In a lot of ways Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was the perfect game to launch the Xbox Live Arcade download service. It was an addictive little game with simple (yet effective) graphics, tons of replay and online leader boards ... all for a mere five dollars. It demonstrated just about every key feature Microsoft wanted to introduce at the launch of the system. Unfortunately the Xbox Live Arcade landscape has changed in the last three years. These days we have dozens of dual-stick shooters to choose from and a whole mess of other genres at our fingertips. Thankfully Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is still an amazing action game worth checking out ... even if it doesn't feel as fresh and original as the 2005 release.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 picks up right where the last game left off. In fact, in some ways it's hard to tell the difference between the two. You still play the game using the two analog sticks and the trigger buttons. In case you haven't had a chance to experience Geometry Wars first hand, it's basically a game where you control a small spaceship with your left analog stick and shoot in any direction using the other. In other words, it plays exactly like Robotron 2084, Smash TV, Total Carnage and about a dozen other recently released Xbox Live Arcade titles. The gimmick here is that you only have a small area to navigate in and there are hundreds (if not thousands) of though characters rushing you at all times.
Retro Evolved 2 offers a lot of the same spastic gameplay you enjoyed in the first game, only this time around there are six different game modes, multiplayer support (albeit offline only) and an improved leader board set-up. It's still not perfect and I wish Bizarre Creations would have taken this game to the next level, but it's definitely fun and you could certainly do worse than Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2.
When you first turn on Retro Evolved 2 you are only given one single-player choice, a mode called "Deadline." This mode gives you a three minute countdown and unlimited lives. The object of this game is to shoot the enemies, pick up the items they leave behind and earn a high score. While all that sounds suspiciously like the last Geometry Wars game, it's the addition of those items you pick up that actually make this game feel different. Each character you shoot down will drop these multiplier pellets, which continue to add up regardless of whether you live or die. Although each character is only worth 20 or 30 points, if you pick up enough of these multiplier pellets you'll discover that the characters are worth thousands of points each. By the end of the three minutes you'll be earning 10,000 or more points per character, which goes a long way to increasing your overall score.
What's interesting about this game is that you actually have to unlock the other five gameplay modes by scoring big points in the Deadline mode. Thankfully this isn't as difficult as it sounds, because the game tracks how many points you get and adds it all together. Even the worst Geometry Wars player will no doubt have access to the next mode after only five or six tries at Deadline.
The next new mode is perhaps my favorite, a little game Bizarre is calling "King." This mode is something of a variation on the standard 'King of the Hill' game type we see on standard first-person shooters, only this is a single-player mode and the rules are completely different. The gimmick here is that you can only shoot when you're in one of the small circles barriers that populate the Geometry Wars grid. That means that you'll have to zip around the level dodging enemies until you can get to one of those barriers. The nice thing about these sections is that they are completely safe. Not only can you fire from them, but you can also sit in there safely because no enemies can break through that round barrier. Unfortunately the barrier only lasts for a few seconds, so you'll be forced to constantly rush from one to another. This is a stressful exercise that ends up being one of the best variations on the Geometry Wars themes, not to mention the mode I play the most.
After you've played that a few times you will be given access to the standard "Evolved" mode, which is exactly like what it sounds like. The Evolved mode is basically the classic game type from the original Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved game. In other words, it gives you three lives, three bombs and as much time as you need (or can survive) all in the hopes that you will earn a new high score. Fans of the original will feel right at home with this mode, plus they will enjoy the brand new enemies and the addition of those multiplier pellets.Moving past the Evolved mode we get something called "Pacifism," which seems to reference one of the most memorable achievements from the first game. In this mode your weapon has been completely taken away from you, which means that you are going to have to weave in and out of the hordes of enemies. Thankfully you are able to defeat the enemies, but only with the aid of a new "gate" character. These characters are nothing more than a solid line with two triangles capping each side, the object is for you to fly through them to make them explode (and take out all of the nearby enemies). While this mode is definitely a challenge, I didn't find it nearly as engaging as a few of the other game types.
Up next we have "Waves" ... which you may have already experienced in Bizarre's recent Project Gotham Racing 4. This game type is all about throwing wave after wave of enemy patterns at you, all while limiting your lives to one (and no bombs). This is an incredibly difficult mode that is for the most experienced Geometry Warrior. I wasn't a huge fan of this mode when I played it in PGR4 and I haven't changed my mind much with this Xbox Live Arcade version.
Last but not least we have a rather odd mode called "Sequence." This mode consists of twenty different stages full of a finite amount of enemies. The object of this mode is to beat each of the stages in less than 30 seconds. Sound simple? Well, it's not, because as the levels progress you'll be forced to go up against faster, harder and trickier enemies. There's a reason that this is the final mode, because it's definitely the most hardcore part of this game.
A dedicated Geometry Wars fan should be able to unlock all of these game modes in under an hour, which ultimately gives you a pretty good selection of different ways to play the game. I'm not a huge fan of every one of the modes, but there's definitely enough here to warrant the ten dollar asking price. What's more, it's extremely easy to get hooked on any one of the modes just to beat your friend's scores. This competitive aspect is made worse by the fact that your buddy's high score is always located at the top of your screen, which certainly pushes you to bettering your score so that everybody else will have to compete.
On top of the cool single-player content, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 also offers a variety of multiplayer modes. The good news is that all six modes are available to be played with two, three and even four players. What's more, you can all work together, team up or go all for one. This is definitely a game that was screaming out for multiplayer support, and Bizarre did not disappoint. Unfortunately you can't play any of these modes online, which is a real bummer. I'm not sure if it was over technical concerns or what, but Retro Evolved 2 would have been even better if you could play with your friends over Xbox Live.
For the most part the graphics and sounds have not changed much from the original. There are a few new enemies and some of the effects have been improved, but for the most part this game looks exactly the same as the original did three years ago. I suppose the improvements they wanted to make was in gameplay and not graphics, and I can certainly understand since I'm not sure I want fancy backgrounds or characters consisting of thousands of polygons. Fans of the original game will definitely feel right at home, even if this is no longer the game that you use to show off the power of the Xbox 360.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is certainly a worthy successor to the 2005 original, even if it doesn't really move the technology forward. The new game modes are certainly welcome and I love the multiplayer content. It could have used online play and maybe a dash more originality, but there's no denying how much fun this series is. If you were a fan of the original and are not completely burned out on the overwhelming amount of dual-stick shooters, then you'll definitely want to pick up Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2!