Everyoneâ€™s favorite kooky worms are back in the third installment since the seriesâ€™ move to 3D two years ago, and the twelfth iteration of the series overall. Released in European territories a few months back, North Americans will finally be able to get their hands on the cartoony, turn-based platformer. Although little has changed aside from a few tweaks and the addition of multiplayer over Live, the platforming can be extremely dodgy and the A.I. is seriously inconsistent. Yet despite these shortfalls thereâ€™s still fun to be had by gamers of all ages.
To the uninitiated, the Worms series has always revolved around a vocal bunch of worms disposing of each other in comical fashion, with weapons ranging from baseball bats to exploding bovines and everything in between. The games play out in turn-based fashion, meaning players and opponents are given a certain amount of time to make a move before the next player is allowed to go. The whole experience plays out in a cute, cartoony and almost cel-shaded style. Some may debate the actual lack of â€˜mayhemâ€™ in Worms 4, but there is still plenty of shooting and explosions thanks to the over-the-top weaponry present in the game.
Much like the previous titles, the meat of the game is the single-player portion. Here players can find a brief tutorial on how to play the game in addition to a story and a challenge mode. Challenge mode has you competing in a variety of mini-games such as sniping or exploding targets, which unfortunately become tedious and repetitive. The real fun to be had is in story mode. The plot revolves around a nutty professor constructing a time machine which happens to break down, forcing you to battle through 25 stages in search of spare parts so you can get back home. Yes, it may be a handy setup for all the action and explosions to comeâ€”but thatâ€™s the whole point.
The missions have a nice pacing and variety to them, which helps keep gameplay from sinking into a stale, kill-everything-that-moves rut. Certain missions have you protecting the professor or destroying objects while others may task you with some platforming, which is where the problems arise. Most of the platforming levels have you collecting items and laying down girders, using parachutes and jumping a lot, which can be quite a chore. The controls do not feel very precise, a flaw that is felt immediately when needing to jump from tiny platforms in the sky; if you fall from a high enough ledge, youâ€™ll take a heavy hit on your health and lose your turn. If youâ€™re unlucky enough to take a nose dive into a pond of water, youâ€™re a goner. These levels provide a lot more frustration than challenge.
The main issue behind the gripe with the platforming comes down to the controls themselves. As mentioned above, they donâ€™t feel very precise, a flaw that is amplified by the lack of any possibility of adjusting the sensitivity via the options menu. Using a joystick to try and precisely aim where you want to shoot is a daunting task and will have players spending a larger part of their turn just trying to fine-tune a shot; which becomes all the more annoying with the Worms seriesâ€™ trial and error style of combat.
Your travels will take you through a plethora of unique locales including five ones new to the series: Jurassic, Construction, Arabian, Old West and Camelot. All the environments are fully destructible, providing for interesting approaches in tackling your foes. Alongside the new environments are new weapons such as poison darts and an extremely underpowered sniper rifle; but neither is notable as players have grown accustomed to the older firearms from previous installations.
The A.I. in Mayhem is rather laughable and extremely inconsistent. On a given turn, an enemy will lob a precisely aimed grenade at you, causing a reasonable amount of damage, while the next one has him fumbling around and blowing himself up. In Easy and Normal modes the opponents appear severely handicapped as opposed to those in Hard difficulty, who rarely miss a shot. To add to this, the computer-controlled enemies seem to favor the same couple of weapons, which leads to an uneven and cheap-feeling experience overall.
Of course, no Worms game is complete without multiplayer, and Mayhem is no exception to the rule. Worms 4 allows up to four players to compete against each other, both off and online through Xbox Live. There are four game modes to choose from: Deathmatch, Homelands (where players fight to destroy each otherâ€™s land instead of their worms), Statue Defender (same concept as Homelands, but with a statue) and Survivor, where both teams use one worm at a time until one side runs out. The multiplayer aspect has the potential for lots of fun, but unless youâ€™re playing with friends, youâ€™ll be hard pressed to find many people to compete against over Xbox Live.
In the graphical department, little has changed since the move to 3D with Worms 3D. The visuals arenâ€™t remarkable, but everything has a distinct cartoony feel, resembling cel-shading to a lesser degree. The environments are well-varied and the destructible elements provide for some impressive explosions, but they cannot help but feel dated. The worm models are ok looking, with a wide array of facial expressions and a decent amount of customizability available. Thankfully, the gameâ€™s cinematics are a little easier on the eyes.
The aural aspect of Mayhem is even more of a letdown, specifically the voice work. When the worms shout their comments, it almost sounds as if birds are chirping. The weapon sound effects are even worse, sounding very weak and underpowered. Thankfully, the explosions look great and sound just as good, but overall the audio is easily forgettable.
Worms 4: Mayhem isnâ€™t a bad game per se. It does suffer from annoying flaws, but even then it still manages to shine and provide a fair amount of fun, especially with friends. In the audio-visual department, the game shows how little it has matured since Worms 3D yet is still bearable, and the cartoony feel draws comparisons to Saturday morning cartoons. The single-playerâ€™s story-mode is entertaining and well-paced, but suffers from lackluster A.I. and a challenging control scheme, showing how far the series has yet to come in the transition to 3D. Fans of the series will surely be pleased and should know what to expect, but newcomers have been warned.