Sunday, 19 February 2012

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2

Back in 2008 I reviewed Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 for zConnection International, an excellent Scottish-based "geek culture" site run by senior editor Connor Beaton. As Retro Evolved 2 remains one of the great games of this generation - and because I've been feeling too demotivated to get new content onto Moon Witch Cartridge this month - here's the review again, with added footnotes. You can read the review in its original form on zConnection here.

Developer: Bizarre Creations
Format: Xbox 360

Score: 9.4

It would be fair to assume that even Bizarre Creations themselves didn’t think Geometry Wars would become the significant piece of software that it is today, given its humble, unassuming beginnings tucked away inside Project Gotham Racing 2. Both flag-bearer for console-based downloadable games (arguably the defining innovation for this hardware generation)* and a delirious, compulsive throwback to purer-than-pure 80s arcade mechanics, the first standalone Xbox 360 title is still amongst the platform’s greatest games. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is the first true sequel since the 2005 original (the superb Nintendo versions excepted)**.

Whereas lesser developers would be tempted to distort the basic formula with a "bigger! better!" approach, Bizarre Creations have taken the opposite route. Though the previous iterations of the game – Waves and Evolved - are present and correct, it’s the new modes that underline a certain genius. They simultaneously deconstruct the rules of the game whilst retaining the essence of what makes Geometry Wars so addictive, tasking the player with challenges that focus on one of the game’s core aspects***. So during Pacifism enemy ships can only be killed by flying through special gates, while King only allows the player to shoot within special circled zones which start to disappear as soon as they are entered.

On a more subtle level the friends lists are now better integrated****. Each mode has its own real-time leaderboard, and so the sense of competition is now more pronounced than ever; the habit of checking the game daily to see if anyone has beaten your score not only hints at a certain level of obsession, but just underlines the extent to which the game can get under your skin.

Perhaps the innocence of old is in danger of being lost under constant repetition (certainly at time of writing developer Craig Howard has confirmed that the company has ideas for at least ten more Geometry Wars games), but when the results are this well balanced and considered you’d be hard pressed to find many gamers complaining. Retro Evolved 2 is an expanded, more complete experience; expect to see these geometric shapes in your dreams*****.

*Tim Schafer of Double Fine recently mentioned Geometry Wars when discussing how far the perception of XBLA has apparently fallen amongst developers, when compared to the relative ease of working with online platforms such as Steam and iOS: "We were used to thinking of these huge triple-A games and all of a sudden when you got your 360, one of the things that felt really next-gen about it was that you could download Geometry Wars for five dollars, and we hadn't done that before. I hadn't thought of buying that kind of game on a console before and I'm having tons of fun and I think that leads to a new creative outlet and brought us games like Limbo and Castle Crashers and all the great games that we saw on that platform. I want that to succeed. So when you read an article about that, warning about the migration away from the platform, that's a shame and we want that not to be the case."

**An iOS conversion was released in early 2010, Geometry Wars: Touch, which featured an exclusive Titans game mode.

***Playing Pac-Man Championship Edition DX - another best-of-generation game - reminded me of Geometry Wars 2, with this emphasis on deconstruction and of twisting a game's classic arcade gameplay in new directions.

****Similar in intention, if not in depth, to Criterion's much-praised Autolog system, introduced for 2010's Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, the bank of leaderboards on Geometry Wars 2's main menu added a devilish level of persistence and constant competition to the game beyond what had gone before. Nearly four years on I'm still trying to beat certain friends' scores.

*****Although Retro Evolved and its sequel are amongst Xbox LIVE Arcade's biggest-ever sellers, if you still have yet to download Geometry Wars then you really should. Moon Witch Cartridge will not be responsible for any drop in your productivity or sleep that follows.

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