games / Columns

Crossing the Steams 9.25.12: Waves

September 25, 2012 | Posted by Marc Morrison

Waves is yet another in a series of dual-joystick shooters that have been riding the wave (pun intended) since Geometry Wars hit the scene 7 years ago. Geez, has it really been that long? Anyway, Waves isn’t the most original game to have come after that seminal game, it’s still a pleasant enough diversion to keep you occupied for a little while.

Waves is the almost quintessential Geometry Wars clone. Whether or not that’s good is dependent upon how much you like that game style. You move with one analog stick, shoot with the other, and the two triggers are used to activate your special abilities.

You only really have two special abilities as you play the game. Your right trigger is the slo-mo button, while the left is your bomb button. Slo-mo is fueled by a bar around the top of your ship’s circle (more on that a bit later). It is very limited, but refills slowly on its own. When you enter slo-mo, the game slows down around you (even the music), and any enemy you kill during it gives you a 2X bonus. There is a limit on how much slo-mo you can have, and when it’s full the announcer says “buffer full”.


The left trigger is the bomb trigger, but bombs don’t work exactly like they did in Geometry Wars. In this game, you don’t start with bombs or have them in an inventory. Instead, bombs are activated when you build up your kill multiplier in multiples of 10. The first time you hit an X10 multiplier, the number turns red and starts beeping. This is your cue that the bomb is now active. When you use it, it sends a wave out from your ship that destroys all enemies within a medium distance. Then if you keep the multiplier to X20, you get another bomb, and at X30, X40, etc. It’s not strictly set at 10, if you hit the button at X13, then you’ll get a bomb at X23 instead. You only have a few seconds to use the bomb, otherwise it expires. If you use the bomb, while slo-mo is activated, it gives you a decent-size bonus score to your points.


Your ship is always surrounded by a circle as you play the game. This is the “point break” circle, that lets you know when enemies are close for the point break bonus. If an enemy is within the area and is destroyed, you get a X2 point break bonus for it. It’s a give and pull of gameplay, to try and get close to enemies to destroy them within the boundary. Again, this leads you trying to use slo-mo while an enemy is close to you, because then you can get both bonuses (slo-mo and point break), giving you a better score.

Enemies usually fly around randomly, avoid your shots, or actively try and come at you. Most of them are standard fair for this type of game, but there is one unique enemy in the game that should be addressed. There is a green circle enemy that is basically a virus. Once it’s on the stage, it’ll start rapidly expanding out and multiplying, covering bigger areas as it does so. Within it are little red circles that are bomb nodes that will detonate the entire structure once they explode. This single enemy is what prevents this game from being a complete Geometry Wars clone. They introduce a lot of strategy (along with the power ups), because you’ll want to avoid shooting them for a while, to let them grow. Once they are covering a good chunk of the playfield, THEN you shoot them (hopefully with slo-mo activated) so that the bonus you get will be massive.


When you kill an enemy, they leave behind blue energy for you to collect. At the bottom of the screen is an experience bar that dictates the difficulty of enemies (the higher the level, the more difficult the enemies). The blue energy is what feeds into the experience bar and grants you level ups and so on. There are also multiplier pads that pop up once you have a level up. Once you go over them, your score just gets a base multiplier for the rest of the round, so it’s a good idea to collect them.

The game modes within Waves are just riffs on previously established modes from other games. The default mode is “Crunch Time”, which is just a three-minute long level, where you try and get the highest score you can. You have infinite lives during this mode, but the timer is constantly counting down and can’t be refilled.

The second mode is “Survival”, wherein you’re giving 3 lives, but you have no timer to worry about. A new life is awarded at every 10 levels, as you play. When all your lives are gone, the mode ends.

“Rush” is the 3rd mode, and kind of the inverse of Crunch time. You’re given infinite lives, but only 2 minutes are on the clock. You have to kill enemies, and level up to put more time on the clock. There are also special cube enemies that are harder than normal enemies, but put more time on the clock. You have infinite lives in this mode also, but each time you die, it removes 10 seconds from the timer, and also you have to wait a few seconds to respawn.

“Bombing Run” is the 4th mode and one where you don’t have any guns at all. You have to collect bombs that are on red pads and place them on the green pads. When you pick up a bomb, you only have 10 seconds to get it to the green pad; otherwise it’ll destroy your ship. When the bomb explodes on the green pad, it sends out a wave that destroys all enemies around you (think a normal bomb, but slightly bigger). You only have three lives in this mode.

“Challenge” is the 5th mode and kind of the meat and potatoes of the game. It gives you 20 levels of increasingly difficult enemies to destroy, where your total is added up at the end. You are timed during each level, and only have a few lives to try and make it through to the end. After each wave, you are graded on how well you did, and how long it took you to get through it.

“Chase” is the last level in the game, and is a tweak of the Bombing Run mode. In this mode, you have your gun, but you have to keep flying to red pads that are on the stage. You only have 5 seconds to make it from pad to pad, or else you lose a life. This mode has infinite time (except for the 5 second timer), but you only have three lives.

