Launching exploding sheep over lavish two-dimensional landscapes may not sound like the most financially promising concept ever, but fourteen years and countless re-imaginings later it’s Team 17 laughing the loudest.
The first Xbox Live Arcade Worms title brought the series renowned comic flare and simple turn based gameplay and combined it with vivid HD vistas and a solid multiplayer component. Though it suffered at the hands of Microsoft’s strict 50MB size limit at the time (a lack of iconic weaponry and a short campaign to name two disappointing aspects), it still offered great gameplay and value for fans new and old alike and proved a popular Live Arcade title.
The sequel, free from the limiting 50MB shackles and weighing in at over three times the size of its predecessor, arrives boasting more of everything: more challenges, more levels, more customisable options, and most importantly, more weaponry. It sounds promising but Armageddon achieves the difficult task of not only proving that bigger often does mean better, but also that sometimes it doesn’t.
As with Worms the single player game is broken down into tutorials, a campaign mode, and the option to set up your own customised match – though this is a substantially more weighted affair this time round. The campaign spans 35 levels (five of which are locked to begin with), which increase in difficulty the further you progress. Within the campaign lies the contradiction. The game benefits from a longer campaign, levels are better in design and more varied yet the puzzle and race missions that punctuate an otherwise challenging and enjoyable campaign are detrimental, repetitive, and have the player reaching for the restart option again and again. There’s no need for them, rarely do they require much thought or tactic, only a God-like supply of patience as the one method of completion is sought after.
Worse still they shine light on the games less noticeable flaws; the double jump still being confused with a single jump; infrequent but strange camera issues. Rope racing may sound great on paper but in execution simply isn’t fun.
Luckily there is plenty more to Worms 2, enough to outweigh the minor hindrances brought about perhaps by the alleviated limitations. Outside of the campaign there’s the option to customise game types. Levels are still created via a random generator but you’re free to alter a huge variety of factors from worm’s health to the availability and frequency of weapons and whether or not your worms are able to navigate around the map, conjuring memories of Artillery itself. The customisation extends out to your individual team and as well as being able to choose your team and individual worm names; hats, grave stones, and an extended array of humourous vernaculars help Armageddon retain the series’ proverbial comic undertone.
The randomly generated levels still look enchanting and the voice banks are varied, though they tend to grate quickly. The soundtrack however is vastly improved, more prominent and absorbing than the previous game, somewhat easing the pain of repeating levels through the campaign. The menu system has been overhauled as well, slicker and easier to navigate – a notion reflected in several subtle alterations in the game itself. The shotgun reticule is a thin red line reminiscent of a laser sight, an alteration that eliminates frustrating missed shots from the previously cumbersome reticule; jumping feels more responsive though issues still arise out of a confusion between single and double jumps often leading to an unwarranted death; the wind-direction meter is also clearer. Overall the game feels a lot slicker.
A more necessary list of alterations primarily alters the campaign. Changes to the frankly obtuse enemy intelligence from the previous game – famous for perfecting across-map shots, grenades clinking through the tiniest cracks to land delicately at your feet like terrified puppies – are most welcome. Level design itself is of a far higher caliber, rather than outright pitting you against the odds, later levels often greatly outnumber you but place your worms in advantageous positions prompting tactical play over lucky mistakes from enemy worms. The decision to omit crates from the campaign levels also prevents enemy worms from stocking up on health and power weapons. The campaign is far more enjoyable and less formulaic or reliant on a certain strategy than the original Live Arcade Worms.
Playing alone is all well and good but Worms is a multiplayer game at heart and Armageddon is just as slick and easy to play either online or locally as the original XBLA Worms was. Online are the standard host of game-types: ranked, player and private for up to four players and any player made game modes are available for the host to choose. Variants can’t be traded, but the secrets aren’t well hidden and anyone who wants to replicate a mode played online can easily do so in the minimal level editor.
Local multiplayer boasts the same options too, as well as the useful ability to use one controller to control up to four teams allowing four friends to play at once.
Far from a tactless cash-in that could have formed another stable dose of downloadable content, Armageddon builds on the strong foundations Team 17 established with the first Live Arcade Worms. At three times the size and boasting dozens more weapons, levels, and greater customisation options alongside strong multiplayer modes, Worms 2 is a testament to bigger is better.