Reviewed: August 15, 2008
Released: July 30, 2008
It is probably a silly for me to rehash the history of the Geometry Wars series, but for those gamers who might be new to the world of all things Xbox, I would like to briefly discuss its origins.
During the infancy of Xbox development, Microsoft courted a little-known developer of a car racing title called Metropolis Street Racer, which had recently made a few waves on Sega’s defunct Dreamcast console. Under Microsoft’s umbrella, this developer, Bizarre Creations, spent a bit of time under the hood of their fledgling racing series and emerged with a fully tuned launch title named Project Gotham Racing (PGR). PGR quickly became the flagship racing title on the Xbox console, with its near-perfect blend of arcade and simulation physics, and its focus on style over speed.
When Bizarre Creations returned with a second PGR title – called Project Gotham Racing 2 – the bar was effectively raised by the sequel’s amazing graphics, improved physics, and the inclusion of online play. Now remember, this was before the days of Achievement Points, so developers had to come up with some creative ways to let gamers feel rewarded for their efforts, and at the time the idea of building a “crib” was all the rage. Bizarre Creations realized that gamers liked their “cribs”, and packaged in a garage for gamers to house, and move, their many accumulated vehicles.
They also added a little surprise.
You see, unsuspecting gamers wandering about their garages came upon an old-school arcade cabinet that housed the game Geometry Wars. Looking the bastard child of the two arcade classics Asteroids and Tempest, the original Geometry Wars was a crude vector-based shooter that might not have won any awards for game design, but was definitely a nice gift.
With the release of the Xbox 360, Microsoft asked Bizarre to work up a third Project Gotham title to hit the console launch, PGR3, which included an updated version of Geometry Wars hidden in the garage. The updated version sported better graphics – although nowhere near the HD experience of PGR3 – and improved gameplay, making it the perfect launch release for Microsoft’s fledgling Xbox Live Arcade where the game became an instant hit.
Ironically, it has been reported that Bizarre Creations had originally asked Microsoft to release the game free of charge on Xbox Live Arcade, but Microsoft insisted on charging at least $5 for the game. Although Bizarre Creation’s proposal was definitely a fan service measure, it is assumed that Microsoft’s plan was to set up a over “culture” in which gamers become accustomed to paying for their extras.
With PGR4 – the last game Bizarre Creations made while under Microsoft Games’ umbrella – Geometry Wars took on a new face with Waves, which took the original title’s enemies and placed them in regular attack formations. Waves didn’t quite make the waves that were expected, and the title never made it to Xbox Live Arcade.
When Bizarre Creations was released from Microsoft’s stronghold, they immediately released a Geometry Wars Galaxies on the Wii and DS. Galaxies took the Geometry Wars formula and added new modes and level designs – but the bigger benefit of the releases was that they legitimized the series as a full-fledged franchise of its own.
The Geometry Wars series has returned to the Xbox Live Arcade with the first true sequel to the PGR3 release, with Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2. The game ups the ante of the original title in nearly every aspect; incredibly polished visuals, finely tuned gameplay, and a bevy of new gameplay modes will definitely make fans of the series very happy.
I would like to just start by saying that if you liked the original Geometry Wars title from PGR3 or Xbox Live Arcade, you are going to absolutely love Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2. The game takes all of the great gameplay of the original title, and twists it up with enough new gameplay aspects and game modes to emerge with a title that feels like an entirely new property rather than a rehash.
For those gamers who missed the fun of the original title, Geometry Wars is a top-down area-based shooter that plays a bit like Asteroids of the early days of gaming. Basically, the gamer takes the role of a flying ship (or shape?) that has full 360° t motion control around a two-dimensional gaming field. Enemies come in the form of a handful of different shapes, each with their own modes of attack – orange stars move in straight lines bouncing and reflecting off walls, purple diamonds swarm together and chase the gamer’s ship, green squares avoid being spotted, and fireball snakes serpentine the area trailing being them long tentacles of death.
