REVIEW: Geometry Wars Waves November 7, 2007Posted by Mike in Console, Games, Reviews.
Is it just a coincidence that the two most evil game concepts of the year involve cake? The GLaDOS character in Valve’s mind-bending Portal offers it as a reward for finishing the Aperture Science test program, while the mastermind behind Geometry Wars Waves is a programmer by the name of Stephen Cakebread. One more instance of this and we should all start to worry.
Waves, which is free inside Project Gotham Racing 4, is described by Bizarre Creations as just an additional game mode for Geometry Wars, but this is modesty worthy of Dark Mourinho. The concept may be the same – a high score chase through an overhead single screen shoot ’em up, with dual stick move and fire controls lifted directly from Robotron – but the execution is markedly different.
As its title would suggest, Waves features waves of enemies that, oblivious to your presence, move horizontally or vertically across the screen quickly, and then reverse to go back the way they came. They continue to do this until you destroy them, while in the meantime more waves are spawning ever faster from all directions, making the screen super-dangerous in no time at all. The addition of further spawning enemies, some of which make a return from Retro Evolved, and the appearance of score-enhancing gates a few minutes into the game, complicate matters still further. So here’s evil concept number one: you only have one life and no smart bombs. No mistakes, then, or game over. Tense. Bloody tense.
Evil concept number two is the scoring system. Destroyed enemies leave a small number of tiny, yellow shards behind, each of which increases your score multiplier by one when picked up. Unlike the previous game in the series, Retro Evolved, simply shooting a series of enemies does nothing for your multiplier – it’s all about collecting the shards. This changes the feel of the game completely, as while previously the strategy for survival mainly centred around running away, in Waves the only strategy that will get you big points (before the screen becomes too packed to realistically continue unless you’re Hiro Nakamura) is to attack, attack, and attack some more, moving towards the enemies you’re killing – at great risk – in order to collect the shards before they swiftly disappear. Of course, online leaderboards provide the usual bragging rights among your Live friends list.
The only negative gameplay quirk – and I hesitate to call it a “flaw” – is related to the difficulty, as Waves becomes hard extremely quickly. It soon becomes an insanely busy challenge, and this may prove too frustrating for many people. Waves is made for those who could have made a cup of tea while getting past the first 100,000 points in the previous game, but while the difficulty level can’t be underestimated, even a short game is great fun for a moderately skilled Geometry Wars player.
The real problem with Waves, amazingly, is accessing the game itself. To get to it, you have to load up PGR4, go to one of the in-game garages, and walk ever-so-slowly up to the arcade cabinet. Frankly the process takes far too long, and this is made even more irritating by the fact that when you quit, rather than sending you back to the garage (which was how the original Geometry Wars in PGR2 worked), you are dumped right back to loading up the splash screens for PGR4 again.
This ensures that only the committed will continue to play the game regularly, which is a major disappointment. Why Waves couldn’t be added to the Live Arcade menu for anyone with the PGR4 disc is beyond me, as it is tailor-made for pick up and play, and deserves a far greater audience than it is currently getting.
However, this issue aside, Waves is another triumph for the Geometry Wars series, and the low-key approach from Bizarre to its existence is baffling. Retro Evolved was formerly the best value offering on the 360, but Waves – being free with PGR4 – surpasses it. It is a brutal, merciless and frighteningly addictive game that is not for the timid, but for fans of the series and those with good reflexes, it is the current hardcore jewel in the crown of the fast-moving retro shooter genre.
I finally broke the million point barrier last night, by the way. Who’s for cake?