Review – Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved

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The problem with Geometry Wars 3 is that it tries too hard to be better, without understanding what made the prequels good.

Geometry Wars 2
Geometry Wars 2

Geometry Wars is basically Robotron for the modern era, and the first GW games knew this. They adhered to the important bullet points, and they were fast, immediate, clear and simple. The new game is only fast.

Robotron, released in 1982.
Robotron, released in 1982.

There are a few things I like – the core gameplay is largely tweaked but not significantly changed, with the tilting 3D playfields being the most significant new feature. These are fun, I like them, but sometimes they’re stupid. Fighting on a cube or a peanut or a sphere or other weird geometric structure is a great idea, it’s futuristic and neat! But there are a host of problems with the design and the implementation.

In Robotron, there was a single screen full of bad guys, and the player moved within the screen. In Geometry Wars the playfield is larger than the screen, and so there’s some scrolling, meaning that the player can never see all the edges and corners of the playfield at the same time. This isn’t a massive change, but it slows things down a bit while you move all the way back to shoot the one enemy you missed and trigger the next wave. In the new Dimensions game fully half the playfield can be hidden at any time. Or not, depending on the shape being played.

Tilty scrolly plasma miasma!
Tilty scrolly plasma miasma!

And the playfields all tilt, even the flat original-style stages, as the player moves. This creates a weird situation where you need to constantly adjust your aim as the playfield moves around you. It doesn’t seem to impact play, but I can’t shake the feeling it’s arbitrarily fucking with me for the sake of effect.

Does it need to tilt?  A third of the screen is wasted, and aiming is more difficult.
Does it need to tilt? A third of the screen is wasted, and aiming is more difficult.

In Dimensions you have to play in a specific sequence, a linear series of stages, each with a specific playfield shape and game type. If you don’t like either one, too bad, you’re forced to play it to reach the next one. This bugs me, but it’s hardly the biggest problem with the idea.

You’re also forced to play well. Not letting a player see the remaining levels until they are good enough to get there is a fairly standard game technique. No one reaches the eighth stage of Raiden without clearing the first seven stages, right? Dimensions, however, demands that you meet a goal – points or time or whatever – and awards one, two or three stars depending on whether you simply clear this hurdle, or blow past it and clear even higher ones.

This mode, this field, play until we say you can stop.
This mode, this field, play until we say you can stop.

And so you play a stage twenty times and finally clear it, but you can’t fight the boss on the next stage until you earn enough stars, which means going back and repeating them again and again to earn the required quantity. This is a bullshit method of stretching out the game, IMO. I hate it. I beat the fucker, let me keep playing!

You can go back and play the classic stages, of course, but they lack the new game modes and 3D playfields. There’s no mix-and-match setup, so the new game modes are all linear busywork or it’s back to the classic game you already played to death.

Drone config screen.
Drone config screen.

There’s a touch of strategy with the introduction of drones. Several different kinds are available, each needing to be earned by clearing stages, and powered up by spending your multiplier (a running total is accumulated during play, for the sole purpose of powering up your drones). For some stages you may chose the magnet drone, which gathers multiplier crystals, or the autofire drone which assists with enemy destruction. You also get a selection of bomb types, but really, they all just blow shit up, so I’m not sure the point.

Also there's powerups.
Also there’s powerups.

Ultimately, my biggest complaint is the immediacy of the game. In Geometry Wars 2, starting a game immediately placed the player on the stage, and the game begins. In Dimensions, depending on the game type, there’s a lengthy delay while the developers show off their polygons. Things hiss into existence, levels assemble, the player is dropped, and then play begins. This takes five seconds every time, and up to ten seconds on some stages, and it’s a maddening change from the previous games. When you’re just zoning out and enjoying the experience, the old game let you play more or less non-stop, but when you’re in a slump and your levels last only twenty, thirty or forty seconds, a ten second delay between each restart drops you out of the groove and, frankly, pisses me off quite a bit.

5-10 seconds of this.  Every time.
5-10 seconds of this. Every time.

And so a great game is given a new dimension (oh, I see what they did there), keeps the insane plasma miasma visuals, plays really well, but saddles the whole affair with a structure that removes player freedom, demands a specific type of replay, and just fucks around at its own leisurely pace when all you want to do is play another round.

I like it. I play it regularly. But I can’t recommend it without reservation.

Incoming badguys.
Incoming badguys.

[ Apr 1 2015 ]

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