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Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: Lucid Games
Release Date: Nov. 26, 2014

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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Xbox One Review - 'Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions'

by Brian Dumlao on Dec. 10, 2014 @ 2:30 a.m. PST

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is a new evolution of the fast-paced, frenetic Geometry Wars gameplay, and will introduce full 3D action and both cooperative and competitive multiplayer for the first time.

Ask someone who bought an Xbox 360 at launch about their favorite launch title, and there's a good chance the answer will be Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. The game, which started as an experiment in Project Gotham Racing 2, was one of the breakout hits of Xbox Live Arcade and showed that a well-designed game at a reasonable price could be just as good as, if not better than, a big-budget retail title. The success led to the inevitable sequel on Xbox Live Arcade and an offshoot in the form of Geometry Wars: Galaxies on the Wii and Nintendo DS. Six years later sees a sequel entitled Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions by Lucid Games, which is comprised of some ex-Bizarre Creations employees.

Geometry Wars 3 is still an arena-based twin-stick shooter where score is king, and your job is to blast through enemies until you lose all of your lives. You have unlimited fire and bombs to clear the screen in case things get too crazy. Taking a page from Galaxies, your multiplier isn't increased by how many enemies you down but by collecting green shards called geoms. The more you collect, the higher the score you get from each enemy kill. Unlike earlier entries that placed a cap on the multiplayer, this one leaves it free, so the sky's the limit in terms of score.

Several modes from the series' older entries make their return in pretty much the same manner. The Evolved mode is the original game; it's set in a rectangular arena with three bombs and lives at your disposal, and you can earn more lives after reaching certain point thresholds. Waves mode takes the same principle but limits you to one life, and you can't gain more. Deadline mode gives you unlimited lives but forces you to score as many points as possible under a time limit. King mode takes the Evolved formula, but you can only shoot while you're in domes that randomly appear in the stage. Each dome only lasts for a short while, so the player must change the route on the fly to limit the amount of vulnerable time. Then you have Pacifism mode, which disables your gun altogether but lets you destroy enemies by passing through rotating gates that explode.

Despite the long amount of time that has passed between entries, the level of fun each mode provides remains the same. Part of that comes from the fact that they still rely on skill. Slight patterns are present in terms of when and where enemies emerge, and movements are randomized, but the game really emphasizes awareness and reaction. Everything relies on twitch, and the best runs show off fast reactions to the ever-changing environment. The other part that makes these modes fun is the presence of separate leaderboards. As in the older games, you have several different leaderboards with each mode, and the score of your closest competitor is always present in each game you play. The constant reminder of who's better than you is a big driving force, and the triumph of beating that high score is intoxicating until you realize what the next milestone is, goading you into repeating the triumph-and-defeat cycle ad nauseam.

Just like Galaxies, Geometry Wars 3 features multiplayer outside of the leaderboards, but the experiences are different. Offline, the only mode available is cooperative; you and up to three others work together to blast through 10 levels until you reach and defeat the boss. The mode is short, and it can be confusing with so many bullets flying on-screen at the same time, but it's still enjoyable in its brevity. Online, the game expands to eight players split into two teams, and two different game types are available. Summoner has teams trying to take over control points while Stock has you and your team competing for ammo to defeat a boss. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine if these modes are any fun, since it seems like most people who own the game are more concerned with the offline modes. No online players could be found during our review time with the game.

While the game comes packed with quite a few modes for both solo and multiple players, Adventure is undoubtedly the title's main focus. You traverse the game's 50 levels, taking on challenge after challenge along with the occasional boss fight. Each level uses score as a primary factor, but they vary in execution. Aside from Evolved levels with variable life and bomb counts, you can also play in variations of all of the other modes like Pacifism, Waves, and so forth. There are also a few where you have a short amount of time to accomplish your goal, but time is added once you deal with waves of enemies.

The mode borrows even more elements from Galaxies, though some are tweaked for this entry. Each level has three different scoring milestones, and achieving each one awards you a star instead of a trophy ranking. Earning stars allows you to get drones, all of which are designed to help you even the odds on the field. An extra turret, a drone that rams nearby enemies, and a drone whose sole purpose is to pick up geoms are just a few that you can acquire as you go through the Adventure stages.

