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                               Review: Worms
                            By:  Jason Compton 
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Wayyy back, it must have been a year now, Team17 sent me a preview package
with some preliminary press releases and screen shots for upcoming titles.
Of the 3 or 4 in there, only one came to fruition, and it contained screen
shots labeled "Total Wormage", a cute pun on .  It was these little things
shooting at each other, as far as I could tell.

Now, as the Team17 hype puts it, "The Worms have turned."  Worms, perhaps
the best thing to happen to the old artillery game, is out.

The Artillery game dates back a loooong time.  My first run in with it was
on the Apple II, where friends and I would hold Artillery tournaments in
programming class.  (I was a second-rate programmer but a first-rate
Artillery player.) Two castles were set up on a random landscape, and by
setting angle and direction against a random wind, they took potshots at
each other.

Worms turbocharges this concept.  A team of four little pink (well, they're
usually pink) worms fight against 1, 2, or 3 other teams of worms on a
randomly generated landscape, with an impressive battery of weapons
ranging from the default bazooka to Uzis, homing missiles, mines, and even
exploding sheep.  Each worm has a set number of "hit points", and each
weapon does varying damage.  The goal is to either damage the enemy worms
so they all die, or to blast them off the screen or into the water, both of
which mean instant death.  The landscape is fairly large and scrolled about
using the mouse, so that's not always so easy to do, particularly when the
enemy gets "entrenched."

You see, Team17 introduced Artillery to Lemmings, so in addition to the
tons of weapons, you get a big toolkit, including a drill, blowtorch, and
"ninja rope", which can be used to hurl your worm around the screen, either
into a strategically superior position or off the screen, into a pile of
mines, etc., depending on the skill of the operator.  In addition, random
airdrops of new weapons fall from the sky, and are the property of
whichever team gets to them first.  These include extra issues of the
rationed weaponry (Dynamite, Cluster Bombs, Air Strikes) and enhanced
versions of certain weapons (The absolutely nasty Banana Bomb, the rather
silly and aforementioned Exploding Sheep, and the reportedly
unintentionally underpowered but still impressive-sounding Minigun)

As previously mentioned, the playfield is a large scrolling world.  By
default, the game will randomly generate a landscape of one of several
different types (Forest, jungle, alien, mars, Hell, etc.) with a long
numerical code which can be recorded for future use.  Some of the levels
are interesting, some treacherous, some bland, and some so sparse the game
will reject it and create a new one.  In addition to the (reportedly) >4
billion possibilities, Team17 provides the specifications to create an IFF
file to be used as the playfield.  This has spawned a sizable trade in
Worms worlds (the best so far, incidentally, is a city scape complete with
subway tunnel and office building.  Highly recommended.)

One of the really memorable elements of Worms is the Worms' commentary,
complaints, cries of pain, etc.  The high-pitched (because they're small
worms, get it?) Wormspeak can be altered (In case you've heard "Oy,
nutter!" or "I'll get you!" too many times) by replacing Team17's samples
with your own.  Because the game loads all of the samples into chip ram and
keeps them there, however, you have to budget your samples carefully.

Control of the game is handled with keyboard (for moving your worms,
aiming, and firing) and mouse (for scrolling the view and setting targets,
such as for the Homing Missile and devastating Air Strike).  The controls
are basically as straightforward as they can be.

As mentioned, up to 4 teams can play, so theoretically 16 of your friends
can gather 'round the 1084 or 1950 or 1438, etc. for a round or two of
Worms.  However, controlling one Worm could be disappointing as the
turn-based system (Worm from one team goes, worm from the next team goes,
worm from the next team, etc. etc.) means it's quite possible your worm
will be dead by the time you get to your turn.  If you don't have any
friends handy, the computer will be happy to square off against you, and 10
levels of computer opponents are provided, from the stupid (The team of
Lemmings) to the absolutely impossibly deadeye (British royalty).  While I
find that a good round of 4-team Worms against the 3 highest levels of
computer opponent can be a lot of fun, the computer team AI has a few
flaws.  It is possible for one of their Worms to get stuck in place, and
while HRH (the royalty team) has good enough aim to calculate a bazooka
shot that will actually travel over a hill, then be taken by the wind and
head down a tunnel to hit its target, none of the teams are clever enough
to use the Ninja Rope or Teleport.  But I guess you can't have everything,
and if you want that level of strategy you'll need to go out and find it.

Simply put, the game is a ton of fun.  I'm always skeptical of wildly
popular things (I am still an Amiga user, after all), but a few rounds of
the Worms demo and I was sold.  Having the configurability of the game be
so flexible (you can forbid the use of certain weapons or limit their use,
if you find as I do that, for example, Dynamite is too devastating of a
weapon to just give away at the outset) is a major plus, although I did
find that the game didn't take your configuration into as much
consideration as I'd hoped.  If you make the use of an item that is by
default limited available infinitely, it will still show up in airdrops.
(For instance, I think cluster bombs should be available without end.  But
the airdrops will provide me with even more.  Kinda pointless.)

(On the subject of "pointless", Worms features the incredibly evil "Black
type on black paper" document protection.  My cries of agony over the past
year on this subject have still gone unheard by Team17.  It remains a very
overdone and nasty solution to the piracy problem.  Yes, I'd rather they
made it tough to read than banged away at the floppy drive, but not by
much.  Legible type, please.)

But Worms is a real blast to play with friends.  It has a very comic (and
comical) quality that makes the ridiculousness of militant worms that much
more appealing.  The play options are just about limitless, and the
potential for a full-blown Worms tournament at my next party is growing.
Worms will even track league scores for you, total kills, and award "Worm
of the Match" honors.

Yes, Worms really deserves to have sold as many copies as it has.  It is
being ported into basically every conceivable game format (even Gameboy.
I've gotta see that one) now that Team17 has distribution through Ocean. 
Despite its apparent omnipresence in the UK on the Amiga and PC, a random
test of a few game shops in the US confirmed my suspicion that Ocean US
hadn't exactly been hyping the PC version to stores.  However, wherever you
are as an Amiga user, you should seriously consider picking the Worms demo
up for yourself (available from Team17's FTP site on ftp.team17.com or
through Aminet) and seeing if amusing mass destruction is for you.  It's
good stuff.

Even if you're not totally sold on Worms as it stands, or if you're a
player hoping for more, fear not.  Team17 is working on a Worms Plus
upgrade, slated to be UKP10, and featuring AGA color support, more flexible
sample loading (as it stands, you need 2 megs of chip ram to hear the good
samples.  1 meg machines get diminished quality and selection), and a host
of other goodies, including some sort of networking.  (The pressure is on
to support TCP/IP).

Worms ships on three floppies, is hard drive installable, and will run on
basically any Amiga which can switch to PAL.  However, 2 megs of chip RAM
are highly recommended.

Team17
Longlands House
Wakefield Road, Ossett
West Yorkshire, WF5 9JS
++44 1924 271637 voice
++44 1924 267658 fax
dudes@team17.com e-mail
http://www.team17.com/