When Activision found no buyers for and shut down Bizarre Creations in 2011, I was bummed for two names: Geometry Wars and Blur. I guess I shouldn’t have gotten so worked up, though, because one of those two names is back already, and it’s (almost) everything I could have hoped for. Lucid Games has been handed the keys to one of the most influential twin stick shooters, and what they’ve created is a bold entry to the Geometry Wars series that lives up to, and sometimes surpasses, the stellar reputation of its predecessors.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is somewhat of a departure from previous titles in almost every department. The core gameplay, though, remains as refined and addictive as it always was: carefully weaving and maneuvering your ship through swarms of constantly-spawning enemies, spraying streams of bullets, and using the board-clearing smart bomb when your goose is cooked. All the old enemies return, with minimal and inoffensive new additions, such as a spinning top that zooms in one direction and yellow X’s that spin around at variable speeds.
The most evident change is that the iconic neon art style has been adapted into 3D models, and the game now takes place on the surface of various objects instead of a two-dimensional rectangle (you could say that the game literally has dimensions now). The explosive chaos is as beautiful as ever, perhaps even more so here thanks to the broadened color palette. The background no longer depicts the depths of space, and instead is full of bokehs and streaks of cool colors.
This change is the one that’s most likely to upset Geometry Wars purists, but I think it serves to make the game not only even more visually interesting as even flat levels have some tilt, but also more mentally engaging as there are now corners and wrapping to consider. Any concerns you may have about being unaware of what lies around a corner and flying straight into death should be ignored, as over the course of my time with the game I don’t remember this ever happening to me. It’s fairly easy to see what’s coming up on the horizon, even on cube levels.
The pumping electronics of Geometry Wars past have been given a remixing. Deadline’s and King’s tracks have been given the best treatment, and while the rest are fine, Evolve’s signature theme is markedly less groovy this time around. It’s in the brand new Adventure mode where the new music really shines, though. Some of the tracks here are electro tunes of Nitronic Rush/Hotline Miami-level quality, and they’re much glitchier and more sample-heavy than what you’ll see in Classic modes. I’m definitely going to be looking for a soundtrack to this game everyday for a long time.
A garbled, robotic voice announces important happenings to keep your eyes in the game and off the HUD, like the spawning of super states and acquisition of stars. Some of his calls will have to be figured out based on something you know just happened, as some of his pronunciation is questionable. “Star!”, for example, comes out to be something like “Stay-are!”.
All modes from Geometry Wars 2 return for Dimensions except for Sequence (but nobody likes Sequence) basically in their original form – not to worry, all the old modes are only playable on flat surfaces. However, these are quarantined off into a sad “Classic Modes” section, to make room for the main event: Adventure mode. Adventure mode is a linear sequence of the basic modes, gated by a count of the stars you’re able to earn and separated into chunks by “boss” levels.
Your performance on each level is evaluated by an Angry Birds-esque three star system. Each star you earn is added to your total count, which determines your access to further levels. They’re often quite difficult, and on many of them simply achieving the second star requires quite a bit of rehearsal and perfection. Most are some form of one of the core modes but on a specific object, like Evolved on a sausage shape or King on a sphere.
The extraneous Classic modes are actually best in Adventure mode, though, as each of them is a necessity and they’re all given their time to shine. Geometry Wars 2’s effort to expand on the original was admirable, but except for the Pacifism scene, everyone was pretty much there for Evolved – seldom was the instance where I hunkered down for a nice game of Waves. On the other hand, Adventure mode also concocts its own modes that I sometimes lament weren’t given their own mode on the outside, like Titan, which is essentially Asteroids but with Geometry Wars AI behaviors and is a lot of fun. Rainbow has you stopping traveling “painters” from coloring every cell of the grid yellow.
Adventure mode introduces two mechanics new to mainline Geometry Wars: drones and supers. Drones (introduced in the DS/Wii spin-off Galaxies) follow you around and perform certain tasks. For example, the Collect drone gathers geoms dropped from enemies to increase your multiplier, without you having to venture into the fray to pick them up yourself, and Ram drones wander the map headbutting enemies.
Supers are abilities that can be used a specified number of times in a game, similar to the smart bomb, such as a series of homing missiles and a bot that will place mines around the field for a short while. Both drones and supers can be upgraded with the geoms you collect during the game. I’ve found these two mechanics to be practically invaluable, especially the Collect drone and Homing missile super, and having to gather geoms myself in the Classic modes like some kind of animal was jarring.
Co-op is not a new feature to Geometry Wars (it was introduced in Geometry Wars 2), but it is handled quite differently than it was previously. Co-op no longer simply places extra ships in the basic modes. There is a shorter campaign similar to the Adventure mode comprised of co-op missions, but Adventure mode’s trappings don’t always translate so well. Drones and supers don’t make the transition over at all, and while Adventure mode provides a nice challenge, I feel that challenge is embellished and made counter-intuitive to the kind of co-op experience I’m looking for when I play Geometry Wars. Usually you’ll still only have one life, as you will in Adventure mode, making each level feel more like a Rainbow Six terrorist hunt than a Geometry Wars game by the time you’re done with it. This would have been fine, even laudable, if more free-wheeling co-op was also available by way of the Classic modes, but those are bizarrely single player exclusive even though they’ve been co-op in the past.
For the first time in the series there’s an online mode, but unfortunately this is where the multiplayer situation becomes even more puzzling: you can’t play the co-op missions over the internet, and you can’t play the competitive multiplayer modes locally. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a match online at any time of the day to report on the online modes.
In the original Geometry Wars, your basic gun switched off between two much better, faster weapons every 10,000 points, starting at 10,000 points. This system was totally absent from GW2, but it has sort of returned for Dimensions. Every so often in Adventure mode, formations of pegs will spawn that you will have to destroy to activate a “super state”. Depending on the formation of the pegs, you could get one of several upgraded weapons, a geom-magnet, and a shield among other things. Super states only last for a brief period of time, however, and are only available in the Adventure mode. Classic modes are stuck with the basic weapon, which is kind of lame considering how amazing the upgraded guns in the original Geometry Wars looked and felt.
The leaderboard, an essential element of Geometry Wars, has been fleshed out and made presentable in an unprecedented way in the series. Every Classic mode and level of Adventure mode has an individual leaderboard, and a display of your closest rival’s score is both on the map and in the lower left corner. Replaying levels repeatedly to top your friends’ scores is a simple process aided by not one, but two quick-restart buttons. When you die for good, you have the duration of your death animation to press X and respawn, and a Quick Retry button is available immediately in the post-game summary. This sort of polished high score system is especially nice on PC, where we haven’t even had online leaderboards before in the series.
I guess there will always be the kind of person who will look at Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions and all they’ll see is a mutated cash-grab. If you’re able to wrap your head around it looking different, though, you’ll find that it’s everything you love about the original games, with actual content this time to sink your teeth into. Amazingly, this game is a step up from everything that came before it, and hopefully it’s only the beginning.
Ethics disclosure: This game was purchased by the reviewer.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions can be purchased on Steam, Xbox 360/One and the Playstation 3/4 from their respective retailers and digital stores.