As anybody that has even fleetingly ventured into the dank, sweat-stained underbelly of the Gamingverse can attest, worms are a belligerent bunch. Those wacky funsters seem to love fighting each other with OVERSIZED FIREARMS OF GUN-TASTIC PAINFUL BULLET-PAIN even more than humans (and humans, I’d venture, enjoy this a lot). You’d think, if you were the type to brandish the Stick of Logic and insert it into orifices where it doesn’t belong, that invertebrates aren’t particularly suited to the use of bazookas and other such ballistics. Via a deft little look, ma! I have arms piece of biological-cheatery on the designers’ part, Worms was born; the phenomenally prolific franchise has since grown to monopolise animal-centric combat.
Well, I’ll concede that it almost has. Infogrames’ oddity from 2000, Hogs of War, subverts the concept established in 1995 with a few unheard of elements: three glorious dimensions, and pigs. Many, many pigs, speaking in preposterous, offensive, stereotypical country dialects. These were the days before political correctness got its staunch, iron grip on the world’s gonads, and it’s all the more humorous for it.
In a similar vein to Team 17’s strategy shenanigans, slapstick comedy and cartoon violence with bizarre weaponry is the game’s modus operandi. The plot pertains to a World War Two-era realm of anthropomorphic pigs, whose land is embroiled in a conflict to seize the Isle of Swill. This area is replete with resources, and the nations of PorkyPorcinePeoplePigPlanet (which is not, I hasten to make plain, the actual name of the place. Even slightly. But they didn’t deign to provide one) are vying for control of it.
This is the situation into which you stride heroically, with no pants on, in the single player campaign. At the inagural stage, you must opt for one of the available factions to command. These constitute Tommy’s Trotters (Britain), Sushi Swine (Japanese), Piggystroika (Russia) and other countries besides; suffice it to say that the PC police would be aiming their best GRRRR facial expressions at Hogs of War. Decidedly so as English comedian Rik Mayall has bestowed his resplendent vocal talents upon the game, adding his own farcical touch to the accents of each faction. In a further salutation to Worms, each character will make some manner of ghastly quip before attacking (in the usual, dignified turn-based manner), complemented by other pre-demise remarks as their health is fully depleted. This is paramount to achieving the endearing character that each of Team 17’s warriors were infused with, as the animation itself is rather sparse here.
Nevertheless, it’s plain that the 3d graphical capacities of the year 2000 would look about as aesthetically pleasing as a bulldog’s balls, so we shan’t be pernickety there.
But I digress. To hasten back aboard my rapidly-departing train of thought, lest it vanishes into the distance belching noxious smoke like Stephenson’s Rocket, this is the premise of the single player campaign, which is far more robust than that of Worms. You’ll traverse a map of ‘Saustralasia,’ engaging in missions against each other nation in turn. Each skirmish unfolds on a battlefield akin to those of 2003‘s Worms 3D, with you manoeuvering a squad member, taking an action and watching as a foe does the same. Repeat ad nauseum until your objective is complete or your porcine pugilists lay in a shattered heap of blood-leaking bone fragments on the ground. Except, obviously, not.
So far, so Team 17-esque, you may conclude, with a derisive middle finger at Infogrames’ concept-thievery. You may indeed, but if you did, you’d be the wrongest wrong that ever wronged it up in a distinctly wrong fashion. The ‘promotion’ mechanic lends a remarkable sense of progression and cohesion to proceedings throughout the 25 stages, and combat is infinitely more varied and tactical as a result. Promotion points are awarded for completing levels, with bonuses added atop them for prevailing over any sub-objectives you may have been given in addition. With these, you can advance each pig in your squad along a separate career path, from a choice of four. The saboteur has a proclivity for pyrotechnics, giving him a formidable arsenal of TNT and mines by forsaking any real ability to launch long-distance attacks. Conversely, the gunner possesses all manner of bazookas and other heavy ordinance but is about as terrifying as a one-legged puppy with a limp to close-quarters foes.
The spy has a rather more insidious approach to combat, able to disguise himself as an object in the background (a tree or other such fiendish foliage, for instance) so as not to be attacked until his next turn. Their most dastardly ability? Stealing weapons from opponents with the ‘pickpocket’ attack (whereupon the weapon will directly vanish from their own inventory to bolster your own). Should extra ‘pickpockets’ be purloined from a fellow spy, you have the capacity to empty their arsenal entirely and force them to forego each turn that character has! Finally, the orderly dispenses with much in the way of power, but is the only class able to heal allies. This customisation elements enables (nay, demands) vastly disparate approaches to each stage, and demonstrates that, in Hogs of War, it is the lone player that is best catered to.
The multiplayer shenanigans, lamentably, are significantly less robust. There is a scant selection of stages, and your hogs are hamstrung -huzzah! How’s that for a wit-tacular zinger propelled straight into your admiring faces?- by being set at the lowest level of their respective classes; the combat seems rather ineffectual when compared to the main game. It’s akin to two houseflies having a ‘light your fart’ contest.
Nonetheless, in summation, Hogs of War would be quite a coup for any fan of wacky Worms warfare. It sports more longevity and replayability for the lone player than anything that franchise has deigned to offer thus far, and has more quirky oddness stuffed into its novelty oversized clown’s underpants to boot.