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Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2

The shoot ‘em up genre sits as the cornerstone of video game history. From Galaga to Ikaruga, Space Invaders to RayStorm, single-seater ships scrolling sideways, upwards and all about are as persistent an element in the gaming world as heroes rescuing princesses, knights felling dragons and highly-combustible barrels.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, the sequel to Bizarre Creation’s best-selling Xbox Live Arcade title, doesn’t do much to change the formula. Players control a spacecraft with infinite ammo faced with waves of persistent enemies dead set on delivering that one-hit kill. However, add a distinct visual and audio style, a slew of equally enjoyable game modes and a heaping helping of seizure-inducing particle explosions and you have a game which proves that while shooters haven’t really changed much in the past thirty years, they’ve definitely evolved.

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Despite simply being an arcade download, the first Geometry Wars was noticeable enough to warrant purchasing Microsoft’s system in its early life. Originally an add-on feature to Project Gotham 2, a popular racing title for the original Xbox, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved combined simple yet elegant graphics coupled with near-infinite re-playability. To say that Bizarre Creations had a tough act to follow with Retro Evolved 2 is a bit of an understatement.

Luckily the end result is more than satisfactory. While the core gameplay of the series remains untouched (ignoring gameplay changes made in the Nintendo Wii and DS Geometry Wars: Galaxies), Retro Evolved 2 adds enough bells and whistles to entice older players into upgrading and new players to join the fray.

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is a game littered with small improvements rather than major overhauls, the most obvious being the visuals. Despite being a flat shooter Retro Evolved 2 is a visually busy title, loading the screen with enough neon-centric enemies and effects to warrant a seizure warning at the game’s opening. The basic style hasn’t changed much from the previous shooter, but instead been refined and polished.

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The objects onscreen are brighter, more vivid, and stylistically more defined. While a dozen particle-heavy flashes exploding is a sight to behold in a dimly lit room, the intensity of the action can often muddle the player’s view of their ship, obstacles, or the menacing square-shaped enemy advancing port-side. The end result is a pleasant mess of possible-epilepsy, despite issues with keeping tabs on every element on the field.

The visual style is bolstered by an electronica track list akin to the one-song beat found in the first Geometry Wars. Unless the player has an irrational hatred of any type of techno music, the in-game soundtrack is catchy and full of personality. This point is further pressed as each separate game mode incorporates their own take on the series’ theme, making the distinction between the Deadline game mode and Waves more than just a matter of what plays out onscreen.

On the subject of game modes, Retro Evolved 2 has incorporated six total play types in the package: Deadline and Waves (as mentioned above), King, Evolved, Pacifism, and Sequence. Ranging from a simple game of time attack to an altered version of king of the hill, the modes of Retro Evolved 2 add more than just longevity to an already competent shooter. While the modes themselves aren’t anything terribly inventive they infuse certain elements from other genres (first person shooters, action titles) in Retro Evolved 2’s core, opening the door to gameplay possibilities that most shooters never considered.

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The modes themselves involve the same mechanics of the basic game structure (fly, shoot, avoid destruction), but with small personal tweaks headed by a more prominent change in the play style: geoms.

Geoms are small green specks that litter the level following the massacre of enemies shapes. While a player’s score multiplier was determined by how many enemies were destroyed throughout play in Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, the amount of geoms a ship collects now acts as the modifier. This adds a new spin on how players work the field, forcing a more aggressive hand and element of risk in each game mode as players can no longer just circle the stage racking up points, but instead must navigate swarms of enemies in order to collect the valuable resource.

The modes themselves are enjoyable as a solo player, but the addition of local multiplayer gives the hectic action of staying alive, avoiding enemies, collection geoms, and racking up points a longevity beyond what a single-player romp could ever deliver. Unfortunately, the fun had with friends only punctuates the one glaring problem with Retro Evolved 2: lack of online play.

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First, a few points. One, Retro Evolved 2 is an Xbox Arcade title, a game only found online, purchased and downloaded from an Internet connection via the 360. Two, the game itself is an attractive piece of work, but a far shot from the graphic-heavy titles that populate the online multiplayer world of consoles. Three, the modes presented and idea that high scores are a definite reason to continue playing give the title an element of comparison and one-upmanship with peers and other players.

So why is Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 not an online multiplayer game?

“The lack of Live multiplayer is a major hit to the overall package of Retro Evolved 2, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker.”I can’t imagine a good enough reason to omit such an important element in a game that comes so close to being a 10. In this day and age, where online play can be found in almost any release in some shape or form, the lack of online multiplayer in a game that would have benefited so much from the element is a great disappointment.

The lack of Live multiplayer is a major hit to the overall package of Retro Evolved 2, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker. While its inclusion would have been a massive benefit to an already impressive résumé of modes and gameplay upgrades, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience.

At the end of the day Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 is another exceptional addition in a long line of shooters. While it does put a new spin on certain elements the basic principle of play is the same as its predecessors, proving that massive change doesn’t always trump simple refinement.

9 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in September 2008.

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