Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Geometry Wars 2 Review

Geometry is Fun Again.....Again

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is the sequel to the smash hit, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, which itself was an expanded version of a mini game found in the game Project Gotham Racing 2 on the original xbox.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, just like its predecessor, is a 2D top down shooter, that is essentially a modernized version of Asteroids, without the warping and with dual stick controls added in. You move the ship with the left analog stick, and fire in the direction you point the right one in. Instead of flying saucers and asteroids, your ship shoots at enemies that take several different geometric shapes, are coloured differently, and behave in different ways. There are simple enemies like the blue diamonds that move towards your position in a non aggressive manner, or the purple pinwheels that spin about randomly, not attacking you but causing your demise if you inadvertently make contact with them. There are green squares that hone in on you, and cowardly move away once you turn to fire in their direction.

There are also more complicated enemies, like intensely aggressive seekers, ones that split up into smaller pieces when hit, long snakes that slither about and present a challenge due to their movement patterns and near invulnerability, or tiny blue particles that fill up the screen almost faster than you can shoot them.

There are also black holes (well, red holes with the properties of black holes) that appear on the grid once you start to earn enough points. These suck in the nearby enemies and even the grid that forms the background (for a cool visual effect) before exploding into a swarm of enemy shapes. These are supposed to present a challenge to the player, but can also actually be used to your advantage, as it's possible to lure enemies nearby, and shoot them as they are being sucked into the gravitational vortex.

Some new enemies have joined in on the fun this time around. There's a slow moving pair of red squares that always move in tandem, as well as an orange arrow shape that moves either horizontally or vertically across the grid in a very rigid straight line. These arrow shaped enemies travel alone and in packs, and in fact, packs of these orange arrows are the basis for one of the new gameplay modes, which will be explained momentarily.

In addition to the red squares and the orange arrows, there are also blue barbell shaped gates that reflect your bullets, and explode when you drive your ship through the center of them, taking out surrounding enemies. They are not entirely benign, however, as touching either end will result in your death. These blue barbells can be used strategically, as any enemies killed by reflected fire are worth more points, and the ensuing explosion upon your ship being driven into one kill surrounding enemies, leading to a drastic increase in the score multiplier.

Speaking of multipliers, the score multiplier is no longer simply increased one by one upon killing the requisite number of enemies for each level. Instead, when you destroy an enemy, it leaves behind tiny green orbs called geoms. Collecting these geoms increases your score multiplier. Another change to the multiplier system is that it doesn't reset if you die, like it did in the first game. Lastly, you'll notice that the multiplier is no longer capped at 9; rather, it can extend into the several hundreds, and increases quite quickly this time around.

Another change to the formula this time around is that there are no longer weapon upgrades to acquire. The guns default efficacy was increased, and the upgrades removed. The biggest change, however, is the addition of several new gameplay modes, which really serve to change up the gameplay and force the player to think differently than they would when playing the standard evolved mode. The goal of deadline mode is to score as many points as possible in three minutes with unlimited lives. Think of deadline mode as a streamlined, timed version of the evolved mode from the first game.

King mode starts you off with one life and no bombs. Circular safety zones appear randomly in the playing field. Enemies and geoms cannot enter these zones, and the player can only fire while inside one. The zone shrinks and disappears a short time after it is entered, causing a new one to appear elsewhere in the playing field and forcing the player to keep moving from zone to zone. Think of it as hot potato, with the player controlled ship as the potato.

One of, if not the, neatest new modes is called Pacifism. In pacifism, you are unable to shoot, and have only one life. The grid fills up with blue squares, and the only way to eliminate them is by flying through the aforementioned barbell shaped gates. You can earn bonus points by flying through gates in rapid succession. More enemies are eliminated if they are located at the ends of the barbell when the player drives through it. Of course, touching either end results in death for the player. The score multiplier, and, consequently, the scores, are super inflated in this mode. If you can survive long enough to get into the tens of millions, suddenly the score just seems to skyrocket every gate you fly through. Not being able to shoot really ratchets up the tension, and changes the dynamic significantly.

A particularly challenging mode called Waves again has the player limited to one life. This time, the goal is to avoid and destroy waves of the orange arrow enemies that fly, in large packs, horizontally and vertically from the edges of the grid. The packs take the form of large, thick lines that run from end of the grid to end. The player must shoot their way through the approaching waves, and, as the numbers and rate of enemy spawns increases, it gets to the point where you must essentially shoot a hole into each oncoming wave just large enough for you to fit through, as time becomes limited with waves constantly approaching. In addition to the waves of orange arrow shapes, additional enemies start to spawn in, really ratcheting up the difficulty.

