Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Who'd've Thunk It? | "I'M A FOOL FOR JESUS WHO'S FO... »

Monday, August 4, 2008

Geometry Wars 2 Review

posted by on August 4 at 14:49 PM

Geometry Wars 2
Bizarre Creations (Xbox Live Arcade)


Lots of arcade-style games in recent years have aped Geometry Wars: Top-down, simplified design, emphasis on audio, shoot everything that moves. But in the case of GW, it’s not so much the gameplay as the rush that keeps it at the top of this arcade-blaster renaissance. Your little 2D ship is trapped in a wireframe, TRON-esque space, chased endlessly by neon shapes—each class of shape having its own movement pattern. Destroying these things turns the screen into a beautiful mess of broken neon lines and dots, and the waves of baddies ramp up perfectly, culminating in your inevitable death—and your slap of the “retry” button.

But the original GW, the surprise hit that launched Microsoft’s nascent Xbox Arcade service, is broken at its very core. Once you learn the game’s chase dynamic, there’s only one way to play—pilot your ship in an oval around the rectangular space, and aim your shots forward and backward intermittently to blast following shapes. This isn’t a chase—it’s a well-lit NASCAR event. Geometry Wars 2 gets a thumbs-up from the get-go by tweaking the game to kill the Jeff Gordon approach. New rocket shapes move in static lines, and these often appear with a solid, parallel wave of their buddies. If you try the oval trick, you’re apt to crash into a bright mass of death. Combine that change with other tweaks—from AI to a reward system that requires retracing your steps—and the series’ gameplay reverts back to a chaotic, reactive state.

And that’s just one of the six modes.

GW tried branching out last Christmas on Wii and DS with “levels,” but that attempt to stretch the game’s length instead watered down the original thrill. Here, the basic experience is hard-modded to great effect. Best one’s probably “King,” in which shots will only fire when your ship’s in a safety bubble. Each bubble pops after two seconds, so you have to keep hopping to the next bubbles, unable to shoot while you’re en route. The feeling is something else; you’re stuck in a bubble, completely surrounded by creatures just waiting to get in. You have to blast your way out as if these things were zombies in a Romero flick, and then you can only hope they don’t tackle and eat you by the time you reach the next safe, abandoned house.

“Pacifist” is a trip, as well, because your guns don’t work. Instead, you have to lure shapes behind you, then trip the level’s bomb lines that blow up everything in your vicinity. The original format—just move and kill as enemies grow crazier—returns in “Evolved” mode with the aforementioned tweaks, while “Deadline” is a three-minute version of this with unlimited lives (the rub being that your score won’t be as high if you lose precious seconds coming back to life). Less fun are the “Waves” mode (those new straight-line shapes bombard you) and “Sequence” (20 pre-determined waves of enemies meant for the hardest of hardcore players), but that’s just because those don’t change the core play so much. Still plenty blasty — and for the same $10 price as the first game, the price-to-fun ratio of these six modes is through the roof.

Sadly, the multiplayer modes don’t transform this game so much. Keeping up with four spaceships on the busy screen at once is too much to ask of anybody with standard rods and cones (and lack of online play is sad, even if this game is too crazy-fast to work online). Still, the core mechanics, control, and (of course) rush of Geometry Wars 2 are enough. The tweaks work, and GW2 is now more about reaction speed and paddling through a bucket of technicolor vomit to make sense of the neon-loaded action. But that’s not even the best part. Nothing trumps this game’s high score tables. Every time you load a new game, your friends’ top scores in each mode taunt you in corner-arcade fashion. Most Xbox Arcade games have scoreboards, but few thrust your friends’ scores into your face so brazenly, and the effect is greater than I expected. I’ve spent the past four days in a back-and-forth battle with an old friend across the country, fighting for score supremacy. The learning curve is perfect for this kind of obsession—you gradually learn the ins and outs with each play, and your score ramps up accordingly, ensuring that you and your friends will progress pretty much in parallel. When I started writing this review, I was on top. By the time I got to the end, my friend had topped my every score. If this review seems to be petering out because I want so badly to return to the Xbox and put my friend in his place, then

RSS icon Comments


I haven't sprung for the full game, so I've just been playing the deadline mode, but I fucking love it. From my experience, the new Jeff Gordon technique is to zoom back and forth across the bottom. It makes easy work of the evil green dudes and the more agressive but somehow less evil purple ones, and you get all the bonus points because the little bonus nuggets are all in your path as you drive back and forth.

Posted by skweetis | August 4, 2008 4:47 PM

I always wanted to pick up the Wii version, but you give it a thumbs down?

Posted by stinkbug | August 4, 2008 4:54 PM

@2: It's fun if you can get it for cheap, and it has the original 360 GW on it. But I like this'un a little more.

Posted by Sam M. | August 4, 2008 4:56 PM

is that sky-high ratio price-to-fun, or fun-to-price? I don't know enough about games to be sure from the context, but it sounds like you meant fun-to-price. Thought I'd check in.

Posted by math idiot | August 5, 2008 6:26 AM

I freakin' LOVE this game! It's been my addiction for the past week. Although my only gripe with it is that there is a sort of haze around the shapes. It looks like my eyes are blurring.

Posted by j in sea | August 5, 2008 10:36 AM

Comments Closed

Comments are closed on this post.