In an era when the industry generates grandiose narratives filled with motion capture from Academy Award-winning actors, it’s easy to lose track of where games got their start. Across arcades, bowling alleys, and pool halls, upright cabinets once reigned- each vying to give players a few minutes of electronic enthrallment. While embryonic technologies meant that play mechanics took priority over plotlines, games were designed to hook players with exhilarating tests of reflexes and visual discernment.
Each cabinet goaded a steady drip-feed of quarters, as arcade patrons attempted to master each stage or earn a boastful position on the high-score table. But as consoles gradually took hold, these machines started disappearing from the landscape, changing the structure of gaming. Frantic, fleeting moments where players tried to stay alive amidst an intensifying waves of chaos gave way to experiences that sluggishly increased the level of challenge over protracted playtimes.
Conceived as homage to vector-graphics classics like Asteroids, Space Fury, and Tempest, 2003’s Geometry Wars was an impeccable reminder of how exhilarating arcade shooters once were. Tucked away as a curio in Project Gotham Racing’s garage, the twin-stick shooter nearly eclipsed the level of gratification found in the main game. Across the ensuing years, the popularity of the mini-game promoted a string of full-fledged sequels, which as their moniker suggested, steadily ‘evolved’ the core gameplay with a number of intriguing variations.
Although 2007’s Geometry Wars: Galaxies and 2008’s Retro Evolved 2, advanced the franchise adding elements like a persistent campaign and variants which took the shooter in fascinating new directions, for six years the series’ lingered without a sequel. For some, it seemed as if Geometry Wars might replicate the dejected downfall of arcade machines. Fortuitously, Lucid Games, a studio comprised of talent culled from the original development team, has rescued the series from the clutches of history, adding a contenting, challenging, and celebratory chapter in the fight against pugnacious polygons.
The release of Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC doesn’t push the franchise forward as much as patient fans might have hoped. Instead, the title acts like a greatest hits compilation, assembling pivotal game types from across the series’ eleven-year legacy. Although hardcore fans might be disappointed by the dearth of innovation, once they try to trump their friends on the title’s robust leaderboards, they’ll find themselves addicted all over again.
Undoubtedly, Dimensions’ Classic Mode will summon the strongest sensation of nostalgia. Here, Retro Evolved 2’s pentad of play types return, albeit with a 1080p upgrade. From Pacifism’s confiscation of offensive weaponry to King mode’s requirement that shooting can only be accomplished from within transient rings, the most compelling deviations are the ones that constrain your arsenal, pushing players toward defensive play. Those who appreciate sensory overload will relish Waves, a variant where rows of rockets bound between the edges of the screen. Missed targets quickly escalate the level of chaos, ensuring a mix of concern and culpability, as they weave through an increasingly ensnarled playfield.
Masterfully, Classic Mode is a spot-on remaster, offering the same sinuously fluid, responsive controls which allow players to weave their way through swarms of adversaries. It’s also a reminder of how engrossing sets of divergent AI can be. In the modes where you have offensive abilities, targeting both enemies that beeline toward their ship as well as foes that do their best to evade a stream of fire is the ultimate test of sensorial judgment, and one that will push players into hitting the ‘retry’ button. While improving your own scores has always offered incentive, seeing an online leaderboard of your friends’ performance prods at you exponentially- especially when you feel you’re closing the gap on a rival. Smartly, Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions scoreboards rank every level of the game, persistently goading gamers toward achieving a Zen-like state of complete, concentration.
The sole stain against Dimensions’ leaderboard system emerges once players delve into the Adventure mode. Here, players unlock different drones after boss battles, offering upgradeable AI support that offer benefits such as sniping foes or collecting geoms- the tiny particles which raise your scoring multiplier. While the assistants are crucial in your attempts to three-star each stage in the campaign’s succession of fifty levels, they also create inequity, with the subordinates helping to supplement your score. What’s worse is that the leaderboards don’t reveal the type or rank of the drone used.
Look past this transgression and Adventure yields hours of enjoyment. What’s best is the campaign’s diversity- typically offering no more than two of the same variants as players chart their progress on the winding overworld map. Beyond a number of familiar deviations, Dimensions’ also offers some remarkably inspired game-types. Sniper impedes the constant barrage of offensive firepower, giving players a limited number of shots. Like some of the best play modes, it’s an idea that encourages and rewards risk, as prudence leads to an unexpectedly short life span. Claustrophobia places players in battlefields with encroaching walls, allowing both adversary and arena to become progressively problematic.
Reflecting Super Stardust’s spherical worlds, a number of Dimensions’ stages abandon flat playfields for 3D stages. Their incorporation does endow the title with additional variety, but they come with a caveat: some of these levels offer a limited field of view. Coupled with the game’s overly translucent phase-in of new enemies, these spaces don’t quite mesh with the game. Much like Nano Assault Neo, enemies often appear right in front of you, making death feel like it’s the game’s fault instead of an errant decision you made.
Beyond a handful of unlockable bonus stages, Dimensions also extends local and online play for up to four participants. Given the speed and low latency of the controls, the emergence of an online component is remarkable. What’s even more surprising is the quality of the contests, since a trace of net lag would have ruined the experience for all. While the title still doesn’t have enough of a following to quickly fill four-on-four matches, even going head-to-head in Stock mode reveals potential. Here, each team (or player) attacks a boss using ammo that’s scattered around the playfield. While both factions are pursuing a common goal, securing resources advances an adversarial element that’s absent from the single-player game. Meanwhile the miniature ten-level local co-op campaign offers a diverting destination for couch-based comrades, escalating the already extraordinary number of on-screen objects.
Despite two minor blemishes and a reluctance to revolutionize the franchise, Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions transports the cherished series onto next-gen consoles and PCs. While additional innovation would have been commendable, as it stands the title delivers a pleasing package of polygon annihilating action certain to satisfy both series fans and twin-stick shooter enthusiasts. Consider Dimensions the remix album that any aficionado would require for their collection.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions was played on the PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Lucid Games
Release date: November 25th, 2014