Where the first title simply threw gamers in the gauntlet for an old-school deathmatch, Retro Evolved 2 adds a number of new game modes to keep the gameplay from growing stale. Some of the modes are not as impressive as others – like the Deadline mode, which basically takes the original game and exchanges unlimited lives for a two minute timer. But other modes like King and Pacifist really make the game stand out.
King mode brings a twist of King of the Hill to our beloved Geometry Wars. In King, gamers can only shoot enemies from within a series of randomly placed safe areas that are activated by the gamer’s ship entering its borders. Once inside, gamers are both allowed to fire on enemies, and are safe from enemy attack. However, each area is only activated for 3 or 4 seconds before it begins to diminish, forcing the gamer to move to activate a new safe area. During the transition from area to area, gamers are not allowed to fire weapons – which becomes a problem when levels become loaded with constantly spawning enemies. There are no level-clearing bombs, and gamers are limited to one ship.
Pacifist takes it up a notch by removing weapons altogether and replacing them with a constantly spawning series of gates, each of which is bookmarked by a pair of bombs. When the gamer passes through a gate, the bombs erupt destroying the surrounding diamond swarms. While this may sound like a relatively easy task, the skill comes in not touching the bombs themselves – as they are instantly deadly for gamers. Considering the game is constantly adding more and more gates to the playfield, each round quickly becomes precariously complex, with hundreds of onscreen enemies, dozens of pulsating gates, and explosions everywhere.
The game also adds PGR4’s Waves as a mode – with its waves of attacking rockets interspersed with dozens of onscreen enemies – and a final Series mode tasking gamers with completing a series of difficult gameplay levels with a limited number of lives and bombs. While Waves might not really blow gamers away with its pattern-based attacks, Series definitely caps off the game with spectacularly controller-busting action.
To add to the excitement, Bizarre Creations has added a new gameplay element called Eons – which are floating gems left behind from destroyed ships. Each one of these Eon crystals equals an added score multiplier – limited only by the number of crystals that can be collected by the gamer.
The fact that Eon collection has affects the overall score adds a level of achievement-like addiction to the task. And while score multipliers of 100 to 200 are fairly common in any given game, as each level increases in shooter difficulty it becomes equally difficult in item collection – and Eon scores of 500 or more become incredibly tricky.
I remember my first experience with the original Geometry Wars, and how the game was one of the most amazing visual experiences I had seen up until that point. The way the developers took simple vector-based graphics of very basic geometrical shapes, and then added in layers of cool environmental effects, really made the game look much different than anything I had seen before.
I can safely say that Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 makes the original title look like the senior project for a Computer Science major.
Retro Evolved 2 looks absolutely phenomenal. Amazing. Stunning. And all with a few geometric shapes, people. How did they do it? Well, with a good deal of creative shading, an awesome stable of special effects, and some of the best colors yet seen.
Whereas the original title really captured vector graphics as we knew them, Retro Evolved 2 takes the flat vectors and makes each and every one look like a glowing neon light bulb. Each has its own shape and depth, with a warm fuzzy glow that looks absolutely amazing. Levels warp and bend with onscreen explosions, and items like gravity wells look spectacular.
Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 adds a nice amount of integrated electronic beats and techno sounds that – like the classic title REZ – work with the onscreen action rendering each level as a custom soundtrack of its own. Explosions and weapons fit well into the mix, resulting in an entrancing aural experience.
Are you kidding me? For the $10 that Geometry Wars Retro Evolved will set you back, there are endless amounts of gameplay packed within. Really, the only thing we could have asked for would be a true online multiplayer mode rather than the shared screen action included.
The game deals out a ton of achievements for very attainable tasks – many of which are based around surviving without shooting. Most achievements can be obtained during the first few minutes of any given level – if the proper attention is given, of course – and the game even throws up markers defining progress towards obtaining certain achievements. Personal favorites include Pacifier’s Wax On and Wax Off achievements, and King’s difficult Treaty achievement.
Who am I kidding? Any fans of the series have already downloaded Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2. So for all the newbies, and for those who though the first title was a bit blah – go download yourself a demo of Retro Evolved 2 from the Xbox Live Arcade. I am sure you will fall in love.