There must have been a point ten years ago when worms around the world decided that they had had enough of being the playthings of choice for sadistic toddlers. No longer content with their lives (being split in half doesn't help relationships), they looked for a purpose to go on; a reason to keep living. That reason, rather surprisingly, came in the form of high-powered, high-explosive weapons. How they learnt these commando skills is somewhat of a mystery, but they've been terrorising each other and the odd sheep ever since.
After jumping from publisher to publisher and appearing on almost every gaming platform available in the last ten years, Worms 4: Mayhem (The third 3D version) lands on PlayStation 2, Xbox and PC thanks to Codemasters and Team 17. When the series went 3D many fans felt the game had lost the simplicity that gave it its charm. Worms 4 (how they decided this was the fourth game isn't clear) looks to set right what went wrong in the previous 3D incarnations.
Basic gameplay hasn't changed much since the last 3D Worms game, but a few changes have been made to make the experience more fun. The levels in which the worms fight are a little simpler than before, making journeys across these maps a little easier. This doesn't make them dull though; themes for the levels include construction sites, the Wild West and Camelot. The little guys can now move over small bumps without the need to jump over them, and while worm speed has been increased, their movement is still rather slow and if you aren't used to the rather sedate turn-based gameplay, it will take some time to get used to.
Three camera views (Blimp, first-person and third-person) give you plenty of options to view the action and all your attacks are followed so you see exactly what damage your chosen weapon caused. Firing weapons is very simple, and once you learn how to use the sack-load on offer, it's fair to say that the controls rarely get in the way of your enjoyment. The one problem is jumping. Worms weren't made to jump and it shows. When in wide-open areas this isn't a problem, but when you're attempting to jump up a staircase of boxes, things become a little tricky. You'll often rebound off the box you are trying to jump on top of, and then fall ungraciously to the ground - ruining that turn and sending your worm a few moves away from your previous location.
Game modes on offer for the lone player include a fairly lengthy single-player campaign which even attempts to tell a story via cutscenes. If you haven't got anyone to play with, this mode will provide you with plenty of enjoyment, and the objectives in each of the levels are varied enough to prevent things from becoming repetitive. Having said that, if you can get online or have a few mates to play with locally, you'll spend most of your time playing competitive games. Worms has always excelled when played against real people and Worms 4 is no different. Online play for four players is supported on the Xbox and PC versions of the game and its turn-based gameplay works great in the online environment. There are a number of game types that differ from standard deathmatch, including games that require you to take out your opponent's statues or take over their base, and basic rules can be altered to create new game types.
Worms has always been about the weapons and Worms 4 is no different. While old favourites like the Bazooka and the exploding sheep return, a few new weapons have been added to the mix. As you'd expect, these aren't really weapons that the military are going to use. Of particular note is the Inflatable Scouser (Someone from Liverpool, for our none UK readers). This big haired, moustached, football loving guy wanders around the map until he finds and enemy worm. He then grabs the worm and starts to inflate, eventually soaring into the sky like a helium filled balloon. After a while (or if he hits something) he will pop, sending the poor worm plummeting to the ground. It doesn't end there either. Alien Abductions and exploding cow bombs are among the other new weapons at your disposal. Only the Ratchet and Clank series can boast a weapon selection anywhere near as diverse.
The big addition to Worms 4, however, is the weapon factory. Here you can create your very own weapons of worm destruction. In truth, the scope you have isn't that great, but you can select the weapon type, choose what it looks like from a number of ready made models, customise its strength in a few areas, give it a name and a tinker with a number of other settings. There are plenty of models to choose from, and anybody who wants to create funny sounding weapons will be pleased, just don't expect the kind of customisation you'd find in a game like Forza Motorsport.
Visually, the game has a cartoon-like feel to it, with bold colours and explosion effects straight out of a children's TV show. Detail in the environments is minimal, with most buildings being rather blocky, but any non essential parts of the environment are destructible. The worms themselves are adequately wormy and each of the game's worm groups has a distinct and occasionally funny appearance. These range from moustache wearing '70's worms, to hardcore army corporals. You can even personalise your worms, giving your teams their own individual look and style. The many weapons in the game are also modelled well, not surprising given that they are the real stars of the show.
Audio is pretty basic and can become rather irritating. The worms talk in the most annoying language that is made entirely of "mee" and "meh" noises. Cutscenes that progress the single-player campaign can be particularly annoying, with sentences such as "mee meh, meeee, me me meh, mee mee mee" making you reach for the mute button on the remote control. Thankfully, for those of you that don't speak worm, there are subtitles, so you don't miss out on any vital parts to the story. Oddly, while playing the game, the worms shout out a number of sentences in plain English, making you wonder why they can only make noises during the cutscenes.
Worms 4 is a solid return to form for the series that offers plenty to do for the lone gamer as well as anyone looking for multiplayer fun. The new weapons and weapon building are nice touches, but there are still a few niggles that prevent Worms 4: Mayhem from reaching the dizzy heights of the 2D era. It's a step in the right direction and a good sign for things to come in the series and worms fans should find plenty to enjoy.