The game introduces a few new things. Instead of using the geoms to buy drones, you use them to power up the drones, improving their abilities for each upgrade. Those drones also gain powers that are limited in use, usually only once per level. Things like homing missiles, mines, and black holes for geoms can be lifesavers and are as invaluable as bombs when used correctly. Power-ups also litter the field in the form of destructible dots and include things like more bullets per straight shot, a spread gun, or front and rear fire, just to name a few examples.

The mode also features different shapes for each level, and while there are still relatively flat stages to traverse, most are three dimensional in nature. Some go for expansive, like large cubes or spheres, while others go for something odd, like a small peanut or a capsule shape. Those shapes have the tendency to hide enemies to make things more difficult, but that gets evened out by the fact that your shots wrap around the level, giving you the chance to hit enemies before you realize it. The stages that are relatively flat add things like walls, either stationary or mobile, to divide the level or provide interesting obstacles. A few levels even place those walls in the 3-D stages, sometimes with gimmicks like teleporters.

For the most part, the changes and additions in this mode give it some depth that some fans may have been looking for. The scoreboards are still there for each level, but there are no hints as to what was used to reach those high scores. It becomes a puzzle of sorts, so you can discover which combinations are effective in each stage. Even when you discover the right one, the game still values skill, as you must effectively use abilities to survive.

There is one change that can be frustrating for those who lack patience: the star system. As mentioned earlier, stars are earned for reaching specific scoring milestones in each Adventure level. While one could easily get the first star in each stage, getting the second one takes some practice and careful planning. Getting a third star takes even more practice and, in some cases, sheer luck. You can reach the first boss by coasting along and just getting one star per stage, but reaching that second boss requires earning at least two stars in a good chunk of the earlier levels. As expected, reaching later bosses requires even more stars and increases the likelihood of having to replay older stages multiple times. You can grind by playing to collect geoms to max out the stats of the drones and super powers, but those who just want to blaze through the Adventure stages and worry about perfecting them later will find this to be off-putting.

The original game may have appeared to be graphically simple, but the appearance of multitudes of enemies and loads of particle effects made good use of the hardware. By comparison, the graphics try to add to the existing base. The grid pattern that make up the arenas are still there, but they're now opaque instead of transparent, a move that gives the arenas depth once it takes on 3-D shapes. It also looks nice when enemies warp in as the field dips and distorts to hint at their imminent arrival. The backgrounds are all psychedelic-colored gas, lending an ethereal look. The enemies and your craft are still the same but have traded in their vector looks for a polygonal one. Like before, particle effects like sparks are present but are more restrained than before, so they don't make the scene even harder to see. With all of this moving at a steady and fast frame rate, the title is a looker even if it doesn't immediately show off the benefits of the new hardware.

Like the graphics, the audio elements have been beefed up in a few areas. The musical score consists of both original tunes and remixes of those from the older games, all done in a more modern electronic style that threatens to bust through the speakers with a high-energy beat. Each melody works well in the context of the level and is a driving force. The voice work consists solely of one robotic voice announcing milestones like earning a power-up or star, but it works rather well. The effects are also fine; gunfire comes out rather nicely, but it suffers when it comes to the overall mix, as elements like the beeps of enemy arrivals and the warning sounds of your shield are muted against everything else. You can tweak parts of the overall sound to make them stand out more, but those effects just aren't as easily defined as they were in the older titles.

Despite the long wait between entries, Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions ends up being a very solid game in the franchise. The core shooting mechanics remain tight, and the addition of new powers doesn't cheapen the experience. The level designs add a fresh feel to the shooting, and the various modes cater to those with specific preferences. Though the presence of progression gates can be frustrating and encourage too much grinding, the various leaderboards and pure addictive nature of the high score hunt mitigate that just a bit. For arcade style shooting fans, it feels almost mandatory to have this in your gaming library.

Score: 8.5/10

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