While appearing simple on the surface, Geo Wars : RE 2 is an intense and visually spectacular 2D shooter.
Geometry Wars 2 is an arena shooter; each mode takes place in the same rectangular arena, enemies constantly spawn, and your goal is to rack up as high a score as you can before the mode ends. One change over the previous version is geoms. When an enemy is destroyed, it will drop one or more geoms, and collecting them increases your multiplier; collecting multipliers is the key to getting high scores in Geometry Wars 2. Unlike the previous version, multipliers do not reset if you die. Floating geoms don't stick around forever (though the time varies depending on the mode) so you will need to be on the move to rack up your multiplier, offering a nice risk versus reward.
In every mode, the risk cranks up pretty quickly. The game takes its name from the basic shapes of the enemies, which are composed only of neon outlines. Each enemy follows a pattern; some home in on you, some evade your fire, and others follow their own path independent of what you do. It is all very mechanical, but the sheer number of enemies you face make the game extremely frantic. Apart from one specific mode, there are no 'levels' in Geometry Wars. Enemies continue spawning in, in more numbers and in more complex combinations, until they overwhelm you.
While the visuals sound simple, the bright colours are very striking, and seeing the game in motion is a thing of beauty. Most enemies only require one hit to be killed, and explode into particle effects, creating a cascade of fireworks over the screen at nearly all times. While this does appear spectacular, a few times I thought it was slightly overdone and could have been toned down a fraction, as sometimes I lost track of what was going on. Those times were fleeting though.
While GW offers 6 modes, only one is available at the outset; Deadline. Deadline offers unlimited lives, but imposes a three minute time limit and 3 bombs to achieve the highest score. I feel this was a very strong design decision. It allows newer players to acclimate to the controls without worrying about losing lives. It also alludes to the fact that surviving is not the true purpose of any mode in Geometry Wars; learning how to efficiently collect geoms and achieve a high score is. Of course, surviving is still important; dying in Deadline clears the screen of enemies, and while things ramp up again quickly, precious seconds means lost opportunities to collect geoms. Once you have accumulated enough score in any of the modes, it unlocks the next one.
The second mode is King. While King limits the type of enemies that spawn, you can only shoot from inside designated circles, and enemies can not enter them. However, once you enter them, they only last a few seconds before they shrink into nothingness, then another circle appears, keeping three on screen at a time. This mode is very tactical, requiring you to think ahead about clearing a path to the next circle, as you will be weaponless while making the journey, as well as considering whether you want to risk close encounters with enemies to collect geoms while on your way. This mode is all or nothing, with no bombs and only your beginning life.
Evolved is the third mode, which is the same as the original Geometry Wars. You are given 3 lives and 3 bombs, and can earn extra lives or bombs if you reach certain score milestones. This plays much like Deadline, though there is more incentive to stay alive.
Pacifism, my personal favourite mode, does not allow shooting at all. Only one type of enemy spawns in this mode; the ones that home in on your position. Gates also spawn in the level, and crossing a gate destroys enemies in close proximity. The enemies continue to spawn in various locations around the arena, creating some very tense moments as you double back to collect geoms and scrape through a closing gap between different groups of enemies as they home in on you. Like King, this one is do or die, giving you only one life and no bombs.
Waves follows King and Pacifism in the 'one hit and its game over' mechanic. The vast majority of enemies spawned in this mode are rockets. These spawn along either half or the entirety of one of the four walls of the arena, and continue moving to the other side and back until they are destroyed. This might sound predictable, but a new wave spawns every few seconds, quickly ratcheting things up. Every now and then an odd enemy of another type spawns, which can throw a spanner in the works if you think you have discovered a decent strategy for dealing with the waves.
Sequence is the final mode to be unlocked, which offers a slightly more traditional 'levels' pacing. Each level contains the same enemy placements or spawns every time, but they also quickly get hard, offering large numbers of enemies in difficult to deal with combinations. You are given 3 lives and bombs. You are given 30 seconds to clear each arena, and if you die or time runs out, you move to the next arena. This might not sound like much punishment, but it denies you the opportunity to score more points and collect geoms from that level. Bombs are a last resort, but it's better to use them if you are backed into a corner and collect the geoms before the next level starts. The mode finishes when you clear all 20 levels or you run out of lives.
While you are likely to push yourself to beat your own scores, leaderboards are another way that may push you to get new scores. If people on your friends list have a higher score than you, it is listed at the top of the screen, as if teasing you to beat it. One problem is that you must be online for your scores to matter; they are not saved on your console. Therefore, if you start a game without being connected, even your own previous scores will not be listed, and you will not have any idea what score you are trying to beat. By the same token, if you happen to have a breakout score while offline, it will disappear when you exit the game; it is not stored to be uploaded the next time you are online. This may not matter to those who are permanently connected, and I find it annoying but tolerable as I have to swap connections, but others may not be able to handle this feature if their consoles are rarely online.
The game offers local multiplayer. There is no online multiplayer, but this is understandable as the game requires split second timing and lag would be a killer to the frantic gameplay. The game offers both competitive and co-op play for all of the modes, up to 4 players. It even offers team options for the competitive modes if you have more than 2 players. Competitive games offer a ranking system; after each game, players earn points depending on how they placed, and accumulates for all game types, so you can set up your own gauntlet to see who is better at the game overall. Co-op modes tally the multiplier and the score. There are no online leaderboards for co-op; one would suppose that Bizarre saw the potential for multiple players to 'break' enemy patterns and post ridiculous scores by using infallible strategies. While that may be understandable, in a really dumb move your high score is still not saved on the console, so if you want to work on your co-op strategies you will have to grab some pen and paper. Still, I haven't discovered any infallible strategies yet, and my time spent playing co-op has been more frantic than single player due to enemies exploding all over the place and bright colours filling the screen. Pacifism feels the weakest mode here, but Deadline makes a great way to get friends to try the game, as an inexperienced player won't be out before the other and left watching.
The sound is a part of the experience instead of being laid over it. The modes have a strong techno rock beat, that pulses and changes with the course of the game. When you die it naturally eases down, but picks up again before long as enemies begin to fill the screen again, and reaches a high point when the screen is teeming with enemies. You never need to check the timer in Deadline; the music begins to get really tense as the game is about to end.
Any one game of Geometry Wars : Retro Evolved 2 is unlikely to last very long. However, the game has that 'just one more go' quality, as you strive to beat your previous high score or one set by a friend. Early on skill seems to climb steadily as you learn patterns and figure out the best way to increase your multiplier, but the road to mastery is likely to take some time. While everyone will probably find an enemy that annoys them, death never feels cheap and you always feel like you could do better, urging you to try again. With the variety of modes, everyone interested in the genre is likely to find one that they love.