Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
It’s two AM, but time no longer has meaning to you; you’re not just IN the zone, you ARE the zone. Reality swirls around you in a tornado of neon shapes which explode in a symphony of fireworks that you alone conduct. Your universe is in wireframe and you can see gravity as your actions distort space time itself. The separation between you and your controller has never been smaller, never been more insignificant. You are the ship. Your pulse has a techno rhythm and life or death is decided on a scale measured in nanoseconds. Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is not an experience to be taken lightly.
Geometry Wars started life as an Easter egg in Project Gotham Racing 2. A retro dual stick shooter that paid homage to the arcade classic, Robotron. It was so popular that it spawned a standalone Xbox Arcade title which instantly topped the download charts. It, and its sequels, would inspire a trend of throwing neon lights at classic arcade games that not even PacMan would escape. But in all of its incarnations the fundamentals of the game has remained relatively unchanged: take different neon coloured shapes, give them some simple PacMan-ghost level AI that dictates speed and whether it moves towards or away from the player, and then just throw them at the player’s ship in wave after relentless wave until they die. Do all this to a soundtrack that makes Wipeout’s techno beats appear sedate and, perhaps most importantly, keep track of the player’s score every time they die. Which they will. A lot.
And while people would spend countless hours doing just that, for some the game was limited by its scope. The game could only be “won” if you took part in the meta event of comparing high scores. If you had friends who played then that game could be more interesting, otherwise you were compared to the global scoreboards which could be a more daunting challenge. That is where Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions (3D, get it?) attempts to mix things up. The adventure mode offers a more traditional structure of levels where each mission has its own set of rules and win-requirements. Not only do they do new things with the Geometry Wars toys, but they allow the player to get a sense of progression that goes beyond high scores: there are missions to complete, bosses to battle and a path upon which to progress. Score is still important, though, with up to three stars awarded for successfully completing each level. Unlocking each boss level requires a predetermined number of stars, though, so simply completing the previous level will not suffice. For a player who may be happy with scraping a one star victory on most levels, those star requirements are intimidatingly high. In fact, if this were a “freemium” title, then it would be accused of ramping up the difficulty to get your money. As it is, it can feel like a desperate effort to artificially increase the play time. But while it can feel frustratingly unfair if you’re a gamer who simply wants to get to the end, you do eventually realise that the game is simply training you to be better at it. You’re literally grinding for experience but your level isn’t measured by a number or slowly filling Exp. bar, but by your reaction times shrinking, your co-ordination improving, your ability to predict and react to your enemy’s movements becoming almost precognitive: this is a game that knows its own difficulty and is violently determined to make sure you’re prepared for the challenge ahead. It’s a system that works as long as you’re prepared to be flexible.
The level structure isn’t the only big change this game has to offer. As the name suggests, this iteration is moving into three dimensions and it does so by doing more than simply drawing everything with neon-light polygons. Where the original existed on a flat grid, Dimensions’ levels play out on wireframe shapes floating in space. Sometimes this is still a flat shape but more often you find yourself flying around giant spheres or pill shapes. Those shapes still ripple and distort with every explosion or gravity-altering shape but here it not only looks more impressive, but adds a deeper element of strategy as you move your ship around that extra dimension. It’s Geometry Wars mixed with the small planets from Super Mario Galaxy and it works perfectly.
A more subtle change in Dimensions is with the music. This game shows a departure from the original composers and while the soundtrack is still as loud and kinetic as you’d expect, some of the more subtle nuances have been lost. In previous games the music felt as integrated with the action on the screen in a way that few games could better, but here there’s a slight disconnect that’s more like they just picked a particularly appropriate playlist. Future releases really need to look towards games like Rez when it comes to integrating sound and gameplay.
In creating a toy box that’s flexible enough to create each of these unique levels, Bizarre Creations gave themselves the tools to go even further. Geometry Wars purists will be happy to learn that the original mode is present just as they remember it, only looking better than ever before. Multiplayer is also represented with a local co-op mode, and online competitive play with various rules in play that allow you to make things difficult for your opponent. They’re welcome additions, but the nature of the game makes it feel very much like a single player experience. If you’re old enough to remember connecting two Gameboys for competitive Tetris then that’s the sort of experience you can expect. Ultimately the best multiplayer gameplay Geometry Wars has to offer is, and always has been, comparing your scores to your friends and having just one more go to try and better them.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is a near perfect game let down only by the demanding mission padding and a soundtrack that represents a slight step backwards from its predecessors. Its very DNA has been refined to amazing clarity, from the precise controls to the neon drenched artwork. Instantly accessible to new players, it quickly compels them to become experts in order to proceed along its asymptotic learning curve. An explosive orgy of light and sound that needs to be experienced to be believed.