When Bizarre Creations was shuttered a few years ago, a lot of people feared for one of the company’s finest creations, Geometry Wars. A twin-stick shooter released via digital means, the game flew in the face of the overblown and increasingly-complex hundred-hour behemoths that were slowly becoming the backbone of the industry. Featuring all the hallmarks of a game from the golden age of the arcade – simplistic graphics, an infectious soundtrack, a simple goal, and an increasingly frustrating level of difficulty – Geometry Wars was a resounding success.
The main concern people had with Lucid Games taking up the reigns for Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions – despite some of the team working for Bizarre in the past – was that early screenshots suggested that they had meddled with the mix so much that it would no longer provide the experience that the series was famous for. Gone was the flat playfield, replaced with 3D shapes that you flew flies around the outside of. New indicators were present, suggesting power ups and alternate means of play that would just confuse things and muddy the waters. Some features - such as shaped playfields and the addition of Drone ships - were introduced in the Wii and 3DS title Geometry Wars: Galaxies, but they'll be new to Xbox gamers and have been honed further here.
First off, the game controls exactly the same as it did. One stick for steering, the other for shooting in any direction, with the right trigger firing a smart bomb that clears the screen. You still start out making a pittance in terms of score for each hit, building up your multiplier in order to rack up your numbers by collecting green “Geoms” that are left behind by now-deceased enemies. Those enemies are much the same, too, being represented as geometric shapes that have a recognisable pattern of movement – a pattern that you must remember in order to achieve any sort of success. Green enemies are quick and dodge your gunfire nervously. Blue ones follow you slowly, but are easy to kill. Orange rockets zip across the screen from boundary to boundary, ignoring your movement and refusing to dodge bullets. Things are very much as they were, with a few new enemies thrown into the mix for good measure.
Also new, are “Super States.” A digitised voice announces the arrival of a static super state marker on the board that's made up of a number of dots. You have a limited amount of time in which to destroy all of the dots that make up the marker and when you do, you’re awarded a temporary powerup, such as Magnet (which attracts all Geoms on the screen right to you), Quad Fire (which quadruples your firepower), or Split Shot, which fires extra bullets in multiple directions so that you can take out more enemies at a time. One of the keys to the game is knowing how to use these Super States. In a game of Deadline for example, where you have infinite lives but are trying to rack up a high score against the clock, it’s prudent to activate the Magnet state and then fire a smart bomb as soon as there are plenty of enemies on the screen so that they're all destroyed and all of the Geoms they leave behind are automatically collected, increasing your multiplier greatly in an instant.
On top of that, your ship can now be equipped with a “Super” and a “Drone.” Supers are bound to the left trigger, and can be unlocked as you play through the game’s 50-level single player Adventure mode. You only get a very limited amount – usually one, in fact – of uses of your super on each level, but again, using them tactically can be the difference between failure and success. Activating your Black Hole super when being chased down by tons of enemies can be useful and if you’re playing a round of Checkpoint where you need to clear the screen before the timer counts down to zero, the Homing super – which fires a few deadly volleys of homing missiles – can really be a lifesaver. Drones are with you from the start of the level, unobtrusively rallying around and doing what they’re supposed to while you take care of business. The Collect drone will run about and pick up Geoms for you, so you don’t need to worry so much about building your multiplier, for example, whereas the Firing drone adds another gun to proceedings. Drones and Supers can be levelled up using currency that you’re awarded every time you play, so they can become pretty powerful and somewhat essential by the time you get very far in that Adventure mode.
That Adventure mode is also new. Here, you’re set the task of defeating 50 levels, all with different rules and limitations. Three stars are available on each level and are awarded based on your final score. The first star is usually a little tricky to collect, with the second being a might tougher, and the third star being the one that will keep you awake at night. You need to beat the one-star score in order to unlock the next level in the set and every ten levels or so, you’ll hit upon a “Boss” level which requires you to take out one central enemy whilst also taking care of the multiple enemies that they throw your way. These aren’t massively difficult to beat, but you need to have accrued a certain amount of stars before you can even take them on. This means that you’ll need to go back to levels that you’ve previously played, besting your score if you’re to progress. You may find that your now-upgraded Supers and Drones make it a bit easier to play through an earlier level on the second go-round, or that a Drone that you didn’t have access to during the first attempt might have the same effect. The fact remains though, that getting the full complement of three stars on any level is generally a tricky task, no matter what your weapons configuration.
