The Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was a phenomenon that reinvigorated the twin-stick shooter genre. This was partly due to its launch alongside the Xbox 360 (actually giving people something play), and because it was the perfect competitive leaderboard game, with its tight controls, clear rules, and explosive action.
Now Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is trying to recapture that same appeal nine years on.
Fresh and frenetic
Before I start, let me be clear; I know that there are multiple points in this review when I sound schizophrenic, where my own opinion conflicts with itself. Times that I say that the visual experience is a "sea of off-white phosphorus that sears your eyeballs, making it impossible to keep track of enemies appearing within the explosions", which sits in stark contrast to "the vector-esq electronic lines look incredible, bringing every part of the game to life".
However, I have not gone crazy... though at points the game did have me muttering to myself in the office. The thing is, while Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is an exciting shooter, it does not feel like previous games in the franchise. So check your expectations at the door as I try to look at this game in isolation and let the concussive force of its neon explosions wash over me.
There's a good range of game modes in Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions, many of which have been lifted straight from the previous titles. My personal favorite is Pacifism. This mode removes the ability to shoot, completely focusing you on slaloming your way through waves of enemies and check-gates. As the screen slowly fills this causes my tension to rise exponentially, until the controller is slick in my sweaty, nervous paws.
Other modes include (but are not limited to) King, in which you can only shoot from designated areas, and the more traditional Evolved, where the goal is to rack up as many points as possible within three lives.
In the Classic setting you can flip between any of these modes at will to chase high-scores however you like. Adventure, on the other hand, forces you through all of the game types. This keeps the action fresh and interesting as it tests your skills with its three-star ratings which constantly entice you towards danger to collect Geoms and more rapidly rack up your multiplier.
Classic twitch controls
In terms of base gameplay, Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions does little new. The same responsive twin-stick action is still in place, along with the enemy-vaporizing smart bomb. One addition to the combat is an upgradeable drone. This tiny craft buzzes around you, fulfilling a number of different support roles depending on its designation (such as attack or Geom collection).
Outside of your ship abilities the other notable change is the third dimension. Levels now take the form of 3D shapes dangling in space, allowing you to spin madly around them and creating a nice visual shift from the previously static arenas.
For all of the excitement this adds, it does detract from the purity of the game with an element of luck added to the high-score chasing mix. This is because previously you only had to worry about new enemies catching you off guard as they came into existence - other than that they were always in clearly in view. Now, foes can be hidden past the horizon of a shape, ready to collide with your fragile craft. It's a change that alters the game, making feel unfair as death springs, unpredictably from nowhere regularly causing untold frustration.
Looking past the horizon
Geometry War 3: Dimensions retains the series' vivid style, having you fly around the levels taking out brightly colored, geometric enemies in showers of neon sparks and explosions. The vector-esq electronic lines look incredible, bringing every part of the game to life gloriously on high res monitors - especially running at 60fps.
But, while it is beautiful, the screen can become a sea of off-white phosphorus that sears your eyeballs, making it impossible to keep track of enemies appearing within the explosions, again resulting in unfair deaths. This proves yet one more annoyance when trying to beat a level’s star rating to unlock a new stage, with victory being constantly ripped from your grasp.
To accompany the blisteringly fast-paced action comes a wonderful trance-techno soundtrack by Chris Mann (which you can hear here). This is the perfect accompaniment, often proving the only thing that could calm me down and stop me actually yelling at my monitor in the middle of the office after another unsuccessful attempt to unlock a boss.
The same but different
Geometry War 3: Dimensions is a great twin-stick shooter but, while it may play very similarly to the previous titles, the changes made make it distinctly different. This is the reason for my mixed feelings and contrary attitude towards the game; the Zen "look-beyond-the-screen" reaction-based gameplay that I loved is gone, replaced instead by a more planned experience, where memorizing wave patterns and predicting where they will next appear on the horizon is the best path to victory.
It isn't what fans may expect, but that is not a completely bad thing, as Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions proves a wonderfully enticing and varied shooter.