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This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, an Xbox Live Arcade shooter follow-up that critics say is a "superb sequel" that "bests the original in every respect" - multiple perspectives ins

Danny Cowan, Blogger

August 7, 2008

6 Min Read

This week's edition of the regular Critical Reception column examines online reaction to Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, an Xbox Live Arcade shooter follow-up that critics say is a "superb sequel" that "bests the original in every respect." Available at the Xbox 360's launch late in 2005, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved became an early hit for Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade downloadable games service, and stood as a primary source of inspiration for the many dual-stick shooters released for Live Arcade in the years since. The long-awaited sequel to Retro Evolved launched last week to a Metacritic-averaged score of 90 out of 100. Chris Buffa at GameDaily scores Retro Evolved 2 at 10 out of 10. "Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was the Xbox 360's greatest launch game, a simple and addictive shooter that did something we never thought possible: it made us care about scoring points," he begins. "Its superb sequel, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2, bests the original in every respect, retaining its addictiveness while incorporating six excellent games for just 800 Microsoft points ($10). Welcome to your new obsession." "Like previous Geometry Wars games, Retro Evolved 2 drops you (as a tiny spaceship) onto a grid and challenges you to blast enemies for points," Buffa explains. "Not only must you make short work of your foes, but you must also raise your score multiplier by collecting tiny green dots called geoms." Buffa feels that Retro Evolved 2's new modes make for a more complete and compelling experience than its predecessor. "Whereas the original featured one new mode, Retro Evolved 2 has six well-designed games that could have stood alone had Activision chose to sell them separately," he writes. Buffa describes a few standouts: "Deadline forces you to score as many points as possible in three minutes. King, easily one of the best of the six, places circular zones on the playfield. Enemies cannot enter and you can only shoot while inside them. After a few seconds, however, your zone disappears, forcing you to clear a path and run like hell." "As we were fans of the last game, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 needed to be exceptional to pull us away, and we're ecstatic that Bizarre Creations exceeded our expectations," Buffa notes in conclusion. "Sure, it doesn't have online multiplayer, but its assortment of games and leaderboards are exactly what we wanted. It's hard to imagine even five of this year's games being this much fun." OXM Online's Andrew Hayward gives Retro Evolved 2 a rating of 9 out of 10, claiming that the title outclasses even its most recent spinoffs on other consoles. "Geometry Wars may no longer be an Xbox-exclusive (Geometry Wars: Galaxies hit Nintendo platforms last year)," he says, "but with the release of Retro Evolved 2, Live Arcade is again the home of the best this revered arcade shooter has to offer." "Featuring new enemies and a collection-based multiplier system (built off that in Galaxies), an updated version of the endless Evolved mode is at the foundation of Retro Evolved 2," Hayward describes, "while the Waves mode initially included with PGR 4 adds another take on the established formula." Like GameDaily's Buffa, Hayward finds that Retro Evolved 2's new modes are strong enough to stand on their own as individual releases. "Four original modes (Deadline, King, Pacifism, and Sequence) bring the grand total to six, and all are addictive, polished, and highly distinct versions that could have easily been released separately for a few bucks a pop," he says. Hayward describes the Pacifism mode as being particularly innovative and enjoyable. "Pacifism mode stands out as a strategic highlight — your weapons are disabled in favor of explosive gates that appear throughout the grid," he explains. "To eliminate the masses of blue-diamond enemies, you’ll have to bait them into following you through the gates, creating an incredibly tense and enthralling experience that completely redefines what we’ve come to expect from Geometry Wars." While Hayward is also disappointed with Retro Evolved 2's lack of online play, he believes that the title remains an Xbox Live Arcade standout. "We’re more than a little sore about the inexcusable lack of online play," he criticizes, "but between the startlingly sharp neon visual aesthetic, the bumping new soundtrack, and smartly integrated Achievements, Retro Evolved 2 sets a new standard for arcade shooters on any platform, downloadable or otherwise." Dan Whitehead at Eurogamer rates Retro Evolved 2 at 9 out of 10. "Geometry Wars 2 is as carefully improved a sequel as you could hope to find," he writes. "For those waiting in the wings to scoff, 'It's just the same, innit?' - yes, it is the same as Geometry Wars. It's also completely different, in numerous ways." Whitehead explains that Retro Evolved 2's new modes provide the level of depth that series veterans demand. "Each mode offers a finely tuned challenge, designed to test and develop different skills," he praises. "Some rely on your ability to maximise scoring opportunities. Others favour impeccable manoeuvring. When frustration rears up in one mode, switching to another can provide just the right change of pace." The core mechanics also remain praiseworthy, according to Whitehead. "Speed and courage are rewarded at all times while the airtight controls continue to impress, allowing bold players to dip and swoop and feint around deadly hazards with barely a pixel to spare," he says. "It's a well-oiled shoot-em-up machine, and this sequel wisely opts not to dismantle an engine in such good working order." "Which just leaves the rather controversial multiplayer modes," Whitehead continues. "After fans have yearned for the chance to play properly across Xbox Live, the decision to support only offline multiplayer seems odd and disappointing." Retro Evolved 2's multiplayer still emerges as a fun diversion, however, despite its lack of online functionality. "Offline, however, things are pretty rosy," Whitehead admits. "All six modes are playable competitively, but it's in the co-operative play where things get interesting. Here you can opt to pilot separate ships, or you can get cosy together as co-pilots. In this configuration, one player steers while the other shoots." "The omission of online play aside, Geometry Wars 2 is everything you hoped it would be," Whitehead concludes. "It deftly builds on a simple framework without overloading it, and even finds room to make the core experience more varied and accessible to everyone. With so many me-too titles still trying - and failing - to match the original game, it's safe to say that the bar has now been raised for Live Arcade shooters across the board." Many reviews note that one of Retro Evolved 2's most significant new features is also one of its most disappointing -- while its multiplayer cooperative and competitive gameplay is almost universally praised, the lack of online play is described as a strange omission. Critics claim that Retro Evolved 2's single-player campaign remains as polished and addictive as its predecessor, however, and that its many new modes provide ample replay value.

About the Author(s)

Danny Cowan


Danny Cowan is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist for Gamasutra and its subsites. Previously, he has written reviews and feature articles for gaming publications including 1UP.com, GamePro, and Hardcore Gamer Magazine.

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