Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2

Two quick presses of the green button. That’s all it takes. Two quick presses, and I’m back in. This time, I know, will be different. I know what I did wrong. I’ve got a better strategy this time. Things are looking good. I’m definitely seeing my name at the top of that Leaderboard. Whoops. Shouldn’t have done that. Dead. No problem. Two quick presses, and I’m back in.

Geometry Wars 2 is a brilliant, exhilarating, and damnably addictive gaming experience that will grab hold of you like few other games you will ever play. Aside from its stylish play, slick interface, and pulsing soundtrack, it is that little green A-button that will keep you going. Developer Bizarre Creations has eliminated any reason whatsoever to walk away from the game. Why should you, when the time between failure and restart is literally less than a second? Two quick presses of the green button, and you’re back in action. It may seem like a little thing, but trust me: that green button will keep you playing Geometry Wars 2 deep into the night.

It helps, of course, that the game also happens to be a showcase of challenging but fluid game mechanics and spot-on controls. After a few minutes with Geometry Wars 2, it can be easy to take for granted the laserlike precision of the independent movement and firing sticks the game relies on completely. Aside from pulling a trigger to clear the screen (limited by the number of bombs in your arsenal), those two sticks are all you have to move, defend yourself, take out enemies, and stay alive. They work flawlessly with nary a stutter or even a split-second hesitation; which is a good thing because a split-second is often all that stands between you and game over.

Geometry Wars 2 features six modes of play, each challenging the player in different ways:

Deadline: score as many points as possible in three minutes. You have unlimited lives, but each time you die your score multipliers reset from zero.

King: navigate from one randomly generated safety zone to the next. You may fire only inside these zones, which shrink and disappear after a few seconds, forcing you to keep moving.

Evolved: stay alive a long as possible scoring as many points as you can. You can extend your time by earning extra lives and bombs. This mode will be familiar to anyone who played the original Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved.

Pacifism: Navigate through gates to destroy nearby enemies. You have only one life and no weapons.

Waves: steer clear and shoot to eliminate full-screen-wide waves of rockets closing in on you from all sides.

Sequence: Complete twenty separate arenas, each containing a different pattern of enemies. Clear each screen within thirty seconds to proceed to the next. Sound difficult? It is.

I prefer King, while Waves is my least favorite. Why? It has nothing to do with the gameplay or design of the modes. The simple fact is I’m fairly decent at King (currently second on my Friends Leaderboard), but Waves usually does me in within a minute (currently dead last on my Friends Leaderboard). We like what we’re good at; no surprise there. Nevertheless, I continue to try Waves mode nearly every day, certain that I will crack it one of these times. Part of the genius of Geometry Wars 2 is its ability to knock you down, but not hard enough to make you hate it. You always come back for more.

Geometry Wars 2 exhibits one principle of superior game design that dates back to the early arcade era and links to its spiritual predecessor, Robotron 2084. Great games ramp up their difficulty just enough to entice you to improve your skills, but not enough to permanently discourage you. This is a difficult balance to strike, but Geometry Wars 2 nails it perfectly. The game encourages you to keep trying, and this repetition is bound to make even weak players feel they are making progress. On the other hand, allowing a novice to observe an expert playing the game can result in one of two outcomes: a slack-jawed look of utter awe, or the novice screaming in terror and fleeing the room. This game eventually gets very, very hard.

Geometry Wars 2 also includes co-op and competitive modes for up to four local players. I found that my 36-inch HD television accommodated two players nicely, but adding a third and especially a fourth created a condensed visual chaos I found difficult to manage. If you intend to play with four players, I recommend a bigger TV.

I also wish the game offered an online multiplayer option, but the lightning-fast action and twitch controls may be beyond the limits of reliable online play. Even a scintilla of lag would very quickly diminish the experience of playing the game. Still, the game seems to cry out for online play, and a competitive take-turns mode wouldn’t be subject to lag issues at all. The music can also be repetitive at times, but now I’m just picking nits.

Geometry Wars 2 is the best game and best value available on Xbox Live Arcade. You will play it and replay it for months and years to come. Grab your controller, strap yourself in, and get ready for a thrill ride.

RATING 9 / 10