The intergration of music and play has been refined and advanced in recent years, but it’s actually an old dynamic; Super Mario Bros. and Bubble Bobble both featured music that sped up when the timer began to near zero, increasing the pressure to complete the level in time. Developers know that creating video game music is not restricted to composing roaring symphonies and catchy beats; dynamic music can reflect on in-game events, adapt to them and amplify them through this adaption. The soundtrack to twin stick shooter Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 performs this powerful role exceptionally.
Firstly, Retro Evolved 2‘s trance music fits the game’s design like a glove. It’s the perfect complement to the explosive display of rainbow effects, all of which are augmented by the game’s black canvas. The overall result is akin to the immersion and insularity of the clubbing scene; Retro Evolved 2‘s electronica and bright visuals hold your attention through sensorineural overload.
Retro Evolved 2‘s music goes beyond thematic harmony, however. For example, take Deadline mode in which players shoot enemies to collect as many points as possible within three minutes. The thumping, fast beat suits the high-octane gameplay, but the devil is in the details. If you watch the video above, you’ll note the music has seven distinct sections, two of 15 seconds length at the beginning, followed by five lasting 30 seconds.
Each section serves its own purpose. The first two, lacking in layers and involving basic beats, are introductory, whilst the final two form a busy crescendo that adds pressure to the climax, as well as alerting players to it. Actually, each section serves this grander purpose of being a time cue; since each one is distinct, players become accustomed to them. The more the mode is played, the more a player is able the instantly translate transitions from one section to another as markers of time left within the countdown, and this is why the transitions are at half-minute intervals. It’s a subtle touch, but it’s a highly effective one too.
Sequence’s sectioning is more established because of the nature of the mode and yet the music feels just as cohesive as Deadline’s. Sequence, as the name suggests, requires players to complete twenty predetermined levels in order. Again, the unobtrusive yet constant beat suits the mode’s more protracted gameplay. However, if it were all the same beat, it would become stale and annoying. So, each time a level is completed the music changes. What’s interesting is how each level is interconnected by the music; the prominent musical layer of the previous level becomes the softer background layer for the level after it. This helps enforce each level being separate but also keeps the mode feeling like a singular entity. In fact, to give the mode a ‘to hell and back’ feel, the transitions reverse halfway through, so by the end you’re listening to the same music you were at the beginning (see above).
The dynamic between Retro Evolved 2‘s music and gameplay can be more palpable in some modes than in others. In King mode, players can only shoot when in protective bubbles. These bubbles implode after a short period, forcing players to weave their way through a sea of enemies to the temporary haven of another bubble. Accordingly, King’s mellow, underground beat dies down to an almost muffled level when players are outside of a bubble, reflecting the hit-and-run gameplay as well as the stealthy evasion required to reach another bubble.
Contrastingly, Pacifism mode has the most subtle of touches; not only does it add a final layer to its music only when players have guided their ship through a certain number of gates, but because the mode has a few different tracks, each starting with different layers of the final tune they all evolve into, it produces ever-so-slightly different music each time it’s played. I doubt many people noticed this; the only reason I did is because it’s the one mode I’m dangerously addicted to.
I’ve talked so much about this dynamic without even mentioning half of its intricacies, how events like dying, explosions and huge enemy assaults can produce effects like quietening or what sounds like a DJ scratching, or the way rewarding events like obtaining another life or bomb are harmonized into the beat with prominent, positive notes. Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 doesn’t just do the music right, though. The impeccable controls, the diversity of the modes, the integration of addiction-fuelling leaderboards, and the simplicity of the design all bear mentioning too; without them the game would be so much less. Still, when it comes to being evolved, the game’s relationship with its music is its most enhanced of qualities.