Because of this, Adventure mode pretty much emulates the joyous high score battles that you used to have with your friends. You’ll play the same level over and over and over again in order to nab that third (or second!) star, something which Lucid have made even easier to do with the inclusion of a quick restart facility. If you perish, you can press the X button right away and restart the level within a half of a second. That’s an absolute masterstroke in a game like this, especially given that some levels – due to the fact that no two levels have the same combination of playfield and rules – will require you to learn them if you want to post some top numbers to the scoreboard. This isn't a case of "just one more go" as you'd find in other games that we'd describe as being addictive. Oh, no. It's like the button is wired directly into your brain's pleasure center, and you'll keep on pressing it until your thumbs start to bleed or you complete all the levels.
Of course, even though Adventure does such a great job of keeping you playing, Geometry Wars 3 still provides high-score battles that will drive you to the brink of insanity. Every single player Adventure level has its own online leaderboard and if that isn’t enough, you can step back to the way things used to be in Geometry Wars 2: Retro Evolved by entering the game’s Classic mode. Here, you can play just as you used to in the previous versions of the game, meaning that you can battle it out on a flat playfield in a game of Evolved, Deadline, Waves, Checkpoint, King, or Pacifism against your friends’ high scores, with no Drones, Supers, or other gameplay enhancements. Aside from that, ten local or online co-op levels are on offer in a mini-campaign format leading up to a final boss level. Couch-based co-op is great fun here, as you'll really need to work as a team and if one person is knocked out of the game, the other has to continue and will end up feeling like the absolute king of the world if they defy the odds and beat the required score alone. It's so much fun in fact, that you'll wish that the developer had included more co-op levels. Ten seems a little on the stingy side.
In short, there’s an absolute ton of things to do in Geometry Wars 3 and almost all of them are as close to an adrenaline shot to the heart as you’ll get without having a doctor or EMT stood over you. Yes, we said “almost all.” The reason for that is that one of the reasons that Geometry Wars works so well in the first place is that when you get blown to smithereens, it’s entirely YOUR fault. The game doesn’t care. It doesn’t make things any easier for you. If you couldn’t do it, you simply weren’t good enough on that attempt. Too bad, so sad, don’t let the door smack you on the butt on your way out. At times here though, the playfield design and camera work in some levels is just on the wrong side of fairness. On levels featuring a cube-shaped design for example, you sometimes can’t see what enemies are on the face of the cube that you’re about to transition to when you approach an edge, as the camera isn’t far enough ahead of proceedings. This means there will be times when you could very well be heading blindly into a sea of enemies or worse, into an enemy itself. We’re talking about a very small handful of levels being affected here – less than 10% of what’s available - but it’s enough for us to make mention of it.
You know what, though? That’s the only really notable fault we can find with Geometry Wars 3.
The simple fact of the matter is that the one fault we've mentioned isn't enough to lose the game any points. We mention it as we sort of have to, what with this being a review. In real life, we had forgotten all about it until it came to checking back over our notes. There's so much to do and so many high scores to fight for in the game, that a couple of levels having a flaw that you may not notice isn't something to harp on about. You'll remember the look, the sound, the fun, your pumping heart, the controller becoming an extension of your thoughts, and how tired you are in the morning after you've been up playing all night. Geometry Wars 3 provides an addiction that probably needs some sort of support group.
Not that we'd have any interest in that of course, since we don't have a problem. We can stop whenever we want. We just don't want to.
With Geometry Wars 3, Lucid Games have taken the pure and unsullied Geometry Wars mix and added nothing but good things to it. No corners have been cut here and the game is almost a love-letter to everything that was great about the series in the first place. The Adventure mode is an absolute success, taking an almost arcade-like experience and adding depth and replayability (like the latter was needed!) along with newly-shaped playfields that are interesting and fun. With the addition of customisable weaponry, a new level of tactical nuance has been added, too. It all just works, and we absolutely cannot recommend Geometry Wars 3 highly enough. Outstanding.