The series of Worms games has suffered from the double-edged sword of having too good an original formula. The first game, simply Worms, was incredibly popular but came out seventeen years ago. If Team17 wanted to bring the game to new audiences they had to produce sequels, and the problem with sequels is that they have to be substantially different from what came before or critics will cry unoriginality. It's a simple business plan, but deviating too far is also inevitably met with criticism. The series' experiment in 3D, for example, was less well-received; it's obvious Team17 is aware of that in the decision to return to a primarily 2D style with Worms Revolution.
So, once again, Worms is back to what it does best: invertebrate warfare with a variety of more or less comical weapons, across a 2D cartoon landscape. The levels in Worms Revolution fall under four themes – sewer, beach, spooky, and farmyard - which seems a little restrictive, though things like seagulls in the background of the beach levels are animated enough to make things a little more interesting but not so much as to be distracting. Overall, the levels look lovely, but better from the zoomed-out view in which more of the screen is visible. Close up, things tend to look a little pixellated, which might be a kind of tribute to the game’s roots, but it's a shame that there is no way to set the options such that levels always open at the distant view. But the colourful ground on which the worms are stationed is as destructible as always, so players will still get that satisfaction from blowing a crater underneath one of their enemies.
Those enemies will be more varied now too, as will the player's own worms. This is one of Worms Revolution's two main changes: the introduction of classes. Soldiers are the regular kind of worm fans of the series will be used to, but players can also balance their teams with three other kinds. The heavy worms are more resilient, but their bulk makes them slow and difficult to manoeuvre. Scientists are a handy support, giving every other worm on your team an extra five points of health on each of their turns, though they are fragile and should be kept out of harm's way. Scouts, speedy and proficient at long-jump to make up for their relative frailness, will make you resent your other, clunkier worms, for whom trying to get them to jump onto higher ground or across a chasm is somewhat of a chore. Players must purchase these other classes with credits earned throughout the game, but once they have a collection can assemble any combination into their teams, providing an opportunity to expand on the familiar tactics of previous Worms games.
The other change is in the objects that can be found, which abide by certain laws of physics. A poisonous mushroom when burst gives off fumes toxic to nearby worms. Fire burns for two turns, making certain areas of the battlefield hazardous. A bottle of water – giant-sized in comparison to the little worms, of course – will fall when hit and leak its contents onto whatever happens to be below. But worms don't instantly drown anymore. Instead, to match the more realistic behaviour of the water itself – which flows, drips, and gathers in puddles – worms will only drown after prolonged contact, losing a little health for each turn they stay submerged. This, unlike the 3D worlds of Worms 3D, is a welcome change, again increasing the capacity for tactical play.
Those confused by these new features can get the hang of things through the single-player 'campaign', which acts as something of a tutorial with clear yet humorous instructions voiced by Matt Berry, otherwise known as Douglas Reynholm from The IT Crowd. The new concepts are introduced alongside the more basic throughout thirty-two missions, eight in each of the four themes. None of the single-player missions are particularly challenging, but they are a good way to get used to the controls and tactics before heading over to the multiplayer, which is the main focus of the game, and as entertaining as always.
For anyone not interested in dynamic water, physics objects, and classes will be pleased to know that the multiplayer side of the game features a Classic mode that ignores all of the new features in favour of a game more reminiscent of the Worms of the past. Alongside this Classic mode are Deathmatch and Forts. Deathmatch is the same 2D warfare, with each worm taking it in turns to attempt to put a dent in the opposing teams with a bazooka or grenade or exploding sheep, but with the added extras on top. Forts sees the more or less continuous – if sloped and pitted – landscape favoured by the other two modes replaced by two forts made up of tunnels and separated by a distinct gap. Given the longevity of the Worms formula, it's good to have more than one kind of game to play to keep the experience fresh.
These forts are one of the many things players can customise in Worms Revolution, selecting one when they choose their worms' uniform (ranging from pirate garb to female hairstyles), voices (in which they repeatedly spout the same annoying lines when players hesitate for a second or two), gravestones, and victory dances. Players may also create their own levels within the multiplayer modes, adjusting things like the damage worms will take from a fall, the weapons that will be available, and the time limit for each turn, though unfortunately the latter cannot be eliminated completely for the sake of inexperienced players wanting to get a foothold.
It is this level of customisation, along with the various modes and the new features Revolution provides, that makes this game truly worthy of consideration despite its long line of ancestors. While the single-player campaign is relatively simple, and only really useful as a learning tool, the multiplayer has always been where the Worms games shine, and this one is no different. Add to this the ability to unlock the new classes and customise their teams and even the fine details of the modes of play, and players are sure to return with friends for more than just a cursory try.
Has a revolution changed the Worms formula for the better?