Itâ€™s a little weird to think that one of the killer apps for the Xbox 360 at its launch was a little downloadable title that cost about $7. Yet Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was indeed the talk of the town.
It was a simple, pure affair that demanded one more go, the desire to do better fuelled by online high score tables. Individual games lasted no more than 10 minutes or so, yet sessions could go on for hours. It was proof that the high score approach was still viable today.
However, after a while the truth of the experience became apparent. Geometry Wars was, while addictive, a rather shallow game. Top strategies merely focused on travelling in large circles while destroying everything in sight. High scores came from tenacity and the sheer ability to merely see through the colourful madness.
Now, nearly two years later, its original creator, Bizarre Creations, has overhauled the series and given players a true sequel. The result is simply divine.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is the refinement that was so desperately needed. Attention has been placed on encouraging different styles of play and requiring players to develop deeper strategies than simply chasing their tails.
The first change is the most salient. Rather than offering one mode, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 now offers six. Each mode takes a different approach that will require players to adjust their style to fit.
Deadline gives players three minutes to gain the best score possible. Lives are unlimited, but dying will waste precious seconds that could be spent scoring points. King only allows players to shoot when in certain areas that cannot be penetrated by enemies, with the catch being that weapons are disabled between zones. The zones are also temporary, meaning that eventually a player is going to have to rely on their ability to navigate the chaos on wit alone.
Likewise, Pacifism has now been upgraded from an achievement to a full mode. Weapons are disabled, with the only way to destroy enemies coming from luring them near gates and then passing through at the right moment to cause an explosion. Itâ€™s the perfect balance between risk and reward.
Waves, as featured in Project Gotham Racing 4, features lines of enemies that traverse the screen, with the density increasing with time. Sequence provides a variety of challenges that must be completed within a set amount of time. Death progresses a player to the next level, but lives are limited. Finishing this mode is an achievement in itself.
Evolved also makes its glorious return, and its presence highlights the other more subtle change to the Geometry Wars formula. Little has changed to the core idea â€“ use limited lives wisely to gain the highest score possible â€“ but the way scores are obtained has been changed. No longer are multipliers awarded for killing enemies, and no longer are they reset on death.
Instead, like in all modes, little green fragments known as geoms splinter from deceased enemies. Collecting these geoms increases the multiplier, meaning that high multipliers are easily obtained quickly. While this makes Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 more accessible â€“ getting over a million points is no longer insanely difficult â€“ this also eliminates the circle strategy: using it will bypass geoms, and they disappear rather quickly.
The game also offers competitive and cooperative play for up to four players. The game even allows for cooperation where one player is the pilot and one player is the gunner. This definitely requires communication between players and really demands cooperation, which is refreshing. Unfortunately, there is no online multiplayer.
Bizarre Creations has also overhauled the presentation of Geometry Wars. Itâ€™s lighter, brighter, and more chaotic. (It's also a wonder how it ever passed epilepsy testing!) The pumping music is varied, and the remixed Evolved theme brings a nostalgic smile while also demonstrating that this is indeed a true, revamped sequel. Even the achievements go beyond simply demanding high scores, with some of them being rather creative and challenging.
The end result is that Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 has been fleshed out in ways that improve and refine the experience, yet keep it true to the original. For only 800 MS Points (approximately $14), itâ€™s easily the best value on Xbox Live Arcade. Indeed, it makes the original look like a rather dated demo in comparison.
With its subtle but significant changes to the gameplay, and with the leaderboards providing excellent motivation for just one more go, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 will last players until their skills plateau. Even those that are loath to get into the fuzzy area of downloadable content and digital rights management owe it to themselves to purchase this game. Itâ€™s simply that good.