I was in college. I had developed a poisonous habit that kept me from doing any valuable work, was effecting my relationship, and kept me from blinking for hours on end. I would stare at Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 and the orbs would dry out. After a game I would open and close them purposefully, like you would if you had been staring at the sun, and they would get stuck in the transition. Friends’ scores would float there in the corner, taunting me. I couldn’t progress or get better, but that didn’t keep me from trying. Eventually I found out that I had been competing with people who didn’t even have a gaming console any more. The scores were ghosts of play sessions long past, and I was chasing them, trying to prove myself.
I uninstalled the game. After months of destroying my mind and body in pursuit of this horrible, unattainable state of being better-than, I moved on to something else.
Like a fool, I jumped at the chance to review Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions. I wanted to feel the skin on my thumbs get rigid and weird after two weeks of near-constant play. I wanted my work to suffer. I wanted to see the bright flashy explosions on a TV double the size of the one I owned in college. I wanted to be destroyed, willfully.
And none of that happened. The facts of the game are pretty straight forward: there are “classic” modes based around time attack and high score play, as well as the “gimmicks” of Waves, Pacifism and King (if you don’t know what those are, don’t worry about it). The basic gameplay is the same in that you are controlling a little spaceship thing that can shoot in three hundred and sixty five degrees around itself. You are navigating through a space where enemies can appear. Some of those enemies actively want to kill you. You shoot all the enemies, and you collect the geoms that they poop out in order to increase your score multiplier. You do this until you run out of time or out of lives. It works exactly the same as the previous game.
Geometry Wars 3 adds an additional adventure mode to this basic gameplay. In an expanded version of GW2’s Sequence mode, you move through a series of levels that function as puzzles to be solved with your little shooty space ship. I do not enjoy any of these levels, and it is because they all feel like gimmicks that do not deliver anything other than frustration. Where the “normal” Geometry Wars map is a large square plane, the adventure mode has you traversing lots of different shapes that the plane is wrapped around. For instance, you might need to shoot little shapes while navigating the surface of a cube or a sausage. Sometimes new enemies appear: a circle that shoots triangles; a square that colors the ground; big shapes that explode and turn into small shapes. All of these things whiz by me as I make my way through the game, and none of them generate a moment of reflection.
This is the major failing of the adventure mode (and therefore a major failing of this Geometry Wars game): nothing added in Geometry Wars 3 makes me feel awe. The brilliance of the previous games was a moment of self-exaltation. There is a beautiful narcissism to navigating a complex plane covered in enemies without dying or using any screen-clearing techniques. The adventure mode does nothing to add to that feeling, and instead puts unnecessary or unfair-feeling obstacles in your way. Added to that is an upgrade system that feels like a slap in the face to the gameplay-centered purity of Geometry Wars in the past. Now you can get a little drone that shoots with you; before, the only thing that moved with you from match to match was your steadily-building skill and the fine dust in your mouth that used to be teeth before your clenched jaw ground them to mere nubs.
You can destroy your smile again with the game modes of old in a new graphical package. If you’re looking for the next big, huge, mind-blowing iteration that jumps us forward fifty years in shape-on-shape violence, then it isn’t here. I don’t need to navigate a three dimensional pomegranate with my mine-laying drone in order to enjoy myself. In fact, it takes away from that enjoyment. You might feel differently.
Cameron Kunzelman tweets at @ckunzelman and writes about games at thiscageisworms.com.