It’s a strange sensation loading Geometry Wars 3 up on a Playstation console for the first time. As a bonus hidden within Bizarre Creation’s Project Gotham 2 for the original Xbox, the series is unequivocally linked to Microsoft’s consoles, with the Xbox Live Arcade release of Retro Evolved remaining the most downloaded title for the platform. The game paved the way for the rise of the twin-stick shooter on both XBLA and PSN, and now the series is looking to cement its position on the next generation of consoles, introducing 3D areas and competitive multiplayer to the game’s kaleidoscopic action.
You’re welcomed to the game by thumping bass and the option screen, with the two main modes broken up into Adventure and Classic, while also offering both online and local co-op options. Classic features five of the most iconic modes from the earlier entries in the series – Deadline, where you have to score as many points as possible within the alotted time, King, which sees you limited to one life and no guns outside of King zones, Pacifism, which gives you one life and no guns, with enemies dispatched by flying through explosive gates, Waves, which gives you one life to achieve a high score, and Evolved Classic which is the original game revisited.
Adventure is a campaign mode with a series of levels to work your way through, each with different requirements. The five classic modes make an appearance here alongside five completely new game types, including Rainbow, where you must stop enemies from colouring in the whole game area, and boss battles. Each stage has three score tiers to try and beat, which each net you a star. Stars are accrued and allow access to gated levels further along, or unlock ship upgrades which are a key component to success. Every level features an online leaderboard, of course, allowing you to compete with both friends and the wider world.
Your introduction to adventure mode is two straightforward rounds of Deadline before you hit your first boss level, a shielded sapphire which spawns enemies while dropping its shields and spinning after you. Though the boss is relatively easy to dispatch, achieving the highest score tier is not, requiring a tactical approach to net the biggest multiplier. Players have to farm the low-level enemies until the timer is nearly running out before turning their attention to the boss itself and while that tactic works for this level it won’t for the next. Each of Geometry Wars’ game modes, and the myriad enemies, require different approaches and it’s this that sets the game apart from other entries in the genre.
Beating this boss unlocks your first drone – attack – an upgradable companion who in this case provides extra firepower for tackling the adventure mode’s levels. You unlock further types each time you beat a boss, including collect, ram and defend, though you can only choose to take one of them into the level with you, providing another layer of tactical choice. While the additional firepower of attack is immediately gratifying, I found more luck using collect which sees your drone hoovering up the “geoms” which each enemy drops when they die and, crucially, go towards your multiplier.
A couple of levels later, assuming you’ve been earning enough completion stars, you’ll unlock your drone’s super; an upgradable special ability that can help destroy even more enemies and potentially get you out of a tight spot, something that occurs extremely frequently in Geometry Wars 3. Once you’ve unlocked your drone’s ability you really have far more offensive and defensive options than you’ve ever had in the series before, and on the whole the expansion works surprisingly well. Returning to the classic mode after spending time in adventure makes you feel surprisingly naked, though the exceptional gameplay remains as enthralling as ever.
Visually Geometry Wars 3 is vibrant and silky smooth, running at 1080p and 60fps on PS4 and Xbox One, and 720p and 60fps on PS3 and 360. The returning enemy types remain as iconic in their appearance as their behaviour. Despite the simple nature of each design, they are instantly recognisable, from the purple pin-wheels to the glowing orange snakes, and remain utterly timeless. The new 3D areas make a distinct difference to playing the game, with your ship’s fire curving out of sight around the apex of the shape.
Your ship responds differently as well as you maneuver around curves which slow your craft, creating an interesting nuance that the flat planes of the original didn’t have. It’s lovely stuff, and though the aesthetic is nothing we haven’t seen before in Super Stardust or Nano Assault, the variation in control is something I haven’t come across before. King mode in particular takes on a new difficulty in 3D, with the safe-haven of the king zones often out of view on the other side of the rotating object.
That difficulty is something that realistically stretches across every single mode, and Geometry Wars 3 will punish you for a momentary lack of concentration, or indeed a mis-timed blink. The adventure mode is increasingly taxing and requires you to perfect some of the earlier levels to advance, leading to an occasional brick wall, though I found that perseverance eventually won out. The game is a constant dance of offence and defence, forward and reverse, with its ebb and flow perfectly timed by its assortment of enemy types.
The thumping soundtrack heightens the experience, playing sci-fi club music for space-faring ravers, and serves purposely to send your heart rate even higher than the neon soaked twitch gameplay would alone. It’s not uncommon to come away from one three minute session manically clutching your Dualshock, heart pounding and sweat on your brow, only to immediately hit the replay button and subject yourself to it all again.
Using the Dualshock 4 is one of the only issues that I found with the game, and despite the huge improvement that Sony have made to their controller over the Dualshock 3, Geometry Wars 3 shows that the thumbsticks on the D4 are just a touch too slippy when put under pressure. Compared with the accuracy of the Xbox 360 and Xbox One pads, there is still a discernible difference and players that own multiple machines may want to take their controller preference into consideration when making a purchase.
The online modes are perhaps the weakest part of the overall package, as despite it being launch week the two offered modes of Stock and Summoner never accrued enough players to feel worthwhile. Though mechanically sound I would wager that they’re simply not what players are looking for from the game or the series, as the blistering action lends itself better to solo achievements than manic multiplayer, and the online leaderboards provide more than enough interaction for this type of game. Perhaps it will find a following in coming months but I think players are more likely to ignore them in favour of the main offline package.
Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is a fantastic return for the series that brought the twin-stick shooter to modern consoles. Damningly hard, visually and aurally distinctive, there are few games that can match it for both immersion and addictiveness.
Version tested: PS4