Bizarre Creations’ Project Gotham Racing 2 wasn’t just the best console game of all time, it hosted a whole other game in its cavernous virtual spaces: the protoypical Geometry Wars. It seems more like a sideshow attraction, a hidden experiment not meant for human eyes, rather than something that would become an iconic Xbox Live Arcade titles. While the series has had a number of installments over the past eight years, it was Geometry Wars 2 that serves as the high mark of the series, and the one you should own immediately.
Why is Geometry Wars so great? Because it’s simple. You push a claw-shaped ship across the grid-laced playfield with your left stick and jettison yellow darts at your polygonal enemies that explode into splashy particle effects upon impact. It doesn’t take long before you’re hooked. The original Geometry Wars (the PGR2 version) featured a single square battlefield filled with enemies that would give chase, black holes that would explode if allowed to absorb too many of your fellow opponents, and, well, lots of diamonds.
Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (2005) launched at 400 Points along with the Xbox. Bizarre couldn’t give the game away, as originally intended, because of Microsoft’s strict stance toward pricing in the Xbox Live Arcade. (They also ruled that XBLA games also couldn’t be larger than 50MB. What a crazy idea!) The game was an incredible upgrade over the original (in fact, including the original for comparison), with the fabric of the game’s blue grid swirling and tossing as you blasted away.
Geometry Wars 2 arrived after Activision had acquired Bizarre, but their logo only appeared in a handful of games before they shut Bizarre down. Instead of merely featuring the original mode mode of play from previous titles – that is, gaining lives and bombs by shooting bad guys and getting higher scores – GW2 featured eight gaming modes. My favorite, and the one that keeps me loading the game up every time, is Pacifism. Based on the Achievement from the previous XBLA title where you were required to fly around for sixty seconds as mobs spawned around you and you couldn’t fire a single shot, Pacifism requires you to move your ship with precision. As you pass through neon barbells, they detonate, serving as your only weapon in the mode. GW2 also featured multiplier variables in the form of dropped glowing pellets, requiring you to not only dispatch foes, but cleverly clean up after them to build up your score.
It’s a shame that we’ll probably never see a game from this series again, but we’ll always have Geometry Wars 2. Then again, I wasn’t sure how they could’ve improved on Retro Evolved until Bizarre proved me wrong.