When it comes to twin-stick shooters, Geometry Wars changed the game when it reared its head back in 2003. Plenty of pretenders to the throne have come and gone and the release of Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (and the subsequent free content-doubling DLC pack) has raised the bar once again. Out twin-sticking the wireframe champion is tougher than ever.
Vector Pop's We Are Doomed is the latest to take up the challenge. With a very different visual style and a few changes to the mix, it makes a pretty good fist of things to begin with. Although the ships and enemies are of a relatively simple design, they take on the form of filled polygons as opposed to wireframe shapes, as does your own craft and the primary weapon. Imagine Geometry Wars reimagined by Jeff MInter, and you're tracking along the right lines.
Differently designed enemies attack in different ways. Blue triangles are somewhat passive for example, and the two types of green diamond-shaped enemies act almost like frogs; moving slowly and then making a dramatic leap toward you. Perimeter enemies generate and traipse around the outside of the field, making sojourns to the outskirts more treacherous than you'd like, whilst large and usually indestructible rocks float all over the place, sometimes disappearing off the map and then zooming back into play like a modern-day take on Asteroids was on the minds of the developers. Then you've got what we think are the two most treacherous foes to take on; yellow guys that take potshots at you, and a laser that meanders horizontally along the length of the playing field, creating an intermittently appearing wall of death that will cause you to come a cropper many times.
Collecting "trinkets" boosts your multiplier and charges up your "Superbeam" which provides a short period of invincibility and lengthens the reach of your laser for a short period of time. You can increase the availability of this weapon by picking up more trinkets while in Superbeam mode, and this requires a tactical choice. Do you go for the trinkets while trying to clear as many enemies as you can, or do you let the Superbeam run out naturally and just try to clear the entire screen without risking the run to the trinket?
A change to the mix comes via the way in which your lives are spent during play, too. Other games in the subgenre would clear the screen and have you starting at the bottom of a quickly crescendoing enemy count when you die. We Are Doomed just removes a life from your life counter, kills your multiplier, gives you a brief effect on screen to show that you've conceded a life, and then you carry on with a very brief period of invincibility. This means that when you do succumb to an enemy, things can quickly go from bad to worse as your gameplan unravels before your eyes and you lose another life, then another, then your last. It's an interesting take that induces a great deal of frustration at times. Playing a flawless game for five minutes and then suddenly dropping two of your lives in quick succession is utterly deflating.
That deflation and frustration is indeed one of the key components of a game like this. It's probably the main reason that shooters of this ilk are so addictive, in fact. It must be said that We Are Doomed contains it and most of the other ingredients that lead to twin-stick shooting fun. Sadly, not all of those ingredients have been prepared and cooked as was required. The game doesn't offer a great deal of variation, for starters. All you get are a 30-level "Waves" mode where enemies flood the screen in increasing amounts and when you've cleared them all away, you're given a short break before taking on the next wave. We managed to reach level 18 on our first attempt, unlocking a checkpoint that allowed us to kick off our next attempt at level 11. Another shot at it unlocked the level 21 checkpoint. From there onwards, the real challenge begins, since waves 21 through to 30 will have you throwing your controller in frustration for a little while. Competent players will probably manage to get it done within a few short attempts, however.
When they do, they'll find that they've got one option left for play, other than playing Waves again to try to better their score. That final option is an Endless mode, which is essentially Waves without the little breaks in between. There's no online or offline multiplayer on hand either – just the two modes that are available out of the gate. To say that this is a little bit thin is to be making something of an understatement.
The gameplay has a few flaws that really detract from proceedings, too, mainly to do with being able to see what you're doing. Some players will have issues with being able to see some enemies due to the fact that some of them really don't contrast against the ghastly colouring of the playing area. On top of that, every time you destroy an enemy, they don't explode into little pieces. Instead, they explode into a bunch of stylized geometric symbols and a large dot-matrix style score indicator. These only hang around for a little while of course before disappearing, but while they're there, they hinder your view of proceedings to quite an extent. Essentially, if you're firing forwards whilst moving backwards, you won't have a problem. The times where you need to forge on and attack a group of enemies that are in front of you, you most certainly will. Add that to the fact that your laser beam – which looks like it's been designed based on the way fire is rendered in South Park - is pretty much always on screen and constantly pulsating and moving all over the place – again not contrasting particularly well with the playing field or enemies – and you'll find that some of the deft movements you're required to make to avoid death are made in error. When using the Superbeam, it can be incredibly difficult to see what's going on at all.
We Are Doomed also has a way of making things sometimes feel strangely unfair. We've all had times when playing games when we've felt like our failure was the fault of the game and not a catastrophic failure of our skills at that particular moment. Here though, there are occurrences such as large crystal obstacles spawning directly on top of you, those self-same crystals suddenly changing the way in which they move, causing them to be able to spin around your laser and just hit you, and those Asteroids-style rocks just appearing out of absolutely nowhere to take you out. Those rocks wouldn't be that much of a problem if it wasn't for the fact that they can only be destroyed by your Superbeam, and that Superbeam requires you to collect far, far too many trinkets in order to charge. During the thirty levels of Waves mode, you can genuinely find that you've only powered it up five or six times across the entire game. When We Are Doomed provides a fair challenge – which it does half the time – it's genuinely enjoyable and thoroughly addicting. The problem is that when your lives expire and you're considering another run through in the "oh, just one more go" style, you're always aware that next run might end with you being beaten by an unseen enemy or something that you had no control over.
We Are Doomed makes a good attempt at being a compelling and addictive twin-stick shooter, getting a lot of things right along the way. There are some problems with the basic design though and the very limited amount of modes on offer means that unless you're hooked by beating your own best scores or unlocking the limited (but tough to obtain) number of achievements, it'll be over way, way too soon.