The final of the new modes is called Sequence mode. This mode is definitely the most elaborate of the new ones, as it consists of twenty separate levels, each with a predetermined pattern of enemies, that need to be completed, well, in sequence. Think of it as a sort of level based survival mode. Each level is timed (thirty seconds) and you are taxed with destroying all of the enemies in each level. If you die, you are taken directly to the next level. While losing a life does not result in an automatic game over, it of course means that you lose out on scoring potential. Die too many times, and your score really suffers. Lose all of your lives, and the game ends. Additional lives and bombs can be earned by surpassing certain score thresholds.

The Retro mode from the previous game was cut, likely due to the fact that it was not terribly popular. The Evolved mode is of course still in, and in fact, it has.....evolved....somewhat. It plays identical to the original, save for two exceptions. You start with 4 lives and 3 bombs, as opposed to 3 lives and 3 bombs, and the new additions to the formula this time around, namely, the new enemies, the barbell gates, and the geoms, are included. Beyond that, you know what to expect if you played Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved.

You navigate through the game space, avoiding and shooting enemies, as you earn an ever increasing score. The difficulty increases as time passes, the screen begins to get more and more cluttered, the urge to blink starts to be ignored, the world focuses to a point....it's just you and the game. Evolved mode may have been outdone in terms of complexity and ingenuity this time around, but it's still the single best iteration of the geometry wars gameplay. It's refined to the basics, and it's that simplicity of design, as well as the pumping music and the flashy visuals, that add up to what is probably still the best way to experience the game.

Speaking of the visuals, Geometry Wars was a sharp looking game, and the sequel improves upon that in every conceivable way. The graphics are often referred to as 'psychedelic' and that seems to be an apt description. The colours pop off the screen, shapes explode into smaller shapes, and the screen literally fills with enemies as the game progresses. The particle effects are absolutely breathtaking, and need to be seen to be believed. The screen is bursting with even more colours, and the enemies are much more distinct, thanks to their brighter colours and sharper designs. With lights flashing, sparks flying, enemies exploding, and the music pumping, as the screen gets filled more and more with each passing second, shrinking your travel route inch by inch, you'll find yourself intoxicated by the intensity of the experience. This is definitely a twitch game, heavily relying on reflexes and quick decision making. And it all looks beautiful.

The sound is also much improved from the original. Every gameplay mode comes with its own music track, and each track serves to set an appropriate tone for each mode. For example, the music track in waves mode is chaotic and frantic, whereas the music backing the pacifist mode is much more relaxed and subdued in nature, which is fitting, given the (relative) calm, due to the lack of both player controlled and enemy fire. The explosions sound great, very punchy, and the enemy spawn noises, while seemingly something that normally would not merit mention, are actually quite memorable, and so distinct that, once you have built up enough familiarity with the game, you need not actually look to know just what types of enemies spawned at any given moment.

And finally, we come to what many will consider to be the biggest addition to the Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved formula: multiplayer. The multiplayer mode amplifies the fun to be had, although with a few caveats. You can multiply your firepower with cooperative mode, even quadrupling it with 4 player simultaneous play, although this doesn't necessarily make the game any easier, because it introduces a new dynamic, and that is trying to keep track of what's going on onscreen with 4 ships navigating the space and firing bullets everywhere.

There's a mode called copilot, and in this mode, as you might expect, based upon the name, two players control one ship. One player steers while another shoots. In addition to the co-op mode is the adversarial mode. You basically do what you do in single player, but compete for those geoms and that high score. Exclusive to this mode are power-ups. These, among other things freeze your opponents, upgrade your weapon, or turn you into a geom magnet, enabling you to earn a much higher multiplier, and, consequently, a much higher score.

The major flaws with the previous game were the lack of variety in terms of gameplay modes, and the absence of multiplayer. Both of these issues were addressed with the sequel. The new gameplay modes are varied, engaging, and fun, and both co-op and adversarial modes were added to the game. However, for whatever reason (perhaps to leave something to entice gamers into buying the inevitable sequel?) as was discussed, the multiplayer modes are not online enabled.

Clearly there was an enhanced focus on competitiveness this time around, as friend leaderboards are displayed automatically in the menus and during gameplay. This results in the player constantly being cognizant of how they stack up to their friends, and keeps the pressure to best them on you at all times. Of course, you always have the option to not succumb to such pressures, but watching your friends scores' inch up higher and higher.......it's difficult to not focus on this, and that works to the benefit of the game and the gamers, as it keeps everybody engaged and focused. This makes the absence of online play even more confusing, as this game was clearly built with more of a competitive focus in mind, as opposed to the previous games' solitary structure and focus.

Gorgeous to look at, beautiful to hear, and intense, challenging, and thrilling to play, this game is excellent. With some online play, this could have been nearly perfect. As it is, it nearly approaches perfection anyways.

Overall Score: 9.5/10

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