Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved Review

Geometry Wars is a classy arcade-style shooter, but this PC release is missing a ton of features that would make it last longer.

Geometry Wars is the dual-joystick shooter that launched at the same time as the Xbox 360 in 2005. It was a downloadable game for the console's Xbox Live Arcade service and went a long way in proving that digitally distributed games could work in a console environment. Of course, digital distribution and the PC go back like babies and pacifiers, so the newly released PC version of Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved isn't really breaking any new ground. It's still a quality arcade-like game that has a neat, stylized look to it, but it's also missing a lot of the bells and whistles found in the console version.

One unstable frame rate with a side of pesky control issues--coming right up!
One unstable frame rate with a side of pesky control issues--coming right up!

Geometry Wars is a shooter that falls in the same folder as arcade classics like Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV. Both of those games used two joysticks. The left stick was for movement and the right for multidirectional firing. Geometry Wars plays the same way but benefits from analog control, letting you move and shoot in more than eight directions. You control a small ship in a box that is slightly larger than the screen. Enemies continually spawn into the box and attack you, and you must gun them down while avoiding contact with them. It starts out slow but ramps up very quickly, until new enemies are almost constantly popping up. This means the game gets hectic fast. If things get too rough, you have a limited number of smart bombs you can use to clear the screen of enemies, but that only provides you with a second or two of rest before you've got new foes to worry about. The rapid pace is what makes Geometry Wars so exciting, as you constantly feel like you're just one second away from losing it, and maintaining calm is the only way to stay alive.

There are different enemies in the game, each with different behaviors. The geometrical shapes start out simple, with a box that heads in your basic direction. But you'll find enemies that split into smaller pieces when you shoot them, enemies that run away from you rather than attack you head-on, snakes that block your path and can only be shot in the head, and more. Each enemy makes a unique noise when it spawns, making the audio an important part of the game.

The PC version has a surprisingly large number of strikes against it when you compare it to last year's Xbox 360 version. For starters, unless you have an Xbox 360 controller hooked up to your PC, you might have trouble playing properly. You can use the mouse and keyboard, but you lose analog control of your movement, and aiming with the mouse isn't as immediate as a good gamepad is. While you might already have a dual-joystick gamepad for your PC, it might not actually work. We tried two different such controllers with no luck, though the 360 controller worked perfectly.

This version of the game doesn't have achievement points, which removes a reason to keep on playing Geometry Wars. The lack of online leaderboards removes another. It also doesn't have retro mode, which is a stripped-down version of the game that originally appeared as an unlockable bonus in Project Gotham Racing 2 on the original Xbox. Further limiting its appeal is the fact that you must be running Windows Vista to play.

And lastly, the game's graphical performance can be spotty, even on machines that exceed the game's recommended requirements. Vista reports the recommended machine as 4.0 using the OS's new "Windows Experience Index," which totals up your machine's components and assigns it a score based on how much it can handle. On a 4.2 machine (3GHz CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a Radeon X850), the game's frame rate wasn't stable 100 percent of the time, and in a game where it's difficult to make out what's even going on when things really get crazy, adding a choppy frame rate can make the game unplayable.

With that list of caveats, anyone with the ability to play this game on an Xbox 360 should take that route, instead. MSN is charging $7.95 for the PC version of the game, which is nearly three dollars more than the 360 release, but it has far fewer features than the 2005 console game. Maybe if this one had been held off until after the rollout of Games for Windows Live, it could have had many of the missing features implemented. But as it is, it feels like a rip-off.

The Good

  • Nicely stylized vector graphics that look sharp at higher resolutions
  • Hectic gameplay might be enough to keep you coming back

The Bad

  • All but requires an Xbox 360 controller if you want to play it right
  • Lacks online leaderboards
  • Missing modes from the console version of the game

About the Author

Jeff Gerstmann has been professionally covering the video game industry since 1994.