Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Developer: Team 17
Release Date: March 22, 2006
The Worms games have been an under-acknowledged staple in many gaming arsenals, even from before the Worms games existed. Based heavily upon the conceptual framework laid out by Scorched Earth, Worms and Worms-like games have been around longer than most gamers. What was once depicted with strange square tanks and high-arcing trajectories now has the face of cute, adorable cartoon Worms that bombard each other with the likes of exploding sheep, bananas and Street Fighter-style fireballs. The latest incarnation of the Worms series, Worms: Open Warfare, has found its way onto the PSP, a home more suiting than might be expected.
What kind of story could possibly make sense of Worms battling each other with sheep, pigeons and rockets? None, and it is exactly for that reason that there is no story or plotline of any sort. There is no effort made to explain why these Worms want each other dead; there is no hero, no antagonist, and no cleverly implemented plot twist towards that end to shake things up. All of this "unnecessary" stuff has been discarded and tossed to the side, leaving us with only delectable meaty gameplay to enjoy.
In the simplest of terms, Worms games are weapon-driven, turn-based strategy games, which is to say that you take turns blowing up each other. To facilitate this, a player has a number of options at their fingertips; they can choose to move their worm around the map either by "foot" or any number of travel items. Once the player has arrived at the destination, they have a variety of zany weapons to choose from, each of which has fairly unique applications and effects. After launching their attack, the player has a short amount of time to reposition their worm in order to avoid the ensuing explosions and retaliation. At a high level overview, the gameplay is extremely simplistic, but when you get into the nitty-gritty of it, the title offers a lot of room for complicated, planned-out strategies, making the gameplay as complicated as the player wants it to be.
The core of the gameplay has remained ultimately unchanged; however, other parts of the game were not so lucky. The weapons list is a fraction of what it had been in previous Worms titles, parsed from a robust list that contained everything but the kitchen sink to the concentrated list found here. The weapons are comprised primarily of the most strategically sound weapons, which unfortunately means that they removed a large amount of flavor from the game. No longer can a player lay waste to his opponent using the blessed holy hand grenade or "carpet bomb" them with real carpets. In Open Warfare, the most unique and interesting weapons consist of a regular, non-super variety of sheep and a banana bomb. Sure, the sheep is cool; it still hops towards the opponent all cute, fluffy, and ready to explode. It's still a loss, though, because a small part of what made Worms so fun was the crazy weapons.
Weapons weren't all that were lost when the Worms series arrived on the PSP; the gameplay modes have been "concentrated" as well. The options for play are as follows: quick play, custom game, challenges and multiplayer. Theoretically, it's a fairly healthy set of options, so it's a pity that it is utterly misleading. Quick play, custom game and challenge might as well be the same things; quick play lets you set up a game with a preset level of difficulty on a randomly generated map with a chosen number of opponents and health. Custom lets you fine-tune the settings just a little bit more, while challenges are preset fights on preset maps against a preset number of opponents on a preset difficulty…. In short, all of the challenges can be recreated in the custom mode. This might have snuck beneath the radar if there had not been previous Worms titles that incorporated a campaign mode filled to the brim with interesting challenges. I always loved the challenges in the previous Worms games. Assaulting a base with only three girder packs, a rope and a grenade was great fun and provided a form of "puzzle" mode that greatly extended the single-player life of the games. This was perhaps the biggest letdown in W: OW and has really put a damper on my single-player enjoyment of it.
It seems readily apparent that this title was intended to fill a multiplayer role as opposed to a single-player role, and in that right, it has some marked success. The gameplay via networking can provide all the fun and excitement of the old-school multiplayer Worms matches. Even without the huge variety of crazy weapons, the fights are filled with unintended hilarity. The biggest addition to the game is the ability to keep track of "map codes," which let you recreate the randomly generated terrain if you particularly like a map that comes up. While the addition for recreation of random maps is a nice one, the execution seems a little outdated; instead of saving them to a memory unit, the player is relegated to keeping track of these 16-digit codes via paper and pen or some other external means. Most importantly however, is the fact that Worms: Open Warfare is unquestionably fun with friends.
The graphics seem far more modern than the gameplay itself does; the Worms all have the cartoon appearance that cel shading provides, mostly because they are in fact cel-shaded. This style works exceptionally well for the Worms series, as it is the epitome of cartoon violence. This styling ensures that the graphics are simplistic all around, focused on stark lines and bright colors. Despite the simple design behind the graphics, it is readily apparent that this is a next-gen portable game. Nothing is pixelated, and it all looks smoothly drawn, as if perhaps a comic artist painted it upon the PSP screen in person.
The animation provides as much of the Saturday morning feeling as the graphics themselves do; the Worms and the weapons both move in that exaggerated cartoon style. Every motion is a caricature of its own real-life equivalent: homing rockets arc through the air in a preposterous manner, worms stick head-first into the ground when falling long distances, and even the exploding sheep bounce much more than … real-world exploding sheep do. The extra video content in the game is an excellent example of the whole cartoon vibe the game has, as each clip depicts Worms in comedic, violent situations full of prop gags and cute little squeaking worm sounds – oh, and death, of course.
The sound effects throughout the game are pretty much perfect; they are not intended to sound super-realistic and instead have been crafted to be reminiscent of a cartoon, much like their graphical counterparts. The voice acting is also excellent, as the worms are dripping with personality. Each of their silly mis-quoted quotes fits the theme of the game, and the delivery is dead-on. In the audio department, my only real gripe comes in the terms of the music, which is fairly plain and repetitive. After a few dozen games, most players will likely turn off the music.
It is too bad that Worms: Open Warfare doesn't deliver as much as it could, as it has the potential to be such a great game. I have a hard time finding justification for the reduction in weapons and the tragic loss of the true campaign mode. While it is still a fun game to play with some friends, it had the potential to be more so, and it also had the potential to be vastly more entertaining for a single player. To make matters worse, the version released on the Game Boy Advance featured a full selection of weapons and the original campaign mode, so one has to wonder, why doesn't the PSP? Not living up to a game's potential doesn't keep a title from being worth playing, though; Open Warfare is definitely a fun way to pass time with a few friends. Besides, what else are you using your PSP for these days?
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