My initial reaction to Geometry Wars 2 was something of a frenzied confusion that seven of my Great British pounds had bought me six variations of the same game mode, on the same level, with a few original songs thrown in for good measure. Actually that was my reaction throughout.
As good as the game is, and it is very good indeed, it’s still an arcade adaptation of a free minigame found, rather curiously, within the depths of Project Gotham Racing, Bizarre Creation’s reputable racer. So paying equal amounts for the latest addition to Fallout 3 left a bad taste, similar to indulging in a soap bar based snack.
Not that I can blame anyone but myself, I knew how Geometry Wars played, if you’ve played the first you know exactly what to expect. However Geometry Wars 2 (if Live Arcade is to believed it’s actually called, if you were vocalising the title, Geometry Wars Squared Retro Evolved) has received a sublime sparkle. It looks sharper, sounds better, and is more aesthetically astute than its predecessor.
Stepping back slightly. For the sake of those who never played one of the many earlier forms of Geometry Wars; you control a crescent-moon shaped spaceship in a rectangular area slightly larger than the screen. Movement is controlled with the left stick, the ships cannon the right; the R trigger is used to activate the bomb unlockable through certain game modes. It’s simple and effective. There have been many replications of Geometry Wars yet none match it in subtle elegant control.
Enemies appear in all different shapes (geometry yeah?) and each behaves uniquely. Some are fast and chase you; others drift lazily often ignoring you and others follow specified paths. Later, enemies with special abilities appear such as the Gate, which deflects bullets, or a strange centipede type foe that requires careful manoeuvring to avoid its long colour spewing tail. Alone few can match the speed and agility, not to mention armaments, of your ship. However mix them together and the game quickly turns into a reflex-centric, impossibly fast paced marathon of darting colour. Which is great for those playing in HD.
The final game-altering mechanic is the geom. As you destroy each enemy they’ll leave behind geom’s, which once collected increase your multiplier. Considering Geometry Wars is a game with a leaderboard for a heart the geom quickly becomes essential so merely parking your ship in a right angle and firing in two directions won’t net you a high score. And that’s all there is to play for.
Of the six game modes, two stand out as the most fun. King inhibits you from firing outside of specified zones. There are three of these on the map at any time, which the enemy ships cannot fly into. Once inside you’re free to shoot for a few seconds before the circle closes and you have to move on. As your rivals become faster and more obsessed with your demise, sprinting between gates rather than stopping and allowing them to surround you makes for tense, exciting bursts of fun.
Pacifism is by far the most frustrating, but also most addictive and best mode of the six. Your ship has no turret, instead must manoeuvre carefully between the many gates of the level, sparking a minor explosion. Any enemy caught in the blast is immediately destroyed, but it only takes thirty seconds before the screen is swamped with blue diamonds hell bent on your destruction. Pacifism quickly turns into a high-speed assault course and with so many geom’s scattering the level, scores quickly escalate passed the million mark.
Besides these modes sit Deadline, a mode restricted to three-minute bursts in which you have unlimited lives. It serves as an effective means to cater to a new audience but won’t leave Geometry Wars veterans appeased. Evolved returns, similar to Deadline sans a time limit, plus a lives system. Waves pits you against waves of enemies posed on invisible rails, as more waves grace the screen with their orange glow chances of survival plummet. Finally there’s Sequence which acts as a veteran mode. Seeing you wade through twenty pre-determined levels, it’s a lesson in learning, trying, failing, and repeating; fun perhaps for the pros, not so much anybody else.
It’s the leaderboard integration that catapults Geometry Wars into the realm of drug-like addictiveness. Not content with retiring the leaderboards to an option on the main menu, Bizarre have opted to include a friend-based online leaderboard besides each of the game modes, presumably so you can forever live in the shadows of those better than you, or if you’re actually competent at the game, gaze down from your neon throne at all those subordinate to your skill.
Curiously there’s no online multiplayer, though there is the option to play with up to four-players locally. Technically there’s nothing stopping Geometry Wars 2 making the transition online and considering its popularity it’s an odd omission.
Back to the financial matter, it’s hard to justify the cost when so much of the value comes down to how much enjoyment you’ll personally siphon from the leaderboard-centric stance of the game. For £7 it would have been nice to have some alternative levels, online multiplayer, and perhaps another alteration or two on the core design. Cost aside though Geometry Wars 2 is another great inclusion to the ever-growing wealth of Live Arcade.