Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 Review
When the Xbox 360 launched back in November of 2005, the lineup of launch games wasn't exactly stellar. Sure, retail titles like Call of Duty 2 and Condemned saw both critical acclaim and good sales results eventually, but that first day we turned on our 360s, there just wasn't a whole lot to be excited about at the time. But for me, one of the best games in those first few days of playing my first HD console was Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, a $5 Xbox Live Arcade title from Project Gotham Racing developers Bizarre Creations. And now, almost three years later, the first real sequel is out. The wait's been worth it.
Evolved 2 adds five new gameplay modes (on top of the original "Evolved" mode) and local multiplayer action to this incredibly addictive and simplistic shooter, along with sharper graphics, new enemies to deal with, and new music for each of the gameplay modes. The basic formula is still the same: you've got a tiny ship and use the left analog stick to move in any direction while firing any other direction with the right analog stick.
But the big new change is the multiplier system. Instead of gaining score multipliers slowly as you kill enemies and losing it every time you die, you now must pick up tiny pieces left behind from the stuff you kill - these bits are called Geoms - and every one you pick up increases your multiplier by one. By the time you get to the end of some games, you'll have a multiplier in the hundreds, maybe even thousands. And it's not quite as high-stakes as in the first game, since dying won't reset it.
This has a profound effect on the gameplay. Now, you've got to follow up your kills by rolling at least near to where the enemy died to pick up the Geoms, so you can't just run away from everything forever. There's also the fact that your gun is no longer upgradeable - nope, now you get the weak two-shot action and that is it. After going back and playing the original after playing this sequel, I have to say that Bizarre did the right thing in getting rid of the weapon upgrades entirely. Moving the depth to the new gameplay modes and in strategizing how you'll pick up a ton of leftover Geoms amongst a horde of enemies all converging on you is just the right way to go.
From the seemingly forgiving Deadline mode (three minutes, unlimited lives, but every death slows down your killing, making that high score harder to attain) to the uniquely tough Pacifism (pass through gates to cause an explosion and kill nearby enemies; you have no guns), the game makes sure you're building different skills that you'll need in pretty much be able to use in all of the modes anyway. The developers have also added some interesting and fun achievements, some of which are fairly well hidden, to each mode that will challenge you in ways that have nothing to do with your score.
Evolved 2 also now has multiplayer action. It's local only, so unfortunately you'll have to wait for maybe another sequel if you wanted to play some online Geometry Wars. Of course, the split-second action of this game probably didn't translate well to an online mode, and at the very least when you do get friends together to play this one, it is a hell of a lot of fun. It's stupid to yell out loud and whimper every time you get into a really nasty situation when playing alone, but I found that sessions together with my buddies always supplied a full range of screams, laughs, and stomping around complaining at the top of your lungs about how there's no way you touched the side of that gate when you went through it.
All modes can be played in a competitive way where your scores are kept separate and the highest is the winner, cooperative where you're all working together on one score, or in the maddeningly tough Copilot mode where one person moves the ship and the other person shoots. That sounds like it'd be fun and original, but let me say that it's the hardest way to play. Trying to communicate with a buddy verbally was completely unproductive due to the reactions required, so it came down to the shooter having to predict what the person moving the ship was going to do. It's fun and original, but only the most telepathic players will do well.
Some other slight changes turn into brilliant moves that will push you to keep playing. For one, if you're not at the top of your friends list on whatever mode you're playing, then the next score to beat on your friends list will be there at the top right of the screen, waiting and taunting you. Sure, you can turn it off, but why? It is a great way to stimulate a rivalry between the people on your friends list.
The graphics and sounds have certainly been upgraded this time around. The grid you fight on is more subtle but also more flashy once the action heats up, and the style has been tweaked just enough to make the original feel, well, old and clunky. That being said, the graphics are still very simplistic to start and very hectic when the bullets start to fly and you've got thirty things chasing you around - just like the original. But they're just better this time. There are also six new tracks, all in a similar style to the original game's single anthem, and I have to say I really am impressed with the music overall.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 comes in with a price of 800 MS points (or $10), and Bizarre Creations deserves your ten bucks. They've added a ton of new stuff to this sequel and really captured what made the original fun and re-expanded on it. With sharp new visuals and great sounds, it winds up being the best-looking game of its kind on your 360, and will offer many hours of great action if you get into it. I recommend this one for any gamer who loves some simple but addictive arcade action.