Review: Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions

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It’s hard to believe the last Geometry Wars came out almost seven years ago, but I guess it shouldn’t be that surprising since Activision shut down the studio behind its development, Bizarre Creations. So, in many respects, Geometry Wars 3 is a rebirth, for the series, for its developer Lucid Games–which is made of former Bizarre Creations staff–and for its publisher, the recently resurrected Sierra. On all three fronts, this game is a smashing success.

Geometry Wars 3 picks up where Retro Evolved 2 left us twitching our analog sticks back in 2008. The core twin-stick shooting remains the same: enemies of varying shape, color, and movement pattern flood the screen at an ever-increasing rate while you, at the controls of a claw-shaped ship, tilt the left analog stick to move and the right stick to aim and blast away in one fluid motion. (For PC players without a gamepad, the game plays just fine with WASD and arrow keys as the “sticks.” Or you can use WASD in tandem with a mouse for cursor-based aiming and shooting.)

As enemies explode in a fireworks display of neon geometric gore, green collectibles called geoms are left behind to obsessively harvest like a hero looting so many gold coins from treasure chests and broken crates in an action-RPG. Collect them carefully and collect them fast, though, because the quick-to-vanish geoms are the only way to increase the score multiplier. Having to decide in the heat of the moment when it is the right time to dash into a crowd for a few extra geoms or when it’s best to play it safe hits exactly the right balance of risk/reward skill that makes coming back to boost your high score an addiction that’s almost impossible to kick once you get a taste.

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The new and old elements are segregated into two modes. All of the game’s newfangled stuff is on full display in Adventure mode, a lengthy single-player progression through 50 stages which consist of a broad range of map layouts and mission objectives. Much of Adventure mode does consist of the classic Deadline and Evolved match types, but many new variants do make an appearance. Checkpoint, for example, involves clearing waves of enemies to extend a countdown timer. Successfully destroying a full wave adds more time, but if you die the wave ends and precious seconds are lost as the next wave spawns.

Other mission types include Titans, in which larger enemy shapes gradually break down and multiply into swarms of smaller enemies as they are peppered with bullets; Rainbow, in which Roomba-like painter machines have to be destroyed before they can paint over the blank space of the map grid; Sniper, in which you are strapped with an ammo limit and literally have to make every shot count; and Claustrophobia, in which the arena walls steadily begin to close in and cause the play area to become increasingly crowded. Occasional boss battles further diversify the mission offerings.

Geometry Wars 3 gets its Dimensions subtitle mainly from the introduction of three-dimensional arena grids. Stealing a page from the book of Super Stardust and then rewriting it completely, the maps now consist of different shapes as well as 3D surfaces that have you piloting the ship on all sides of a cube, globe, cylinder, dome, pill-shaped objects, or a sort of warped rectangular surface. This adds a new dimension of challenge and play strategy to the unchanged core mechanics as you now have to take into account enemies that might be charging in from a side of the map that you cannot see and adjust your movements accordingly. Some levels also have shifting walls or barriers which present a different set of advantages and disadvantages to consider. Positioned correctly, a small barrier can serve as a temporary cover point from enemies that might be coming in from behind. However, if you aren’t careful it’s easy to get boxed into a corner or up against a wall without an escape route.

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Also new to Adventure mode are unlockable and upgradeable ship loadouts. Before starting a level, you can choose a loadout of one helper drone and one super attack, each of which are available in five types. Drones are kind of like the upgrades you can earn in a shmup that add an extra ship that flies around and attacks autonomously, only the drones in this game can serve as geom harvesters in addition to offering unique firing capabilities for both offensive and defensive benefits. Super attacks, on the other hand, join the screen-clearing bombs as alternate limited-use weapons of mass destruction, from homing missile barrages to black holes to multi-directional turrets. You can make it through the adventure relying on a favorite loadout that suits your play style and skill level, but to maximize high score output it becomes important to mix and match different drones and supers to suit the layout and parameters of each stage.

Expanding upon the risk/reward factor, new power-ups called Super States appear exclusively during Adventure mode play. Over the course of a level, stationary dot clusters spawn into the field of play and, if you destroy the mass before it disappears you earn a temporary power-up, such as a rapid fire spread shot, a magnet that automatically sucks in all geoms, or a shield. Similar to collecting geoms, there are times when it may be better to let a Super State opportunity expire rather than risk having enemies swarm in while your attention is focused on shooting something that’s non-hostile, because death results in the immediate loss of any active power. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say non-hostile, because the Super State dots are solid objects that the ship is capable of crashing into.

For all its expansive content and variety, Adventure mode does start out as a bit of a grind. Each stage has three scoring tiers for earning one to three stars, and progressing along the level selection map requires earning enough stars to advance. Unless you are a Geometry Wars whiz pulling off two- and three-star performances right out of the gate, you will likely hit barriers to advancement where it will be necessary to return to previous stages to pick up an extra star or two to open the next level. Not that you should really dread having to replay past stages, because that’s part of the Geometry Wars hook to begin with. Drone and super choice is also limited in the beginning until enough stars and geom currency are accumulated to pay for unlocks and upgrades, so this game does make you do a little work to experience all that it has to offer.

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For veterans of previous Geometry Wars, Lucid has not tampered with the purity of the classic modes. If you prefer gunning for piles of points on flat, rectangular grids in the traditional Deadline (unlimited lives to score points within a time limit), Evolved (3 lives to score as many points as possible), King (guns only fire when the ship is inside of a force field bubble), Pacifism (score by going through slalom gates to trigger explosions), and Waves (single life wave survival) modes, without any of the extra bells and whistles offered in Adventure mode, you are free to do so.

Online learderboards are synched in with every level across Classic and Adventure modes, so there’s always a better score out there to aim for. Multiplayer is available in the form of 10 co-op stages as well as a pair of competitive team-based match types; however, the co-op is local only, and no one ever seems to play the online-enabled team modes. (I haven’t had any luck finding even a single online session playing on Steam, but perhaps there is more of a player base on PSN or Xbox Live in the console versions.)

The twin-stick shooter genre has evolved a lot over the last half a dozen years, so after such a long hiatus Geometry Wars had some catching up to do in order to return to relevancy in a strong way. It has caught up, and then some. Geometry Wars 3 strikes a dead-on balance of remaining true to its roots while expanding to give today’s gamers the robust set of modernized features and mechanics they expect. Played classically or with all of its new age upgrades, Geometry Wars 3 is a high score arcade shoot-’em-up of unrivaled refinement, addictive allure, and chaotic fun.

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Pros:
+ Core gameplay is as addictive and frenetic as ever
+ Modern advancements like 3D grids and upgradable loadouts bring a new dimension to shooting shapes
+ Classic modes remain for old-schoolers

Cons:
– Barriers to advancement make Adventure mode feel like a bit of a grind, especially early on
– Untapped multiplayer potential

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Lucid Games
Release Date: 11/25/2014
Genre: Twin-stick Shooter
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1 (plus offline co-op and online team-based multiplayer)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!