It’s the age-old story: Boy meets girl. Boy shows girl Geometry Wars 2. Girl is nonplussed. Boy persuades girl to at least try it. Girl plays Geometry Wars 2. Girl loves Geometry Wars 2. Girl buys entire Xbox 360 just to play Geometry Wars 2. Girl beats boy’s top scores in Geometry Wars 2. Boy is sad. The end.
That, from personal experience, explains pretty much exactly why this game is so great. For starters, the clue is in the game’s full name: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2 (opens in new tab). It is a retro arcade game at heart, combining the best bits of Asteroids (pictured, inset), Centipede and literally anything on the Vectrex.
It embraces everything that made early video games so addictive. The core gameplay doesn’t change radically from the moment you start shooting until the moment your final ship explodes in a cascade of high-definition sparks. And that core is strong enough to carry the entire game, just as it had to be in the ’80s.
Visually, it’s comparatively basic, with vector-style visuals making up the walls, player, and enemy graphics, with particle effects used liberally, to create a mesmerising pattern of colours and lights. Despite its simplicity, it’s one of the most beautiful man-made creations you can observe, especially if you’re watching in HD on a decent TV.
The main game throws everything at you, procedurally adding harder enemies and more obstacles. It steps back a notch or two every time you die, which is precisely why you need to not die, as the highest scores only come from sustained periods of play in hyper-crazy-mania mode. That’s not the official name, but anyone who’s played it will know the frantic later state we mean.
However, as a stroke of absolute genius, the main mode is then split up into smaller, more focused modes of play. They unlock as you go, each one coming just a few plays after the previous until you’ve got them all selectable from the main menu.
Among them is Pacifism, one of the most addictive and simple games you can play on any console. This mode removes your ability to fire, turning this twin-stick shooter into a single-stick survival game. All you have to do is pass through gates without getting touched by an enemy. Each gate successfully navigated destroys any enemies in the vicinity, leaving score multiplier pick-ups in their place.
Admittedly, there is a degree of luck involved in getting a good run (resulting in countless self assurances of ‘one more go… well, one more good go’), as the enemies and gates spawn randomly around the play area. But there’s no denying that once you get into the zone, you’ll feel where you can go next. Its instinctive. It’s brilliant.
Also adding to the single-player excellence is one of the best Achievement sets in any Xbox 360 game. They’re all enjoyable and still further enhance the variety of gameplay. And we still secretly yearn to complete the set by completing the infamous ‘Smile’ achievement, which requires you to pass and fail certain stages in the final mode to create a smiley face in the level list. One day…
But there's more. An even bigger reason why this could only work on a machine like Xbox 360...