Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions review: the other side

Dimensions' new ideas are fun, but it can't quite match its predecessors

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Win, Mac, Linux, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Sierra
Developer Lucid Games
Release Date Nov 25, 2014

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is standing in the shadow of Technicolor giants.

While the series began as a novelty time-waster in the in-game garage of Project Gotham Racing 2 on the original Xbox, it became the most critically acclaimed launch title of the Xbox 360 with the stand-alone Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. Evolved was as close to a perfect expression of simple arcade design as I've ever played, and original developer Bizarre Creations followed it up in 2008 with Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2. Evolved 2 made some major changes to the series' design, but it was, at its heart, the same pure arcade shooter that Evolved was.

Geometry Wars 3 has loftier ambitions. By introducing a campaign and customizable ship loadouts to the series, new developer Lucid ventures into strange new territory that often seems at odds with its roots. But by including updated, "clean" versions of Geometry Wars' most beloved modes, Dimensions wants to have something for everyone.

Dimensions wants to include something for everyone

pacificism screen

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions builds upon the series' basics, which are in turn rooted in the most stripped-down arcade shooter concepts. You control a "ship" — in reality a white-lined shape that you move with one analog stick while shooting with the other. Enemies spawn in the form of colored shapes, each type representing a specific kind of behavior and pattern.

The concept has always been elevated by reflex-perfect controls and inspired arcade design. Because of Geometry Wars' escalating difficulty and completely level playing field, it's arguably been the best competitive score-chase game in the modern era.

Dimensions' focus departs from this concept — instead of a flat, identical board, Adventure Mode features stages set on three-dimensional shapes as well as more traditional arenas. Even "flat" stages tilt left and right as you move across them.

This in and of itself is a Big Deal. The way I managed returning enemy types shifted considerably without corners to run to or chase toward, and I had to consider what I couldn't see at any given moment as much as what was in front of me. This isn't a bad thing, necessarily. Combined with a number of new game types and some clever level layouts, some of which change shape during play, Lucid manages to keep things shifting and engaging most of the time. Dimensions makes the level layouts themselves as much of a challenge to overcome as the rapidly increasing enemies within them, and beating each stage felt like a new accomplishment. I frequently replayed levels to satisfy the three-star score requirements.

I also played, over and over, to beat my friends' high scores. Every level in Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions has its own leaderboard, and it wisely continues the tradition of showing the closest friend's score to your own while you play each stage. It's a powerfully motivating force, the kind that might prompt you to dump hours of your time into a two-minute drill game type to do better than the next person on your friends list.

gw3 screen 2

Not every level is a winner, however, and as Adventure Mode progresses, the difficulty sometimes skews toward the punishing rather than the challenging. Geometry Wars has always had a capricious mean streak, spawning enemies on top of players and presenting certain enemy combinations that often prove to be literally insurmountable. But Dimensions pushes this to frustrating new highs, especially during some of its boss levels.

Note: We were not given an opportunity to properly test Geometry Wars 3's online multiplayer modes prior to publication. This review reflects impressions of Dimensions' single-player elements only. We'll be sure to update this review if our experience with multiplayer this week substantively affects our assessment of the game.

Yes, Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions adds bosses to the series. They often feel the most unfair and the most capricious, and require the most trial and error, which, surprisingly, seems at odds with what Geometry Wars has always been. But Dimensions' biggest change to the Geometry Wars arcade status quo is the drones.

Drones are companion ships that perform different tasks depending on the model in question, and each seems tuned toward a specific play style. I gravitated toward the magnet drone, which gathered geoms for me, allowing me to focus on clearing enemies instead. With certain bosses, though, I switched to a drone that fired along with me, the only hope I had against particularly nightmarish waves and challenges. Eventually, you'll also unlock the ability to choose a special attack for your drone, which in turn allows for additional customization.

gw3 screen 3

I felt like the small gameplay benefits that resulted from my drone were not enough to compensate for the weird mental effect it dropped over my score-chase aspirations. There's no way to know what drones or power-ups your friends used for their runs. But more annoyingly, drones are upgradeable, meaning that the highest scores for each level will likely be obtained by players who have leveled up their tools and gone back later.

Combined with the sheer number of boards in Adventure Mode — 50 in all, and that last one is a real jerk, let me tell you — I have a hard time envisioning the kind of aggressive, trash-talking competitive furor over Dimensions that defined my time with Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and Retro Evolved 2.

Perhaps in response to the anticipated angry grumblings of the most change-averse Geometry Wars fans, Lucid has also smartly included six classic modes with Dimensions, encompassing the series' traditional draws. Pacificism and Evolved are here, and as far as I'm concerned, everything else is a bonus. There is a slight difference in feel in the Dimensions versions, but the level playing field so important to the spirit of the series is present and accounted for here.

Wrap Up:

Dimensions' new ideas are fun, but it can't quite match its predecessors

That inclusion isn't Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions' saving grace, exactly. Tallying its original content on its own, Dimensions offers a very replayable, highly varied take on a too-long dormant modern classic. That new take doesn't hit quite as strong a note as its predecessors, but the presence of the modes that made Geometry Wars so beloved makes for a game that feels much more definitive, and much more worth recommending.

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions was reviewed using a pre-release "retail" Xbox One downloadable code provided by Activision. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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