As far as my aging brain can remember, geometry is the mathematics of lines, curves and surfaces. Geometry Wars 2 (now available on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 Microsoft Points) also features lines, curves and surfaces but thankfully pairs this with the far more entertaining mathematics of smart bombs and laser guns. So is Geometry Wars 2 a damp Tuesday afternoon stuck in a GCSE maths class learning about indeterminate polynomial equations, or a Friday afternoon the moment the school bell goes?
If you have never played Geometry Wars before the idea behind the game is simple. You control a small spacecraft (that looks a bit like a crab crossed with an octagon) which scoots around an enclosed play area and comes under attack by a variety of peculiar geometric alien craft. Some of the enemies are benign and float aimlessly about, while others act more aggressively or erratically. Evasive manoeuvres are controlled by the left stick on the controller, fire is directed with the right and screen clearing smart bombs can be launched by pressing one of the triggers. As things begin to hot up the game quickly becomes a merciless test of reactions as the screen fills up with things to shoot and avoid.
The biggest change for those returning to Geometry Wars 2 from the original Xbox Live Arcade title is a new focus on “Geoms“. First introduced in Geometry Wars Waves (a bonus game in Project Gotham Racing 4), Geoms form the basis of the score multiplier system and radically change the dynamic of the combat. In the original Geometry Wars, racking up a big score depended on how quickly the player could shoot down enemies. In Geometry Wars 2, dispatched enemies drop one or more Geoms, which are then hoovered up in order to push the score multiplier upwards. While a seemingly simple change, it makes for a tactical game where risk and reward balance on a knife-edge.
Geometry Wars 2 also introduces six new modes of play. The entertaining Pacifism mode removes the ability to fire, gives you a single life and litters an arena with enemies and a series of floating gates which detonate when flown through. Clearly a riff on a popular Achievement from Geometry Wars 1 (which was awarded for surviving 60 seconds without firing) this mode is chaotic and riotously entertaining. King Mode (which only allows the player to return fire from “bubbles” that appear and slowly vanish across the arena) and Sequence mode (which rapidly delivers a series of 30 second challenges at the player) are both interesting additions. There is also a timed mode (called Deadline) which gives you unlimited lives and 3 minutes to rack up a high score and Waves mode (which originally came with project Gotham Racing 4 as a bonus extra) which involves big squadrons of enemies sweeping across the screen from all four points of the compass. Deadline in particular is highly compulsive, and has a real “one-more-go” feel to it, but the sheer sensual pleasure in mowing down a screen-wide line of enemies in Waves is hard to beat. Finally, there is a “classic” mode called Evolved which delivers a more traditional Geometry Wars experience, with added Geom collecting.
Each mode has its own distinct music, with the timed Deadline mode being an aural highlight (the soundtrack comes to a heart pumping crescendo as the timer nears zero). Graphically the game is a feast for the eyes. Colours are pinpoint and vivid (especially at 1080p) and the screen warps and distorts beautifully. Geometry Wars 1 was always seen as a poster child for High Definition console visuals, but Geometry Wars 2 takes things one eye-watering step further.
Geometry Wars 2 also fixes two big issues with the original title. Firstly, death does not remove the score multiplier in Deadline and Evolved modes and secondly, the game reaches a frantic pitch far quicker than the original, which makes restarting a level less of a chore. The pad chewing frustration of Geometry Wars 1 is significantly reduced as a result, and while some masochists will probably be disappointed, these two subtle changes make for a far more balanced and entertaining game throughout.
The game also takes every opportunity to display the scores of your friends-list rivals, both when you are playing, and on the main screen when selecting a mode. There is no better feeling than jumping to the top of the heap on a particular mode and crowing about it, but also no worse feeling than logging on to find a score you thought was unbeatable is now a laughing stock among your mates.
Geometry Wars 2 is not entirely flawless. One notable omission is the loss of weapon power-ups. In previous Geometry Wars the ship weaponry would be upgraded as you played into a couple of more powerful variants. Geometry Wars 2 drops this feature, and it is possible to face more enemies than it is physically possible to shoot. The graphics are significantly improved from earlier entries in the franchise, but the additional bells and whistles sometimes make enemies and Geoms hard to spot among the sparkling haze of light trails and explosions. Geometry Wars 2 also neglects to include any online modes, though it is possible to play multiplayer offline.
Considering the price point and plus points, these are minor criticisms, and taken as a whole Geometry Wars is a slick, highly entertaining game which has once again set a benchmark in its genre.
When my maths teacher said I would appreciate knowing all about geometry one day, he was right. A vivid 9/10 .
Related: Geometry Wars Galaxies review