
But like with most strategically-focused games, Worms’ biggest component resides in its multiplayer experience. For Clan Wars, developer Team17 has laid out all the trappings for a proper online structure filled with numerous ways to connect and customize. Players can set up their own clans for friends to band together as well as outfit their worms with all manner of silly hats and accessories, as well as their own personal tombstones should they suffer defeat on the battlefield. The game also supports Steam Workshop, which opens the door for all sorts of user-made accessories that unashamedly trample over all known copyrights (such as Mario hats and Star Wars lightsabers).
With multiple maps and modes, the online multiplayer would serve as the game’s strongest selling point… if anyone were actually playing online. Despite repeated searches, not a single lobby or match was found during any ranked or casual searches. Either there is a problem with the game’s connectivity, or the Worms franchise has fallen even further past the radar of even its biggest fans. Either way, there has been virtually no sense of an online presence even weeks after its release, leaving this PC-exclusive game exclusive to friends with dedicated Steam groups or LAN set-ups.
As stated before, Worms: Clan Wars is strictly a love-it-or-hate-it affair. For new players, the clumsy controls and online ghost town may serve as compelling arguments to avoid this title. Likewise, long-time fans who have celebrated the time-tested but unchanged tactical mechanics may prove more tolerant of the game’s methodical pace, perhaps even embrace it. Speaking as a newcomer, however: these worms did not prove enticing enough to hook me.