Review: Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions

Time is scary.  Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 came out a little over six years ago and how on earth have six years gone by since then!?  Still, it beats getting bludgeoned with annual sequels, so it’s hard to complain too much.  After all this time waiting a new Geometry Wars is a real treat rather than simply the latest game in the series, and if Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is more a franchise rebuild than a true sequel it’s still a fun little twin-stick shooter.

There’s two ways to view Geometry Wars 3– either as a new game in the Geometry Wars series, or as its own individual game, free from expectations based on previous series entries.  For the sake of this review I’ll be approaching GW3 mostly from the latter perspective, because every game element feels like it’s been re-thought from the ground up to present the series to a new audience.  For those curious as to how it stacks up to its forerunners, though, I can say that just because GW3 is easily the weakest entry in the series, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game.

Geometry Wars 3 is an arena shooter wrapped around a series of 3D objects.  While the twin-stick shooting is set on a plane, same as normal for the genre, that plane isn’t likely to be flat this time around.  Levels can be set on spheres, cubes, whatever a peanut-shape is called, or even on the traditional rectangular surface given a slight bit of warping at the edges.  Bullets fly as if the world was flat, wrapping around sharp corners or up the curves of a sphere, traveling as if there’s no 3D bending to the arena.  The familiar claw ship and the hundreds of enemies swarming the arena surface all travel the same way, making the 3D levels serve the purpose hiding encounters around the curve of the world and while providing a nice bit of eye-candy.  It says something about the effectiveness of the level design that the best arenas are the ones that are mostly flat, with all the action happening on a single (non-sphere) surface.

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The main mode of Geometry Wars 3 is Adventure, which strings 50 levels together one after the other with six boss fights interspersed along the journey.  Each level is its own variation on the Geometry Wars theme, with different goals, enemy mixes, and individual leaderboards.  One level may see you with only a single life, smart bomb, and bonus ability to reach the maximum high score, while the next might be a score attack with infinite lives but limited time, or a battle in an arena that’s gradually getting smaller and smaller until there’s no place left to dodge.  Each level has a set of score targets to aim for, with rewards ranging from one to three stars, and if you don’t earn enough stars the section’s boss fight remains locked until you go back and improve a bit.  Once a level is open you can play it as often as you like, chasing after a full three-star rating and a spot above your friends scores on the leaderboard.

Scores can get a bit ridiculous as you go, due primarily to the potential for the score multiplier to increase without limit.  Every enemy killed drops a little green chip or two, called geoms.  Each one collected adds an x1 to the score multiplier, and it’s not unusual to finish a level with each enemy being worth 600x or more its base value.  What this means in practice is that the race  from zero to 100,000 takes longer than going from 8,000,000 to 10,000,000, especially seeing as by that point the enemies will be swarming thick and deadly.  Survival is the tricky part, of course, but if you can get through a swarm in the latter half of a round your score is going to appreciate the effort.  Getting there can take a bit of patience, though, because one of GW3‘s weaker points is its pacing.  Levels are supposed to begin easier than they end to help you get up to speed with the challenge, but the speed that the enemy swarms increase is just a bit too slow, especially on the later levels when you’ve had more than enough prior experience swatting small ship clusters and just want to get on with things.  Still, with a bit of patience and a lot of restarting, that three-star rating isn’t too hard to obtain.

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Once a level is complete the geoms collected get added to a running total you can spend on upgrading the drones and their special abilities.  The drone is an AI helper that can be very handy in a fight, and they come in five different version with five potential super abilities.  The basic Attack drone shoots out the same bullets you do, while the Sniper doesn’t fire quite so fast but its laser is an insta-shot across the screen capable of blowing through multiple enemies.  The Defense drone fires in the opposite direction of your ship, Ram plows into multiple enemies, and Collect chases after geoms with no offensive abilities.  Each one is useful in different ways, and only a couple of levels really require a specific type of drone to conquer.  The special abilities are rationed out like the screen-clearing bombs, although I found that, once I had the turret maxed out, there was no reason to use anything else.  There’s just something about a giant spinning wheel of screen-clearing bullets that makes the less pyrotechnic abilities feel underpowered.

As a stand-alone twin-stick shooter, Geometry Wars 3 is a nice bit of arcade blasting, but as mentioned earlier it’s got a heritage that it doesn’t quite manage to live up to.  It’s a noticeably less chaotic affair, with fewer enemies on screen at once that feel like they’ve been mildly nerfed.  Black holes are far rarer, activating one no longer creates an accretion disc of broken particles, and the explosion lets loose larger homing enemies that are much easier to target.  The update to full polygonal graphics takes away Geometry Wars‘ distinctive neon vector look, replacing it with uninteresting semi-pastels.  While the grid deforms as you and the enemies travel across its surface, it no longer reacts to firepower blasting across.  Geometry Wars 3 is easier, blander, and significantly less awesome than its prequels, but fortunately they set a bar high enough that failing to clear it just means GW3 is merely pretty good rather than fantastic.

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Closing Comments:

The problem with reviving such an excellent series is that comparing it to past games is both completely fair and also a bad idea.  It’s easy to look at all the things Geometry Wars 3 leaves behind while neglecting that it’s a still a fun, challenging shooter.  Every level is something new, and if the fully 3D arenas come across as more gimmick than enhancement they’re still neat to look at.  There’s fifty unique levels of varying gameplay with individual leaderboards for each, and that’s the kind of challenge that can easily provide many hours of shooting challenge.  Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is a solid reboot of a series that’s been gone far too long, and even if all of its experiments on the old formula don’t work, enough of them do to make it a game worth chasing as many high scores as you can manage.