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Face-Off: Geometry Wars 2/Touch • Page 2

Xbox 360 vs iPad: Retro Devolved?

The iPad's rendition of the control system is a work of both genius and insanity. Just like 360, one thumb controls ship movement, while the other directs firepower.

Typically, these on-screen "thumbsticks" fail horribly in most iPad games. Play Call of Duty Zombies or NOVA and it's immediately obvious that the natural drift of your digits across the screen means that fixed "sticks" simply don't work.

The solution chosen for Geometry Wars is clearly the way forward: once you rest your thumbs on the screen, that's where the pad is calibrated from. To reset the position of the stick, remove your thumbs and rest them on the display again. It's far more intuitive and workable and lets your fingers drift around the screen. Watch the video again to see it in action.

control1
control2
See those white/blue circle combos on the left and right of the screen? Those are the on-screen virtual thumbsticks, or 'control nodes' as Bizarre calls them. It's the best on-screen stick implemented we've used to date with the iPad though still not perfect.

The only problem with the control system is one of friction. The iPad's glass causes thumbs to "drag", numbing response. Also, as mentioned both in the DF iPad feature and also in Kristan Reed's Best of the iPad piece, the placement of the smart bomb button in the centre of the screen is an unfathomably boneheaded idea.

The screen-clearing weapon of last resort becomes almost useless as you try - and usually fail - to lunge across to the button, an effort which of course means that you can't fire at the same time. Instead, the smart bomb is used as a strategic score booster, only really useful when your ship is in a safe area of space.

Other changes and omissions in Geometry Wars Touch hint that Apple has some work ahead of it in improving its online gaming infrastructure, especially as Microsoft readies itself to bring Live to smartphones.

The friends leaderboard - such a key component in the 360 title - is much more limited in the iPad game. There's nothing Bizarre or DoubleSix could have done about this of course, as there's simply no Xbox Live style of service available for the iPad.

The 360's Achievements are in there mind you, but like the pre-Trophies systems in place on some games on PS3, they don't have quite the pull without the adherent online bragging rights or gamerscore boost.

So, what of the new Titans mode found in the iPad game? It's a welcome addition, but it's something of an off-cut and conceptually not as strong as the classic Geometry Wars 2 game variations.

It's similar to the classic arcade game Asteroids but instead of enormous rocks we have outsize Geometry Wars motherships instead. Blast the "titans" into smaller craft, then deal with a swarm of normal-sized enemies when they're broken down still further.

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A couple of shots of the Touch-exclusive Titans mode. It's all about breaking down the mammoth ships into smaller ones, then dealing with the legions of enemies that issue forth as a result.

While Titans is an enjoyable enough addition, it's not really in the same league of genius as the make-up of the other game modes. Thankfully, the realisation of GW2's game variations is so on the money that any drop in quality with the bonus extra mode isn't exactly an issue.

In conclusion, DoubleSix has done an excellent job of repurposing Geometry Wars for the mobile screen, retaining the essence of the original game while making cuts in the visuals that do not compromise what makes the game so fun. It should be pointed out, for example, that Geometry Wars Touch runs at a pretty consistent 60 frames per second - a key component of the arcade experience of yore.

Running the game with a clean reboot and clearing the iPad's 256MB of onboard RAM also helps a bit in maintaining that performance.

But all of this is not to say that the iPad version is above reproach. Control - or momentary lack of it at virtually any given point - is something that could do with some improvement. While the dynamic touch-sticks concept works better than any other implementation I've played on the system, there's a sense that the kernel of the idea could be refined still further - though how you overcome the friction of the screen remains to be seen.

Looking ahead, an iTunes App Store update with a better spot for the smart bomb button is a must. Perhaps dynamically relocating the button to a position within reach of the firing pad would work.

Over and above that, introducing screen orientation or at least turning the current screen upside down would definitely help. Right now, if you're playing with headphones (as you should - audio is excellent) the cable gets trapped beneath your left hand, making gameplay increasingly uncomfortable.

Right now, Geometry Wars Touch - and indeed the "re-imagining" of DICE's Mirror's Edge - are excellent examples of how existing HD console games can be repurposed into viable, graphically exciting iPad (and indeed iPhone 3GS/4G) titles.

With heavyweights like Epic moving into the space with a fully armed and operational Unreal Engine 3 implementation, it'll be interesting to see how the games on this platform improve and evolve over the coming months.

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About the author

Richard Leadbetter

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry  |  digitalfoundry

Rich has been a games journalist since the days of 16-bit and specialises in technical analysis. He's commonly known around Eurogamer as the Blacksmith of the Future.

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