Tuesday, 21 February 2006

3D Combat Evolved

One of my most enduring memories as an undergraduate (and losing valuable book time), was playing the original award-winning Worms (1995) on the Sony PlayStation! Team 17's turn-based opus relied on the player's ability to correctly judge the trajectory and the power necessary to inflict devastating damage (on a par with shock and awe) against the clock (usually around 30 seconds, but this could be adjusted higher or lower). All the while trying to achieve mastery over the wind. You see, the wind can be unforgiving and weapons that are vulnerable to air current can be rendered impotent.

After 9 previous iterations including Worms Pinball and Blast, the basic premise remains intact (and relatively unspoilt) as the franchise inevitably segues to luxurious 3D in 2004! And the impish dialogue and black humour (motifs of the franchise) still remains cuttingly humorous. Friends' star Matthew Perry would be pretty proud of that achievement!

Porting progress
Feral Interactive is never merely content to publish key titles ‘per se’ on the Mac platform! Whenever working with UK porting house Zonic, it is always the partnerships intention to provide Mac gamers with compelling "added value" as a reward for our patience. This release is no exception to that golden rule.

In the case of Worms 3D (alongside the development of XIII), a rare opportunity to improve the graphics arose. It was noticed that whilst playing Worms 3D that at high (or low) resolution the interface was blurred! The original Adobe Photoshop files, used during development, were leveraged to replace all the interface graphics and weapons that Feral had been given assets for. And to avoid alienating the Mac gaming community, the PC keyboard was appropriately replaced by a Mac version!

Carnage candy
Worms 3D inspires obvious graphical comparison with Pangea's Bugdom series! And possesses looks that would make even Earthworm Jim blush with envy! Everything has an organic Play-Doh look and feel, which would delight the artists at PIXAR. The textures are simpler than Unreal Tournament or Halo, but then that's wholly appropriate given the context, and the game runs smoothly under Mac OS X 10.3.4. Support for Full Screen Anti-Aliasing (FSAA) is available for those equipped with a compatible graphics card. Is it time for an animated television series from Warner Bros. and attendant merchandise such as action figures, I wonder?

Existing Worms fans will be delighted to learn that bazookas, grenades, dynamite, air strikes and sheep made it safely from 2D, with the addition of brand new weapons to take advantage of the more expansive 3D landscape.

Customised combat
The single player (SP) mode still rotates predominantly around randomly generated battlefields against computer-controlled teams (the level of difficulty can be adjusted).

Alongside the obligatory Tutorial and Campaign modes, Team 17 have introduced the new Challenge mode, an offering where players can participate in various objectives such as firing-off a shotgun at as many targets as possible before time runs out to unlock bonuses such as medals and secrets.

Players can pass levels with Gold Silver or Bronze. As an incentive, getting Gold and finding secret areas (in SP) unlocks more hidden weapons and levels for the multiplayer mode.

The Challenge mode is somewhat repetitive, but completionists will no doubt find it a noteworthy addition all the same. Also the code system that was used to generate levels in the original is included in Worms 3D. And the codes for the PC version work on the Mac. It's worth searching the web for sites dedicated to collecting these cross platform codes!

Ultimately multiplayer (MP) mode is the signature element of the Worms franchise and here 2-4 teams can compete against each other in highly addictive sorties. The landscape of war can be edited; players can select to play in Lunar, War, England, Horror, Pirate or Arctic (in day, evening or night)! Or alternatively choose a randomly-generated landscape, or one that you've unlocked in the Campaign mode. In the mood for a chat, taunt or want to privately discuss tactics (with fellow team members and allies)? That's here too!

Worms 3D is compatible with GameRanger. Therefore, I urge you to 'fire-up' GameRanger as the MP mode is far more engaging than the SP experience because of human interaction - watching an enemy worm sink into the icy depths, underscored by a suitable quip, is a very satisfying accomplishment. Worms 3D MP is a luxurious treat and may close the deal for gamers unmoved by the series anaemic SP mode.

Blasted Bug
Subsequent to the GM release. MP games work on a LAN, but there is a bug in the network detection check which will cause all network games to be disabled if the Internet cannot be reached.

Zonic are working on a fix for this and it will be included in the first patch. In the mean time, if you can get your LAN connected to the Internet, you should be able to play locally.

Got Worms?
The transition to what could be construed as a more liberating 3D context, has introduced new challenges and complications that can confuse! You can toggle the camera between 3rd person (default), 1st person and blimp views. However, at times I found orientation difficult - the 3D terrain is more problematic to gauge than in 2D. And it requires greater effort (not necessarily a negative) to accurately judge how far to shoot a missile in order to target it anywhere near an enemy. This can lead to frustration, which often detracts from the pleasure of playing.

And now for the conclusion
Worms 3D is a solid port and clearly the product of stringent QA (Quality Assurance). Kudos to Feral and Zonic. With spruced-up graphics, a multitude of tactics available, coupled with the ever-changing, randomly-generated landscapes, Worms 3D is a pleasant antidote to the glut of FPS releases.

However, I was left with a yearning for the 2D side scrolling pleasures of old and the absence of an engaging soundtrack was remiss! The score of Worms 3D isn’t as impressive as the sound effects. Whilst I'm not looking for a John Williams orchestration, the music didn't serve the action and was turned down in favour of the amusing dialogue and spot effects.

As I completed this review Team 17 officially announced 'Worms Forts Under Siege'! The Worms saga continues...

Gameplay: 8
Graphics: 9
Sound: 7
Value: 8

Overall: 8 (out of 10)