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Face-Off: Geometry Wars 2/Touch

Xbox 360 vs iPad: Retro Devolved?

It's time for full disclosure. From an entirely personal perspective, I think that Geometry Wars 2 on Xbox 360 is one of the best games ever made, and probably just pips Trials HD to the post as the single greatest download title available on the Live Arcade. The recent release of a mobile rendition of Bizarre Creations' classic for iPad has seen that insane Geometry Wars score addiction take hold once again: the handheld version is wonderful.

It's all down to that "retro evolved" formula of course. The core brilliance of the Robotron 2084 twin-stick control method, the perfectly realised vector graphics, the exponentially increasing score multipliers... All combined with modern-day enhancements like the friends leaderboard. The formula is nigh-on perfect, the execution flawless.

Over and above that is the pitch-perfect refresh of the visuals. While adhering to the original vector graphics look, Geometry Wars 2: Retro Evolved utilised the Xenos GPU within the Xbox 360 to create a huge amount of particles, enemies, and bullets - all rendered at full 1080p at an uncompromised 60FPS.

Combine this with some beautiful effects and even a cathode burn-in style post-processing filter and we have a game that looks fresh and modern while at the same time paying homage to the Golden Age that many of us grew up in which shaped our life-long love of video games.

In preparing the recent Digital Foundry vs. iPad feature, I was struck by how "extremely close" DoubleSix's conversion of Geometry Wars 2 was.

All of the six game modes found in the Xbox 360 version made their way into the new Touch version, along with a new addition: Titans, an intriguing combination of the existing GW formula with the classic Asteroids. But just how close does the conversion compare to the brilliant original?

It's been many months since I played Geometry Wars 2, and certainly the look and feel of the iPad game are very close, but upon returning to the 360 original I was struck at how much different and indeed better Bizarre's version is, while at the same time I grew more appreciative of the work DoubleSix undertook to make this game remain playable and beautiful in its own way on the new tablet platform.

So first up, a chance to see how Geometry Wars Touch compares via a specially prepared digital showcase covering all six of the game modes: direct-feed iPad footage up against some downscaled 1080p60 video of the 360 original.

iPad Geometry Wars Touch up against its 360 sibling. Some big differences but gameplay is gold on both systems. Something internet video can't show is that both run at a solid 60FPS.

Of course there are compromises. Probably the most visually noticeable to begin with is that DoubleSix appears to have gone for double-thick lines on the game's vectors, including the game text, so we're left with a much rougher look on iPad despite what is a very high resolution screen.

Head to head with the 360 version, particles, enemies (and the amounts of them) are dialled back, on-screen text dealing with multipliers is gone, and many of the more beautiful screen-rippling special effects are absent as well. The sense is of a game that looks almost like an intermediary between the original Geometry Wars and its 360 sequel.

Despite having a high-resolution screen right 'in your face', Geometry Wars Touch uses double-thick vectors, giving the impression of a game running at lower than native resolution - which it isn't.

Going back to the Xbox 360 game, it's quite astonishing just how much real estate you have to play with compared to the iPad rendition. The main gameplay arena is inordinately more vast, and your ship, along with your enemies are miniscule, meaning that when things really start to get going, the screen is teeming with more enemies to wipe out.

The thinking may be that the outsize magnification is required for the mobile screen, but it should be pointed out that one of the key strengths of the iPad is the fact that it puts an HD-style screen directly in your face. Chances are that the field of view you get with the tablet is much larger than it is playing 360 in your lounge.

Of course, it's also the case that a smaller playing area inherently limits the amount of enemies it can contain - however, I get the idea that this pretty much downscaling is as much about control as it is about the visuals.

Manoeuvring a tiny on-screen ship involves having a precise level of control that the iPad - bereft of sticks and buttons - is simply unable to provide.

Returning to the Xbox 360 version of Geometry Wars, it's immediately apparent not only that the game is much easier to control, but also that it's quite a bit harder too.

This is perhaps unsurprising - the ship's basic rate of fire seems to be very similar on iPad, meaning that in the enclosed area with more closely packed enemies, those bullets deal more damage, especially in the early stages of the each game variation.

However, levelling things somewhat is that - unsurprisingly - giving up your trusty 360 pad for a pair of on-screen virtual sticks makes life a whole lot harder when playing on the tablet.

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About the Author
Richard Leadbetter avatar

Richard Leadbetter

Technology Editor, Digital Foundry

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.