Review by JD Fedule
Fortunately, it has nothing to do with actual Geometry.
I once demonstrated Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 to a person (you all know someone like this) who has no knowledge, let alone experience, of games, who still is unconvinced that they constitute anything more than toys for overgrown children. After the initial realization that there was actually a game in progress under all the flashing lights and loud noises, his first actual comment was, and I quote; "this looks very playable." I think if the phone hadn't rang immediately afterward he may even have given it a go.
(I didn't think it was worth pushing my luck again)
YOU THERE. Step away from your computer, boot up your Xbox 360 and download this game, now. Play the demo if you must, you're only delaying the inevitable. You should not need anything more than the commendation above to demonstrate why you should BUY THIS GAME NOW. There is a more detailed review here too for those of you who, not unreasonably, are looking for one under "Reviews", but you already know how it's going to end and that I'm going to tell you (not recommend) to buy this game.
Now, have you bought the game yet? Good. Allow me to explain why you won't regret it.
The first Geometry Wars was a minigame that predates the Xbox 360. It was a simple dual-stick shooter (ie, one stick moves, one stick shoots in any direction) featuring you, a nameless, contextless white "ship" against an army of equally nameless, contextless coloured "ships" apparently intent on ramming into you at any cost. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was the same game, given an HD makeover and sold as a standalone package constituting the flagship title for Xbox Live Arcade, an experiment that proved, beyond all doubt, that gamers would pay for low cost, low concept "lite" games in droves. One might say that Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved "saved" Xbox Live Arcade, in much the same way that R.O.B. once "saved" the NES, or that Halo "saved" the first Xbox. Recovering from the shock of their game achieving a place in the limelight, Bizzare Creations set about taking the next evolutionary step and produced Retro Evolved 2.
In Geometry Wars 2, you are the same still nameless, still contextless white ship with the same controls. Your single objective, which never once needed to even be stated, is still to stay alive and blow up as much of the enemy as you can before you die - and you will die, there is no question about that. The few small changes that were made to the core gameplay, and the addition of other gameplay modes, make Geometry Wars 2 one of the simplest but most gratifying gaming experiences to date. And yes, it is very, very, playable.
The main gameplay element is, of course, moving and shooting, the simplicity of which needs no further mention or explanation. It is common to all modes (with the exception of one in which there is no shooting but still plenty of opportunities to destroy enemies). The six game modes are simply changes to the rules and enemy strategies, with the objective remaining common to all modes - blow stuff up, get points. It's a wonderful synergy - against such numbers of relentless enemies, offense is your only defense, by blowing stuff up, you get to live longer, and the longer you live, the more stuff you'll blow up and the better you'll do. Enemies drop collectibles that boost your multiplier (with no limit), further encouraging you to blow stuff up and adding a risk/reward mechanic to the game. Rather than becoming a patience/survival-fest, as was the case with Geometry Wars 1, the highest scores can now be achieved more quickly but not more easily, demanding only skill, not time and patience. Some modes will also provide you, as a fallback, with a limited supply of bombs that will clear the screen of enemies when overwhelmed. Some will provide you with multiple lives and the opportunity to earn more as you score big, while others give you just one. But no matter what the extras are, all you need to know is, shoot enemies, repeat. And don't die.
Said enemies possess very simple AI and won't try to outsmart you at all - they just appear and behave at you until one of them finally rams you. There are a good amount of different types of enemy, all easily identifiable. They either move randomly, home in on you, or move in set paths until shot. In most cases, shooting them is the end of it - though some enemies have reactions to being shot. There's a type that dodges bullets, a type that splits in two, a type that needs to be shot in a weak spot, and a type that explodes taking out nearby enemies along with it. The better part of "skill" in this game is getting a grip on how to deal with these enemies in their various formations and in great numbers. For the most part, enemies spawn randomly (within certain parameters depending on the mode) and will increase their assault dynamically as you progress though the game - if you tear through enemies with a passion, you'll get swarmed, but if you're having trouble at first, the game will go easier on you. It's an effective system, and gives new players room to breathe while they improve, while challenging veterans to work even harder (remembering that more enemies equals much more score).
The modes themselves are varied enough to be interesting and provide different challenges (and separate leaderboards). The most basic mode, Deadline, challenges you to score as high as possible in 3 minutes, with as many lives as you need. King requires you to move between safe zones (you can only fire while inside a zone and are protected from enemies), clear a path to the next zone and dash to it before the zone you're in decays. Evolved gives you three lives and three bombs then sends you on your way, challenging you to stay alive for as long as possible against varying formations of enemies. Pacifism strips you of your weapons and instead has you leading enemies into traps to destroy them. Waves pits you against simple but unforgiving formations of charging enemies. Finally, Sequence provides you with twenty set-pieces to play through in order with limited lives and bombs.
All of these modes can be played in single or multiplayer, and multiplayer can be either cooperative or competitive. As awesome as online multiplayer would be, it was sadly determined to be unfeasible for a game as precise as Geometry Wars, since the slightest lag would utterly ruin any game in progress. Leaderboards suffice for online capabilities, and the singleplayer experience is incredible.
The objective is simple. The controls are precise. The enemies are fair (if unforgiving) and the experience exhilarating. The difficulty is high but failure is not frustrating. The simplicity of the game and its graphics allow for lightning fast loadtimes, with the time between failure and retry defined by how quickly you can press A twice. Each mode is set to a unique, simplistic but effective techno beat, and the graphics are bright and vibrant even in their simplicity. The little details - small animations of the enemies, the exhaust trail left by the player's ship, the characteristic sounds as enemies appear on the board, and the way that the "highscore" displayed during gameplay is the person above you on your Friends List add up to produce an unmissable game. The lack of online multiplayer is entirely forgivable in light of the fact that it is literally impossible to do, and irrelevant in the wake of the phenomenal singleplayer game.
There's a lot one can say about Geometry Wars 2, but only two real points to make - this game is incredible, and buy it now. For a fraction of the cost of a retail game, you can own this gem from which you will get lots more play time.
Seriously, go buy it if you haven't already.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (US, 07/30/08)
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