Review: Live Arcade for the 360 kicks off with one of the strongest games in the Xbox 360 launch?
I've droned on before about how cool I think Xbox Live Arcade on the Xbox 360 could be, but it certainly didn't take long for the service to show that it has some great games to offer at a budget price. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved comes from Bizarre Creations, the makers of the Project Gotham Racing franchise. The second iteration of that racing series included Geometry Wars and the Xbox 360's PGR3 allowed users to try out the ?evolved? version of Geometry Wars within the game. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved gives players access to both the retro and evolved game variants and does so for the low price of 400 Marketplace points (about $5). What you'll find is that your five bucks is well spent on Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, as the gameplay and presentation makes for a simplistic yet entertaining experience that provides hours upon hours of addictive entertainment.
The general premise in the retro version of the game is to avoid random shapes that fly at you in a 2D game space. You'll be attacked by all sorts of squares, circles and diamonds that fly in various patterns while attempting to crash into you. Some of the shapes will just float aimlessly, whereas others will break into smaller more dangerous units or attack you in a heat-seeking fashion. As a tiny little ship, you must avoid these shapes and dispatch them with your ever-changing weapons (spread shots, rapid fire, etc). Throughout your session, you'll encounter black holes, also called gravity wells, that are stagnant until shot by your guns. Once activated, the black holes suck in all objects around them including your ship. These must be used strategically, but sometimes things will get to hairy and you?ll have to use a super bomb in order to clear out the screen. These bombs will be replenished as you score more points, as will your supply of extra lives. The retro version of the game has been included so that fans of the game can get their fill of it as much as they want, as well as post their scores on the leaderboards.
The real meat of this Live Arcade game, though, is from the evolved version of Geometry Wars. Not only is the game area in the evolved variant bigger, but also the visuals get a dramatic enhancement. All of the explosions of the shapes and black holes look like some sort of psychedelic fireworks show, and you'll really see the complex particle effects come to life on an HD television. The retro version of Geometry Wars looked colorful, but enemies really come to life with the HD goodness and they are much bigger on the screen, as well. It's quite spectacular when you have the snake enemies coming at you, as they start out as small circles (which is the part you have to shoot) with tiny tails, but soon grow to have long tails that shield them from attack. What's even more spectacular is when the screen is filling with growing snakes, but also has several black holes sucking in shapes and you're being chased by the very nimble, but slow-turning Pac-Man enemies, I have called them dirtier names than that when they have proved troublesome. Any way you slice it, this game looks great and really packs a lot of wallop when the action gets frantic.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved controls simple enough, as you use the basic setup of ?left thumbstick steers and right thumbstick aims and shoots? to maneuver through the top-down environments; this setup is akin to games like Smash TV and Robotron 2084, two titles which are also available for download on Live Arcade. Your little ship begins with a tiny shield for a few seconds, but it is only so you don?t die upon respawning. The first 10,000 points of the evolved version gives you a basic "pea-shooter" blaster, but once you get past this phase, the game ramps up and gives you a six-bullet wide shot and rapid-fire three shot in an alternating fashion. The wide shot is slower, but does have the edge when dealing with dense pockets of enemies. The rapid-fire gun often seems to be the most useful, as it enables you to thin the ranks of oncoming foes quickly, but it can be overwhelmed by a steady stream of evildoers. The bombs in evolved can clear the screen quickly, but are usually only useful as a last resort since you don't get the points for the enemies they wipe out, it's only to get you out of trouble.
But you will have to deal with the trouble directly to get the highest scores, as the game provides you with an added multiplier bonus for killing certain amounts of enemies. Soon enough, you?ll be killing lots of enemies on screen and earning more points for each one, as your multiplier might be at 5x or 8x, moments like this are when the game gets the most crazy, as one death will drop your multiplier back down to 1x. As you can expect, this is where the balancing act of the game takes place, and this is also what makes it so addictive. You need to manage your multiplier, lives and bombs effectively so that you can advance and get the most points quickly. The game goes on forever, in theory, but you?ll probably start by getting scores in the tens of thousands, then the hundreds, then the millions (if you're real good). Some of the top guys on the leaderboards have between 2.5 and 3.5 million points, which is pretty damn impressive once you've played the game and understand the challenges it provides. Still, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved provides the challenge in a fun way, and while you may get frustrated, you?ll still want to keep playing to try and gain higher scores or new achievements.
The achievement system actually ties in quite well for a game like Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved, as you'll gain Gamerscore points for surviving a minute without shooting, surviving 500,000 points without dying, getting to 10x multiplier (good luck), and so on. These achievements are pretty simple in practice, but when teamed up with the leaderboards, you?ll get pretty addicted trying to ascend to greater heights. The leaderboards and achievements actually serve as a bit of replacement for the game's lack of any multiplayer mode, as it can get quite fun bragging to friends about your new high score or how you got a new achievement (sending voice messages or razzing buddies in voice chat helps this out).
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved provides the strongest experience on Live Arcade for the Xbox 360 at the moment (there are other good games, though) for the cheapest possible price. If you enjoy retro shooters or games that challenge you in a fun and addictive way, it?s very easy to recommend Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved.