August 3, 2008

Review: Geometry Wars 2

I read several reviews of Geometry Wars 2 before I played it. No matter what they said, they were not going to change my mind- I was going to buy this game regardless. It was surprising, however, to see how much negative feedback the game was receiving. So I bought it, and i played it, and now i can only wonder: are we playing the same Geometry Wars 2? Because my version is awesome! To call Super Stardust HD (the PS3's "answer" to Geometry Wars) superior is a joke. Geometry Wars was the game that redefined the old-school shooter genre, and now it has redefined itself.

Things are going to get colorful.

It's been about three years since Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved helped make a name for the Xbox Live Arcade. Since then, the only Geometry Wars action we've gotten was the excellent spin off Galaxies available for the Wii. Retro Evolved 2 is the true sequel to the original and Retro Evolved. To keep things fresh and interesting this time around, there are six game modes and multi-player for up to four people (offline only). I found that each mode is equally fun and challenging in its own way. The six modes include:
  • Deadline: You have three minutes and unlimited lives to achieve the highest score possible. This mode is great for beginners or to hone your skills if you're rusty. Personally, I find this mode the hardest to break the million point mark in, probably due to the fact that your time is limited and geoms seem to be scares. 
  • King: In King, you are given only one life and a series of safe zones to shoot from. These "shields" are the only place where your gun will work and they also degrade over time, forcing you to dash to another shield. In this mode, you'll often find yourself shooting a path from one safe zone to another, then making a mad dash to the next shield while collecting as many geoms as possible. Conveniently, geoms do not disappear in this mode. King is probably the second best of the six modes.
  • Evolved: Evolved is a standard game of Geometry Wars in which you get four lives and three bombs to get the highest score possible. It's basically exactly the same as the original game but with new enemies that make things more frantic. You still get rewarded an extra life and bomb for scoring a certain amount of points. 
  • Pacifism: My favorite new mode is pacifism. You get one life, no bombs, and no guns. Your only enemies are blue diamonds and the only way to defeat them is by using gates. Gates are a new enemy that, in other modes, deflect your shots but can be destroyed by flying through them. The resulting blast will take out nearby enemies and it is the only way to survive in pacifism. Watch out, though, because the ends of the gates will kill you! This mode will have you coming back for more for a long time. 
  • Waves: The game included in PGR4 makes an appearance here. You have one life to survive infinite waves of dart-like enemies that shoot across the screen vertically and horizontally. This is by far the hardest game mode of the six (well, perhaps with the exception of sequence).  
  • Sequence: Sequence has 20 mini-levels that you must clear in 30 seconds each to pass the level. Enemies always spawn in the same formation on that level, so memorizing enemy formations is your ticket to survival here. If the timer runs out, you move to the next level, but you don't pass the previous one. If you die you move forward as well, and extra lives are awarded depending on your score. I often find myself relying heavily on bombs to get by. Geometry Wars addicts will play this mode over and over just to try and get to the end, and after that they'll try and complete it by passing all the levels. 
The six new modes aren't the only new things in Geometry Wars 2. The music and sound has been upgraded and is better than ever, and the visuals are some of the most impressive I've ever seen. Just one look at this game in motion and you'll agree. I was amazed by the quality of the music and sound effects. It seems like a massive amount of effort went into the sound and visual design this time around. There are several new enemies as well which include the previously mentioned gates, pink "double squares" that move very slowly and just generally get in your way, and circle clusters. The so called "clusters" are the deadliest by far. Once you shoot away the blue cluster of circles, you'll find a red and blue sphere underneath that will immediately home in on your ship at lightning speed. As mentioned above, geoms return from Galaxies and are very prominent in Retro Evolved 2. Geoms are little green diamonds that enemies drop when destroyed. When you pick them up, they multiply your score. As a result, you can now get your multiplyer into the thousands. It may seem like its easier to score higher, which it is to some extent, but it's also harder to survive for longer and most of the new modes only give you one life. Because of this, everything feels balanced. On a final note about changes in Retro Evolved 2, there are no longer any weapon upgrades awarded every 10,000 points. I was disappointed at first, but quickly realized they weren't even necessary any more. The new default gun does an adequate job and is somewhat of a spreadshot like one of the weapon upgrades from the previous installments.

If that weren't enough, Geometry Wars 2 has a cherry on top: multiplayer. I finally got a chance to play it and I have to say, it's not what I was expecting. I was used to the co-op modes from Galaxies so I immediately jumped into that, but I quickly found the versus mode to be far more compelling. In versus multiplayer, in order to balance out the gameplay, there are no bombs. Instead, there are random powerups in the form of stars. Run into a star, and a random powerup will activate. Powerups include: bomb, speed up, slow down, freeze, weapon upgrade, and shield. I was hoping powerups would be included in singleplayer but they are extremely well implemented in the competitive modes. Finally, there is a two player co-pilot mode in which one player shoots and the other steers. This is fun for a while, but quickly becomes boring, though I can't quite put my finger on why.

Sometimes I wish that Geometry Wars was made more complex and in depth. Then I realize that I would quickly miss the classic formula. For what it is, Geometry Wars is suburb. It has successfully mastered the retro shooter genre. Perhaps next time the game will itself evolve into something a bit deeper, but as far as simple, classic fun goes, Geometry Wars can't be beat! The leaderboards, both with your friends and the XBL community, as well as the achievements, which are a lot more creative this time around, paired with multiplayer will keep you coming back time and time again. The bottom line is: you want this game, and you'll pay $10 for it. Hell, I know I would. Wait, I already did. If you'll excuse me I'm going to go work on my achievements now.

Visuals: 10- Possibly the most visually stunning game I have ever seen. Detain has increased 150%.
Gameplay: 10- As sharp as ever.
Controls: 10- Simplicity that can't be beat.
Sound: 10- Amazing detail on sound effects. Soundtrack is amazingly catchy.
Replay Value: 9- Lots of stuff to do. If only there was online multiplayer! Next time, perhaps?
Overall: 9.5/ 10

Geometry Wars masters the art of simplicity.

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