My 360Voice bot-blog has been griping at me for weeks as I’ve left the 360 unattended in favor of Etrian Odyssey and Blood Bowl pursuits. I was already thinking, “Maybe I should log on this weekend and just see if anything interesting is going on.” When I gathered a couple of new names from a forum I frequent to add to my Friends List, it was a done deal already so the announcement of Geometry Wars 2 being released can’t really be blamed in full.
What I can blame GeoWars2 for is my lack of sleep through the weekend and an onset of OCD-like symptoms that have me twitching and scheming to get a few more minutes in on various game modes like Pacifism and King.
Bizarre has done some interesting things with the Geometry Wars brand/franchise since the Retro Evolved game for XBLA became an early contender for best of show on the platform at launch. Some might persuasively argue that until the release of Oblivion and Dead Rising, it was the best next generation game period. I’m not saying I’m one of those people making that argument, I’m just saying they might have a case. Evolved was a sublime example of the kind of game console gamers wanted on their living room consoles. It was simple, harkening the old Atari 2600 era, but with a fresh feeling aesthetic and a rudimentray use of the Xbox Live platform features (the scoreboards I mean) that lent validity to the whole endeavour. The ribbon that tied the whole thing into a package suitable for delivery was the game’s in-session difficulty curve and obfuscated inner workings.
Obviously some of the “rules” of Retro Evolved are knowable: Multipliers occur at geometric sequence points starting at 25 with a ratio of 2, weapon changes occur every 10,000 points, extra lives are awarded at 75,000 point intervals and extra bombs at 100,000. But what is only surmized or perhaps supposed is the other less tangible elements: Some games it seems the waves that spawn from the board corners are heavily favored to one enemy type or another. Sometimes gravity wells (those hated foes that draw in other enemies until they nova into rapidly-moving clusters) appear within the first 10,000 points, other times they don’t appear until well past the first extra life. The explanations for these discrepancies are largely superstitious, but the fact that they are observable but not capable of being realistically charted makes them exciting, an element of randomness.
Add to that the fact that wepon changes cycle through only two options once you advance beyond the basic shot so you may stick with a favored cannon for minutes on end while other times you may find yourself flipping rapidly as probability allows and your score multiplier increases the milestone rate. Since some enemeies are subjectively easier to hit with one weapon or another, the game seems to intentionally introduce a certain arbitrary chaos into each session such that you want to keep trying “just one more time” to find that perfect storm of chance and performance that equates to a high score mark.
But since then the development team have opted for a more well-defined experience. I first heard about the “Geoms” concept when reading reviews of the Wii and DS exclusive Geometry Wars Galaxies, where each destroyed foe drops a temporary pickup that can be collected to various ends. In Retro Evolved 2, the Geoms are now the score multipliers and their ubiquity allows the scores to reach new stratospheres for good players, especially since the multipliers don’t reset with each life the way they did in the original Retro Evolved. Likewise, the sequel has five new game modes in addition to the basic Evolved game which are all enjoyable although a couple like King and Pacifism are clear favorites. But curiously those modes are those that are furthest removed from the predecessor’s gameplay: They drastically alter the rules of the game and, in Pacifism, almost create an entirely new mechanic.
I played Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved on 76 different days. I don’t have any measurable or accurate statistic to indicate how many hours went into each daily session; some were lengthy stretches others were quick one-or-two game stints. But it is listed as my most-played Xbox 360 game ahead of Oblivion; while Oblivion may have it beat in hours (something like 200 total hours went into that epic) I wager that given the additional 24 days I fired up GeoWars, it’s probably in remarkably close contention especially when you think that a standard game of GeoWars takes under five minutes beginning to end. I don’t know that this sequel has what it takes to match that level of interest perhaps because they’ve made such efforts to clarify what a game of GeoWars is. I don’t mind their efforts, but perhaps I prefer to project my own perspectives into that abstracted space, and lacking some of that ability, it becomes just another game.