As video games have progressed the majority of games have become ever more increasingly complex in their bid to appeal to the mass market as the industry develops. In recent games it was not uncommon to have 50+ moves assigned to a single control pad or to have some complex affinity system to learn the intricate details of. Geometry Wars is a reminder not only of what the older generations have had to play with as they grew up but also serves to demonstrate that simplicity can provide thrilling experiences too.
Doing away with all the unnecessary fluff you're tossed into a ship and told to blow up shapes that swarm around to kill you. That's it. No predictable plotline. No cliche events. No irritating characters. Some people will probably lament such a missing component but really, the game doesn't need or want it. Once you start playing such a concern will vanish quickly.
The control interface consists of no more than the two analogue sticks and the trigger button. The left stick is used to guide your ship around the space field, while the right stick is used to fire your laser cannon in whatever direction you tilt it. Yes, that means you can effectively fire backwards or even swirl your laserfire in full circle motions around your ship. With no limits to fuel or ammunition supplies you can freely dash around and unleash all sorts of laser hell on the targets swarming around, and both are so incrediably responsive that when you eventually die it will be entirely your own fault for failing to dodge that shape.
As you plough through the enemy your laser weapon constantly receives free upgrades. What starts as a simple narrow beam shot will upgrade to faster and wider barrages to launch into the bloodthirsty shapes that swarm all over the place. In addition to your unlimited use laser cannon are your bombs. Limited in their use, these smart bombs will instantly wipe out every target on the screen simply by tapping the right trigger button. No points are awarded for enemies killed by this, but it works as a last resort attempt to stay alive.
Treasure this peaceful segment - it doesn't last long.
The space field you fight in doesn't have any obstacles other than the enemies and instead is simply a mere square where the action takes place. There's a comfortable amount of room to move around in, although it isn't too advised to get close to the edges as that is typically where the threats appear from.
The real danger comes from the enemies. Forgoing the usual concept of killer aliens, your enemies here consist of various shapes. At first you find a few slow moving shapes to shoot down. The shurikens and diamonds aren't particularly threatening and there are very few of them so the initial stages are easy. This lasts for all of 15 seconds, when the game steps things up a gear and starts producing a few more enemies and brings in some more dangerous shapes. Pink squares that split into two smaller clones upon destruction, green ones that try to evade incoming laser fire, shapes that leave destructive tails as they move about and those vicious black holes that disrupt their areas of space but threaten to unleash a hail of particles at you if left alone for too long. With such few numbers though this will also seem fairly relaxed. Then all hell breaks loose.
Shortly into a game the numbers start drastically increasing. What was previously about 7 enemies with a few chasers turns into literally 30+ enemies onscreen all out for blood. The amount of spafe space is reduced tremendously and executing evasive maneovours becomes a lot more difficult. Just when one wave of enemies is dealth with another huge group comes swarming in to get you moving again. At this point your laser cannon will be constantly firing to try and clear a path through the death zones. Suddenly those upgraded laser weapons seem less like a bonus and more like a necessity.
As if that wasn't enough the game will take things up a notch again. You'll find enemy groups appearing around you as you fly around and new groups will appear before you've finished taking out the last one. At this point even reaching for the pause button might result in a swift death as you need 100% full concentration to simply keep your ship intact. Bear in mind just how old school the gameplay is here. As if the swarms of enemies wasn't brutal enough the game operates under the 'one hit and you are dead' rule many old games worked by. You will die often playing this game.
Yet, even when facing the game over screen for the umptenth time, there's something about this game that causes you to click to try again. It's brutally hard and simple, but there's that amazingly addictive quality to it where you just know that this time you'll beat your last score, if it's only by a few points.
Points? Ah yes, the real reason to be playing. There's no ending to reach or anything of that nature. You play until all your lives are lost, and you work to build up the highest score you can while you are alive. All enemies will offer points when shot down by your lasers, with the value increasing the longer you stay in the game. Hitting point milestones will offer extra lives and bombs, although these markers are pretty far apart (your first extra life is at 100,000 points, which takes quite an effort to reach). Like the gameplay in general, the points system is also pretty simple.
My gripe about this is the game doesn't seem to want to save high scores for the game. I assume there's some Xbox Live setup that saves scores somewhere, but I wasn't connected to the net when playing this and while playing offline the high score on the game would always reset to the default 10,000 whenever I'd turn the game off, even though the point-related achievements were retained. It was rather disappointing to find my 160k score gone when I turned the game back on.
There are two game modes offered, consisting of Evolved and Retro. Retro is the more basic of the two where the whole playable field is visible on one screen, the visuals and audio are simplier and the general difficulty is hiked up. Evolved makes things a little easier (although still rather brutal) while presenting a larger field that requires a scrolling camera to track the player ship and offering more impressive visuals and audio. Retro might be worth it for those seeking a mega challenge but I found Evolved more fun.
Visually the game is stunning. The field itself is an expanse of simple space overlaid by a faint grid and the enemies themselves are simple coloured hollow shapes. Even the ship is little more than a basic V shape. Instead, it's the special effects that sets the game apart. The game puts on an amazing light show that sets the field ablaze in sparklingly explosions and glittery firework displays. There are even some rather cool effects, like how the more powerful lasers and the black holes not only rip across in their own flashy way but will even distort the space that pass across as well. Yet amazingly you'll never lose sight of your own craft in the midst of all this.
The music is limited in the selection, with a single techno track beating out as you play. For other games this might be a problem, and while a few more tracks might have been nice I can't say it was all that bad. With all the intense action it's hard to really notice too much repetition and the track used really does help to keep the action flowing nicely.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved is not a particularly deep game. Instead it is one of those titles you'll dive into for a quick play when you can't be bothered to wade through the complicated setups of other titles. It's perfect for short burst sessions and it's addictive quality will keep you hooked and urges you to have 'just one more go'. It's very difficult to survive for long, but it's a fantastic game that deserves a go.