Graphically, the game is simple, but has some nice effects going on. I really like how the level generates a wave front as your ship moves around the level. There are also some nice explosions with the bombs, and slo-mo power up. Enemy designs could be more varied, but they get the point across well enough. I really wish there was more backgrounds, or different effects that could help spice up the game though.

Audio is slightly hit or miss at times. The sound effects sound muted and wimpy (especially the sound of your gun). The voice acting is also kind of hard to understand, be it the male or female announcer. The music is very good though, hard techno that reacts somewhat with the intensity of the game. It’s also kind of cool to hear when you slow the game down, the music slows with it.

Waves installs and runs with no problems. You can play it with a mouse and a keyboard, but a gamepad is recommended (and has support for the 360 gamepad). There are Steam achievements as well, giving you something to try and complete as you play the game.

Each mode has a leaderboard for it that draws from your list of friends. There is also a leaderboard option that shows how well you do against your previous runs, and against the world. This is about it for replayability. It’s fun to play the game, but there is no upgrade mechanic (like in Beat Hazard), or anything to really unlock, so you might get bored after an hour or so. If you have a lot of people on your leaderboard, then you’ll spend longer. If you have practically no one on it, then you probably won’t spend as much time. This seems to be the case with most games, these days.


Waves is a decent little riff on the Geometry Wars formula. It doesn’t do anything completely original (except for maybe the virus enemy), but is competent enough in the core of it, that maybe it doesn’t need to. The original Geometry Wars port for computers isn’t exactly the best port in the world. If you’re interested in it, try the demo, and see if it grabs you or not.

Graphics — 7.0 Decent enough, but a bit drab. Everything is colored like Tron, but there isn’t enough variety there, anymore. Some very good explosions happen, though.

Gameplay — 7.5 The virus enemy is awesome, as are some of the bonuses you can get. The point break ring is neat, but the game doesn’t go far enough. No upgrades or anything special.

Sound — 7.0 Sound effects are muted, and the announcers are largely unintelligible. The music is great though, and has a good beat to it.

Ease of Installation/Playing — 9.0 The game runs well, no slow-down (unintentional slow-down), or lockups. Gamepad support and achievements are a godsend.

Replayability — 6.0 If you have friends on the leaderboard, that’s good. If not, then it can get dull quickly. There isn’t enough to keep you occupied for too long.

Overall — 7.3 (exact), which I’ll round up to 7.5

Other Steam News

Well, this is the final week of my The Secret World experiment. I got to the third area and got fairly over-whelmed by the higher level enemies and such, so I didn’t have that much fun playing it this week.
Since it’s the final report, I’ll discuss a few general thoughts on the game. I like the idea of it generally, having three factions battling in a semi-realistic setting (translation: not in space, or in high-fantasy world), and the combat is generally acceptable.

The game does an incredibly poor job of telling you what to do, where to go, why any of it matters though. You’ll get quests to go do something and have almost no clue as to what to do, or where you should go. The game provides cryptic clues, but really, you just alt+tab out to Google, and search for it. That’s not very fun, frankly. It breaks up the pacing of the game, and the immersion factor.
The combat in the game generally holds up, magic spells, guns, traps, chain hits, etc., but the lack of healing hurt me a lot. I could never figure out where to go, or how to adequately get potions (energy drinks in game terms), that would keep me going.

The inventory management system is also a disaster, with my character having tons of runes to use in crafting, but the crafting system not explained well. You get a quest very early on, that explains it to you, but it feels incomplete.

I don’t think Secret World is the worst game ever (that goes to Inquisitor), or the worst MMO ever (that goes to Auto Assault), but it is just kind of middling. It has some good ideas, but the game doesn’t explain itself, or its systems well enough to get you hooked (which is what it desperately needs to do). WoW was successful at launch, partially because of its dumb nature. WoW’s systems (at first) were incredibly simple, but the designers rolled them out in an incredibly intelligent way, as to keep people coming back and learning how to do new things. The Secret World is missing this key element, and the game suffers largely due to it.

I was also put off, personally, at some of the sexual scenarios in the game. It seems fairly inappropriate and odd. Others may not bat an eye at some of the things in the game, but to me they felt incredibly out of place.

Final Score — 7.0

There are four games out for release this week on Steam. The Testament of Sherlock Holmes is due on the 25th. It’s another in a series of Holmes game that is an adventure title. It doesn’t have Benedict Cumberbatch in it though, so what’s the point?

On the 26th, the port of Castle Crashers is finally released. It seems odd, considering that game is 4 years old, but what do I know.

On the 27th, there are two games Carrier Command: Gaea Mission and Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy. Carrier Command looks like a military action/strategy game, where you can take control of different units. Half Minute Hero is the final(?) version of the game, which is a RPG but you only have 30 seconds to complete a level and save the world. Next week I shall look at Hard Reset.

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Marc Morrison
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