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Worms 2 (PC) artwork

Worms 2 (PC) review

"''It looks just like a cartoon!'' "

''It looks just like a cartoon!''

''The combat system is so finely tuned, I split a hair in two with a single bullet!''

''I've never seen so many customizable options in one game!''

''Oh my God! That donkey is made of concrete, and he is tearin' the place UP!''

Where other games fail to elicit such bold statements from those who play them, Worms 2 delivers and, as corny as it may seem, redefines the strategy genre by giving it a shot in the arm (with a metaphorical needle, not the rounds you'll see so much of in the battles to come). Pitting man against machine with teams of eight annelids each, these segmented warriors are far more dangerous than the ones that mysteriously surface after a healthy rainstorm. Hardly the equivalent of their domesticated brethren trapped in glass prisons at Uncle Ed's Wholesale Worm Farms of the Greater Suburban Arkansas Area, these worms bar no holds. They come packed with bazookas, grenades, shotguns, explosive elderly women, and their own amusing literal interpretation of the carpet bomb. No nook or cranny is safe from the vast armory these creepy critters possess. When it comes down to it, all of us must stare death in the face at some point in our lives and spit on it. But until that day comes, you can live vicariously through your team of squiggly snipers in a strategy game that may be the penultimate reason why we call them ''war games.''

Though development crew Team 17's name may be rather mundane, their opus is anything but. The follow-up to the 1995 sleeper hit Worms is one of gaming's best models of how to improve a series from one installment to the next. Across the board, cosmetic and mechanical elements were revamped. Setting a benchmark for all future Worms games, the sequel made them synonymous with humor in strategy. Implementing outlandish maneuvers such as the Mail Strike (replete with a floating barrage of dangerous letter bombs) and the Mad Cow (a parade of bovine explosives that will lay waste to the first obstacle they touch, be it earth or earthworm) is only the first display of Team 17's uncontrollable genius. Though it's a few yards short of being a complete marathon of wanton destruction, it's a spark of originality you won't soon forget.

Worms 2 builds on the traditions of games before it such as Gorillas and Scorched Earth by introducing two potent elements to the mix: teams and comedy. The primary objective will come as no surprise to those familiar with my examples: decimate the opponent's forces by any means necessary. Some of your weapons are given to you in infinite supply, such as bazookas, grenades, and your smaller firearms. The bigger weapons, which definitely dole out more damage for your dollar, are given to you in limited stock, to be saved only for the choicest assassinations. How you use your burgeoning arsenal is up to you, but there are several factors that stand in the way of an easy victory. Aiming your weapon at the desired target at the proper angle, firing at the correct velocity, and considering the speed and strength of the wind all come into play here, and if you can learn to master the basic aspects of weapon usage, you'll be planting mines and detonating sheep like a pro in no time.

Multiplayer bouts with friends and the computer itself will comprise the majority of the time you'll clock in with this PC gem. If you're a relative newbie to the stylings of this game and others like it, you'll stumble through - and possibly lose - your first couple of matches, but with the passing of time comes maturity, wisdom, and a trigger finger whose itch has since been satiated. Once you learn the tricks behind some of your equipment that isn't designed to demolish an entire city block, like ninja ropes and parachutes, you'll discover (possibly with a twisted, Grinchy smile spanning from one ear to the other) that no one but you is safe from the wrath of a stick of TNT dropped from the safety of a ninja rope 10 stories up.

Moments like these are the heart and soul of Worms. In any other game, hitting someone with a baseball bat leads to immediate retaliation and a drawing of blood very much not sanctioned by the Red Cross. However, true to the Saturday morning nature of Worms, the use of such blunt wooden implements is somehow made innocuous and submitted for your entertainment. A worm hit by such a weapon soars through the night air at the designated angle and hits the omnipresent ocean with an unmistakable ''ker-ploonk!'' And what else can you do but laugh? You and your friends are in the throes of one of the most original ideas to ever come to life on a monitor. Despite the very real damage some of these gadgets can do in real life, it is mocked and successfully brought down to a deliciously juvenile level here.

Unfortunately, the game's 60 single-player missions lack the unadulterated joy and pleasure of a battle with a buddy, but they do give you a good opportunity to bone up on pure strategy. Given a specific objective and very limited ammunition, the AI will at first lull you into thinking the worms it controls are blithering fools, capable of little more than starching themselves with their drool. The mask of blissful ignorance soon falls away though, revealing merciless killing machines who rarely fail to hit their targets, even with the most scattershot items. Worse yet, you receive no tangible reward for completing all 60 missions, making it seem as if the single-player mode is an afterthought thrown in to give a bit more variety to a game clearly meant to be played by more people than just the one sitting at the keyboard.

No matter which mode of play you engage in, you'll be stunned by the truly animated nature of the sprites, backgrounds, and level styles you go to war on. Worms 2 is nothing short of graphical brilliance, and better yet, your CPU can manhandle without so much as the slightest bit of undesirable slowdown. The many stages are a sight to behold, taking place in all manner of settings - a cheese-laden atmosphere where bizarre plants are in bloom all about; a snowy wonderland filled with boisterous snowmen, fine Douglas firs, and the tallest gift-wrapped presents you've ever laid eyes upon; and the fiery bowels of the inferno itself, replete with visions of one-eyed tongue-lashing demons and an imposing grim reaper. The whole game - not just the stages - features a clean-cut look all around, but all of it pales in comparison to the cartoon shorts featured before you're plunged into the action. Effectively utilizing cel shading back in the mid-90's before animation of the sort was even widely recognized, these are so humorous that you'll forget that they're just there to disguise what would otherwise be some horrendously long loading times. They can be skipped with a tap of the Escape key, but when you watch them, you'll wish they could have drawn themselves out a lot longer than the 30 seconds or a minute that most of them end up actually being.

The game's only truly defined starting point is when you make your own team, and it's a good place to see where all the customization comes into play. Nearly every aspects of your worms and their arsenal can be tweaked in some way. Want to make your bazooka shells impervious to the effects of the wicked wind or double the explosive power and number of your sheep supply? A handy option editor lets you fiddle with all these settings and more, even going so far as to include a toggle meter for explosion bias (in other words, whether a worm will get shot forward or straight up in the air when it eats a holy hand grenade). As for your worms, their names only get as crazy as your imagination will allow within a limit of 16 characters. Even if your naming power fails you, you can choose randomly from a vast array of wacky monikers tucked away in a database. Add to this the fact that you can bestow upon the little wigglers a comical accent and control how smart or dumb they are (if they're a CPU-controlled team), and you have a team that in all likelihood is the only one like it on the planet. Worms 2 is a gift from the gods to anyone who demands complete control over all aspects of gameplay, from the number of times you can fire your shotgun to the force of the wind your opponent has to endure to how long a homing missile will fly before it gives up and crashes into a random piece of land.

Since setting benchmarks used by the series even to this day, Team 17 has added a stealth element to the series that isn't really befitting of a bunch of pudgy segmented slimeballs toting enough weaponry to bulldoze most European countries. If you're a fan of plain old strategy that you can appreciate without it being fine-tuned to an outrageous degree, then Worms 2 is the game for you. Be a newfangled weapon techie and unleash a deadly napalm strike, or give the game a throwback jersey (to the QBASIC masterpiece Gorillas) and nestle a banana with a 5-second fuse right up against his shivering soon-to-be corpse. No matter how you play it, the game is guaranteed to be a riot for all involved. Wear a groove into your favorite computer chair and clock in some time with Worms 2 today, and take note of the shape of the chair when you finally get up.



snowdragon's avatar
Community review by snowdragon (December 09, 2003)

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