Evolved is the third mode and much the same as the previous game, albeit with the addition of Waves enemies and geom-based multiplier system. Pacifism is an expanded variation of the Achievement from the first game which required you to survive for 60 seconds without shooting. Beefed up into a mode all of its own, you can now only destroy enemies by flying through gates and as the majority of the enemies are those bastard blue diamonds that home in on you, it gets incredibly frantic very quickly.
Waves is unlocked next and then it's on to Sequence, which involves twenty miniature survival challenges: thirty seconds on the clock, increasing amounts of enemies - most of which spawn in a circle around you - and limited lives. Each life lost bumps you to the next challenge, but it's impossible to fail your way to success for long. Even though, you can play any mode whenever you want, Sequence has the unmistakable air of a grand finale about it and makes for a impressive climactic gauntlet for experienced players.
There's more to this spread of play options than random diversity though. Each mode offers a finely tuned challenge, designed to test and develop different skills. Some rely on your ability to maximise scoring opportunities. Others favour impeccable manoeuvring. When frustration rears up in one mode, switching to another can provide just the right change of pace.
Equally, it ensures that everybody can find a mode at which to excel. My own weakness is steering. Once things get hectic I start shrieking like a menopausal woman at a Chippendales show and promptly crash into easily avoidable foes. That's my burden, I live with it and Deadline mode means that I can now concentrate on scoring without worrying that my cack-handed control is going to end the game prematurely. You'll find your own preferred niche, I'm sure.
Praise for the core gameplay almost feels redundant, given that so much of what is so deliciously right about Geometry Wars was pretty much perfected back in 2005. Mostly it's the balance that impresses most - and what the pretenders to the throne so often miss when blindly copying the kaleidoscope graphics. Every element of the game is designed for maximum efficiency. Even in the wildest graphical swirl, enemies are distinct thanks to their simple colour coding, while instantly identifiable sound effects tip you off to changes in the play area almost subliminally.
Speed and courage are rewarded at all times while the airtight controls continue to impress, allowing bold players to dip and swoop and feint around deadly hazards with barely a pixel to spare. It's a well-oiled shoot-em-up machine, and this sequel wisely opts not to dismantle an engine in such good working order.
Which just leaves the rather controversial multiplayer modes. After fans have yearned for the chance to play properly across Xbox Live, the decision to support only offline multiplayer seems odd and disappointing. Offline, however, things are pretty rosy. All six modes are playable competitively, but it's in the co-operative play where things get interesting. Here you can opt to pilot separate ships, or you can get cosy together as co-pilots. In this configuration, one player steers while the other shoots. This is similar to the basis for recent XBLA release Schizoid, whose claim to being co-op game ever is now rendered almost completely redundant.
You can even have up to four players split into teams. It's a really strong line-up, rich with multiplayer possibilities, which makes the lack of online all the more frustrating - especially since there doesn't seem to be anything in the game that would make Xbox Live struggle. When you consider that even the DS version of Geometry Wars: Galaxies managed wireless play - including a fun "versus" mode where one player spawned the enemies for the other to fight - this is the only area of the game that feels less than satisfying.
The omission of online play aside, Geometry Wars 2 is everything you hoped it would be. It deftly builds on a simple framework without overloading it, and even finds room to make the core experience more varied and accessible to everyone. With so many me-too titles still trying - and failing - to match the original game, it's safe to say that the bar has now been raised for Live Arcade shooters across the board.
9 / 10