Geometry Wars 3 and the Evolution of the Twin Stick Shooter

Geometry Wars 3 and the Evolution of the Twin Stick Shooter

Times have changed more than you think since 2008.

Despite the very real significance of the series that launched nearly a decade ago, Geometry Wars 3 has curiously flown under the radar since being announced back in August.

Playing Geometry Wars 3 has left me to think about its role in what could be considered the next phase of twin stick shooters. Could it be considered out-of-date now? I don't think so. But in its own way, it's certainly a throwback.

Developed in part by refugees of Bizarre Creations, who first developed Geometry Wars as a bit of test code for Project Gotham Racing, Geometry Wars 3 is very much like its predecessors. Variously colored shapes fly about the screen as a thumping electronic soundtrack plays in the background, with the only goal being to survive and rack up the highest score possible. What interests me about Geometry Wars 3 is how the shapes start to take on a life of their own over time. Some are rather straightforward, but others will fly around in awkward patterns or act aggressively, making them easy to personify and even hate a bit.

Geometry Wars 3's main addition is its 50 level Adventure Mode, which features a variety of challenges, among them boss battles and gimmick stages where you can't fire a weapon and can only dodge enemies as they zip in and try to attack. Most take less than a couple minutes to complete, making them as compulsive as the core game. And it's here that the development team clearly has the most fun with the design, introducing 3D stages where shots wrap around a large geometric shape that has the player trapped in its orbit, and otherwise throwing as many tricks into the bucket as possible.

Whem Geometry Wars 3 is eventually released, however, I suspect that I will go back to the classic score attack modes that I've come to know and love over the years. It's those modes that often found me popping on at 2am to try and beat one of the impossibly high scores set by the likes of Nick Suttner, who was a reviewer at 1UP at the time. Their beauty was in their one, straightforward objective: Stay alive.

In introducing elements like progressive challenges, Geometry Wars 3 seems intent on keeping pace with the changing twin stick shooter landscape. But of course, twin stick shooters have changed a great deal in the intervening nine years since Geometry Wars became the launch game to own on the Xbox 360.

The original helped to spark an arcade craze of sorts, giving rise to a number of other score attack games in the years that followed, from Everyday Shooter to Super Stardust HD. Namco Bandai Namco also dusted off several of its arcade hits from years past, revamping Pac-Man and Galaga with great success. By 2008, the year of Geometry Wars 2, the surplus of twin stick shooters and arcade games had become a glut.

The booming popularity of games like Geometry War could be owed in part to the novelty of digital distribution at the time, which made possible tiny one-off shooters that would have otherwise tanked at retail. But as size limits rose (Xbox Live Arcade games were originally limited to a mere 50MB) and downloadable games became more elaborate, arcade revivals and shooters slowly fell to the wayside. With that, developers like Housemaeque began making games like 2010's Dead Nation—an isometric shooter that featured a more traditional level progression and horror elements borrowed from games like Left 4 Dead. In the years that followed, games like Nuclear Throne followed in its footsteps, introducing RPG elements and other more complex mechanics.

Which is not to say that traditional twin stick shooters have died off completely. Just last year, Housemarque released Resogun—a critically-acclaimed twin stick shooter that flipped the perspective from top-down to horizontal. On Steam, there are plenty of more traditional arcade shooters to be found. But equally common are the likes of Halo: Spartan Assault, which explores the origins of the Spartan program from the perspective of an isometric shooter.

In trying to break into the dramatically reconfigured digital distribution landscape, Geometry Wars 3 faces plenty of competition. Happily, while Geometry Wars has been gone for several years now, it has not been forgotten by those who remember spending hours trying to beat their friend's scores. Nor has the team at Lucid Games been complacent—Adventure Mode is proof enough of that. For those reasons, Geometry Wars 3 should be able to gain plenty of traction.

It is interesting to think about how much things have changed in the past 10 years though. We tend to think of progress in the games space as being incremental these days, but in just the past few years, the twin stick shooter genre alone has changed tremendously. All it takes to bring it into perspective is to play the game that helped start it all.

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Kat Bailey

Editor in Chief

Kat Bailey is a former freelance writer and contributor to publications including 1UP, IGN, GameSpot, GamesRadar, and EGM. Her fondest memories as a journalist are at GamePro, where she hosted RolePlayer's Realm and had legal access to the term "Protip." She is USgamer's resident mecha enthusiast, Pokemon Master, and Minnesota Vikings nut (skol).

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