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January 01, 2006

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved

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This is why I spent £279 on a multi core, state-of-the-art, "next-gen" console – to play retro games!

A quick bit of history first. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (hereby GW:RE from now on) is the "sequel" to the original "Geometry Wars". Geometry Wars was technically an easter egg game hidden in Project Gotham Racing 2 for the original Xbox and looked a little like this . Not so hidden inside Project Gotham Racing 3 for the Xbox 360 is GW:RE, or at least a 4 minute demo of it. The full version is available on the gradually becoming brilliant, Xbox Live Arcade.

So, the aim of the game I hear you cry? Well, put simply, shoot the shapes, don't get killed. Straight out of the late 1980s, you fly around a small white spaceship, firing at different coloured shapes while trying to avoid contact with them (dead). What makes it different from $2D_Space_ShootEmUp is many things.

Firstly, and possibly most importantly, the graphics. While I wanted to write the review without mentioning the words "High Definition" I'm afraid I can't. On a standard definition TV, the firework-esque explosions look brilliant, but they really come alive when used on an HDTV or Computer Monitor (such as the one I'm using, no HDTV for me :( ). Rather than a static black map we have a space fabric that warps and bends as objects move and explosions occur. This warping causes the enemies, and you, to be pulled about on the map a little, while the "black holes" (in fact red circles) suck in all matter with it's own gravity/warping of the space-time fabric. The later you get on in the game, the more and more busy the screen gets with explosions happening literally every fraction of a second illuminating the screen a great light show. It's very easy to stare blankly at the beauty of your handiwork (as yet another blue diamond explodes) and forget to keep playing – it looks that good.

The controls system is intuitive, although not "pick up and play"able if you haven't used a console controller before. The left analog stick moves your ship around space, while the right analog stick fires the gun (independantly of the way you're facing). If you want to score big, you need quick fingers and a sharp eye for that illusive gap in the enemies to escape.

Each enemy has it's own unique personality which is a welcome change to the mindless drones of yesteryear. Whether it's the scaredy-cat green diamonds in squares, the purple crosses in squares, or the sidewinder style enemy, you're sure to find yourself bearing a grudge against a 4 sided shape pretty soon. Deciding which group of enemies to attack first and how is a big part of GW:RE.

The sound is nothing stellar, but fits perfectly with the game. A simple soundtrack sets a perfect tone for an epic battle against the evil forces of polygonal shapes, but can be turned off in favour of a custom soundtrack stored on the hard drive, portable music player, or networked Windows PC.

Possibly the most attractive feature of this game is it's retro price of only 3.40. Given I also spent £35 on Project Gotham Racing 3 and have spent almost equal time on each goes to show that even reworked retro games (albeit from 2003) can hold their own against today's multi-million pound counterparts.

Extra Info:

Joystiq's Review - 10/10
Video of 4.2 Million Score - ~166MB, but extremely impressive
Interview with the Mastermind behind GW:RE

December 17, 2005

GT Legends – A Review

5 out of 5 stars

Anyone familiar with the dark horse hit that was GTR FIA Racing will already know SimBin (game engine) and 10tacle (developers) have built themselves a very good reputation very quickly. Although the game was a solid title supported by 5 patches, it still didn't quite provide the smooth online play some might have expected.

In steps GT Legends , built on a slightly modified engine/physics engine to GTR FIA but this time built around sports cars from the 1960s and 70s. With some well known cars as the Porsche 911 , Chevrolet Corvette and as shown in the game cover, the Ford GT40, it certainly doesn't lack authenticity. With "more then 90 original FiA GTC-TC team vehicles" [sic] which equates to about 25 unique vehicles, there is a decent choice of cars all the way through the game.

Some people might be disappointed when you start the game that you can leap right into a GT40 and burn up any of the games "25 variations of real tracks" straight away. Instead GT Legends has opted for a psuedo-"Gran Turismo career" where you start in the lower league cups, working your way up earning the money to buy/win the beasts. Although there are only 5 Cups A-E, and 4–5 sub-championships within each they get progressively longer, but no less interesting. After each cup you unlock new tracks and sometimes a new era of cars to race meaning the desire to finish "just one more" championship is often too strong.

On the graphics front GTL is very strong much like it's older brother GTR and with everything turned up to max it does look very convincing. The lighting effects are very well done although perhaps shadows could punish lower-end systems. One noticeable, but presumably easy to patch bug so far is that cars don't cast shadows when you look at them in mirrors giving the appearance they are flying just above the track.

If the graphics weren't pretty enough, the sound is quite possibly so good you'll be in awe every time you sit on the starting grid. As you'd expect from any racing game that takes itself seriously all the cars were recorded from their real-life counterparts throughout the entire range of the engine. Different engine noises depending if you're sitting inside, behind or infront of the car and enough sound voices to let you hear most, if not all of the cars around you give a very realistic sense of actually going 3 abreast into the first corner.

Given the change of cars from GTR to GTL it's difficult to tell if the physics have been improved between games. However it is possible to say that all the cars handle exactly as you'd expect them too, from the super-slidey AC Cobra to the comparably slow musclely Ford Mustang. Collisions with such immovable objects as, erm, walls, are accurate, although when slowed down in replays, cars can seemingly pass through the wall/track for a period of time, but it does happen so quickly you won't notice in real time.

The AI was another part of the original GTR that really did excel, and was possibly the best AI in a racing game I'd ever seen. Their "non-pack" style of racing cough Gran Turismo cough was a welcome surprise, and the vigour with which they both defended their positions with acceptable amount of blocking and also the small feints up the inside when trying to pass made for a very interesting opponent. Given the two games are based on pretty much similar game engines its no surprise that the AI is convincing again. From my time playing I've certainly noticed they defend their positions even more vigorously, especially on higher levels of difficulty making it very tough to pass. Although the AI is pretty quick on an open track, it will often get quite confused if one of it's counterparts (or me) have spun in the middle of the track, and they will slow down to an over-sensible speed so as not to collide, allowing you to catch up easier than you might otherwise have done.

Online play is not something I've delved into yet, preferring so far to complete the game and make sure I'm capable of keeping up on those "no driving assists" servers without spinning out at the first sight of a corner. Patch 1.1 added support for an (almost) unprecedented 36 player multiplayer when using a dedicated server so I can only assume 10tacle are pretty confident their net code is a little more solid this time around.

Overall GT Legends is a more than capable replacement for GTR and I fully expect it to be adopted by most online racing leagues as a result of it's already healthy coat of polish. Highly recommended to anyone that enjoys simulation racing games, but a steering wheel with force feedback is nigh on essential to get the most out of GTL. Five stars.

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