Geometry Wars 3
Genre: Shooter, arcade
Developer: Lucid Games
Platform: iOS (reviewed), most others
Release: July 7th, 2015
For such a successful series, the origins of Geometry Wars are rather humble. Stephen Cakebread wrote the earliest iteration to troubleshoot controller input for Project Gotham Racing, employing simple vector graphics because they were easy to draw. After the main project hit stores, he expanded the Geometry Wars demo into a complete minigame, embedding it within a virtual arcade machine in Project Gotham Racing 2. He and his co-designers at Bizarre Creations didn’t expect it to receive much attention, but it became surprisingly popular, prompting them to develop an expanded version titled Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved for Xbox Live Arcade.
I haven’t played a Geometry Wars game since Galaxies in 2007, so when I saw Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved in the iOS App Store, I was immediately intrigued. As a port of a console game, it costs $9.99, which is expensive by mobile standards but cheap anywhere else. Geometry Wars 3 contains no microtransactions or internal advertisements, and in an iOS climate absolutely saturated with them, I’m happy to pay a little extra up front. I had some concerns about how the dual-stick controls would translate to my iPad’s touchscreen, but input is largely responsive. The result is an exceptional arena shooter.
Geometry Wars 3 is the sixth entry in the series. Bizarre Creations closed down in 2011, and this installment was built by Lucid Games, which was founded later that year by some of the same designers. Cakebread himself wasn’t present, but it expands logically from previous titles. The core gameplay remains simple and elegant. You pilot a small, claw-shaped polygon in combat against swarms of angry shapes, from simple squares and circles to angular snakes and pinwheels. It only takes one hit to kill you, but you carry a powerful cannon, and you can move and fire independently in any direction. Few enemies carry ranged attacks, but dozens can spawn at once, and the map becomes a minefield once they get going. In the tradition of arcade shooters, there’s an online leaderboard for each level.
The biggest addition involves level terrain. Geometry Wars 3 adds cubes, spheres, and other three-dimensional stages to a series that began with flat rectangular planes. As a result, the game is more intricate and less repetitive than prior entries. There are several gameplay types: timed matches with unlimited lives, unlimited time with limited lives, boss battles, (partial) pacifism, and a handful of others. Many levels contain barriers, teleporters, collapsing walls, or other environmental flourishes. The core fifty-level Adventure Mode is a dynamic, extremely robust experience, rolling out new elements, rule sets, and upgrades at a rapid pace.
Geometry Wars isn’t an RPG, but there are a handful of ways to customize your attack. Enemies drop geoms when you blast them, small green diamonds that increase your score multiplier. They also upgrade your drone, a small friendly shape that fights beside you. Your drone begins with a weak forward cannon, but power rises greatly when upgraded, and you unlock alternative weaponry by killing bosses. Your drone also carries a super attack with limited ammunition, deployed at your discretion. You unlock new super attacks by collecting stars from certain score thresholds. They give you a reason to care about your score, even if you aren’t into leaderboards, although the actual attacks are too similar for my tastes. With two exceptions, they boil down to a panic button, and ammunition is too limited for tactical flexibility.
Current versions of the game also include Ultimate Mode, a forty-level secondary campaign released through a free update. It avoids tedium less successfully; the challenges from the first campaign are recycled at slightly higher difficulty, with only a handful of innovations. It could have been improved by adding some extra player abilities or intractable objects. On the other hand, it introduces an interesting gameplay type called Scorpion, and the final boss is a punishing, climactic opponent. For a free, painless content expansion, you could do a lot worse.
If ninety levels still aren’t enough, it comes with a third campaign called Hardcore Mode, which removes both drones and super attacks. It spans twenty levels, shorter than the other two, and the enemy formations are more threatening. It’s reminiscent of older Geometry Wars, although it retains three-dimensional stages. In a similar vain, Classic Mode transplants most of the earlier Retro Evolved 2. The older gameplay can feel primitive after experiencing Adventure Mode, but it serves an important purpose: Geometry Wars 3 contains, in effect, nearly the entire series. It’s isn’t a compilation title, but almost all the core experiences and game types are available somewhere, aside from the levels in Galaxies.
The App Store advertises “stunning, console-quality graphics”. Like most product descriptions, it gets a little carried away, but Geometry Wars 3 is one of the better-looking iOS games I’ve encountered. It has a very simple graphical style that it executes very well, with an abundance of glow and destruction effects. Movement ripples through the background grid, giving each arrival an air of power, and interface art is drawn in a translucent victor style that mirrors the gameplay itself. Paired with an upbeat electronic soundtrack, it achieves perfect thematic consistency. I haven’t played the original console versions, so I can’t tell you if it looks quite as good, but it has extremely clean graphics for a portable system.
In fact, beyond those already mentioned, there are few real criticisms I can offer. The controls are slightly less responsive than real analog sticks, but only slightly, and you can use an MFi controller, if you happen to own one. The art style is simple, but that’s the point, and it looks good regardless. It’s easier than many top-down shooters, but that’s probably a good thing. It doesn’t have a storyline, but it isn’t supposed to. It’s a genuinely good iOS port of a modern console game, with few of the usual pitfalls.