Arcade games are by definition designed to be compulsive. Back in the day when ‘Primitive Gamer’ had to huddle round the dimly lit cabinet of Donkey Kong or Galaga, the goal was not just to challenge the player to achieve dizzying high-scores but to have them feeding the machine pounds and pounds worth of 20p’s whenever they failed to hit that impossible high score.
Some would say ‘Modern Gamer’ has for the better part moved on from such simple pleasures to the finer arts of killing taxi drivers, or perhaps co-ordinating guild raids in virtual fantasy worlds. Yet the primal compulsion to feed in another 20p and to just hit repeat is strong, and Geometry Wars Retro Evolved milks this drive with disturbing efficiency. When one-more-go turns into the forty-third-more-go, you know that some amazing force is at work.
The basic game from the previous editions was based on a simple development of the classic Asteroids. Small ship on big screen, looking top-down, fly around, shoot stuff that gets in your way, accumulate high score. One thumbstick controls your flight path, the other controls your firing direction, with enemies of various shapes, colours and multiple behaviours to circumnavigate and/or destroy. The long your played the more hectic it got, and the strategy of shooting directly along your flight path became the core style of gameplay. With Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2, developers Bizarre Games have turned this tactic completely on its head, by encouraging players to turn on their heels to collect ‘multiplier geoms’ that every destroyed enemy leaves in its wake. Those familiar with Geo Wars 1 will have to seriously re-evaluate their well honed approached if they want any chance of competing on the global Xbox Live high score charts.
Further still, the developers have looked at the various flight patterns and gameplay dynamics to craft five new game modes which each add a fascinating spin to the redesigned core gameplay. ‘Deadline’ addresses the drawn out nature of the basic ‘Evolved’ game by condensing the action into a punchy 3 minutes. Where the ‘one-more-go’ compulsion of the original was tempered by the slow tempo in the first few minutes of the game, ‘Deadline’ cuts straight to the chase, and once you’re caught in the high tempo of the game stopping becomes a major achievement in and of itself.
The other modes are generally less hectic, and revolve around navigate safe but quickly disappearing hot spots in ‘King’, solely destroying enemies with the use of explosive ‘gates’ in ‘Pacifism’, having to tackle the densely lined waves of enemies in ‘Waves’, and the final challenge of clearing 20 unique set pieces in the devilishly testing ‘Sequence’. New to this version is also a 2 to 4 player mode, which while not being online enabled is still excellent fun for when you want to get arcade savvy friends around the same screen.
Each mode is wonderfully challenging, forcing the player to explore a whole range of approaches to essentially the same game. Bettering on the vaguely indirect access to scoreboards in the last iteration, GWRE2 has up to the minute scoreboards popping up immediately after you die, goading you to just try again. Go on. One-more-time. You can easily sit and blast away 20 minutes chasing a high score in one mode, only to turn and spend another 20 minutes on a refreshingly differently game mode, and never tire in the process. That is surely the key to a perfect arcade game: simplicity that never gets boring.
Geometry Wars Retro Evolved 2 might not convert the non-arcadian, but it’s as convincing an argument as ever you’ll find.
Score – Five out of Five