With Geometry Wars 3, Geometry Wars has finally made the transition to being a game just like all the other games. Depending on how you feel about every other game ever made ever, this may or may not be a good thing.

I’ll admit, I’m kinda disappointed. I’ve lost hundreds of hours to the previous iterations, from the original Xbox tucked-on-a-fake-arcade-machine lo-fi version, to RE and the sublime RE2. Yes, even Galaxies. Whilst I’d have dearly loved Geometry-Wars-In-My-Hand, I’m well aware that it probably would have been a tremendously crap idea on the original DS (wot with needing to justify a cartridge on top of all that) and Galaxies was good enough. It was good enough that I eventually had to lose the game somewhere so I’d stop playing it as I’d gotten a bit hung up on beating scores and all that.

Where Geometry Wars always, always worked for me was that its structure was entirely no fuck around. It’s a game that’s strong enough to lean on its mechanics, to strip away the cruft and bullshit to something pure. It’s a trick we’re seeing a lot with the move to hardcore-quick-restart stuff, the kind of thing that Terry Cavanagh does so fucking well. The kind of thing that makes Helix by Michael Brough one of my games of the year. Helix is an alt.universe Geometry Wars anyway, one where it had to be built around the limitations of touch screen. It’s fucking cool. Play Helix.

Geometry Wars 3 is every other videogame out there and after two hours, I’m kinda pissed off with it.

I’m pissed off with it because it’s alternating between boring me and roadblocking me inbetween the good bits and I’ve never really known that feeling with a Geometry Wars game. I’ve known it with plenty of others but Geometry Wars has always been my haven away from all that. It’s what made it so fucking good. Now it wants me to work.

It wants me to earn stars. One star, two star, three star like Angry Birds and a million and one other mobile games. But Geometry Wars has never needed that hook to get me to replay parts of the game. I’ve never needed the game to set goals for me to achieve. Fuck, what Geometry Wars 2:RE did with scores which we now take for granted, that always chasing your next highest friend, that alone kept me playing for hour upon hour upon hour trying to shave a point or two more just for that small, slender victory. Knowing, of course, that tomorrow it’d be gone and I’d have to do it all again. But fuck it because it’s fun to do it again. So good, right?

The problem with the one star, two star, three star take on scoring is that the scores stop being about my achievements. They become about whether I reached this bar that a developer wanted me to reach. It stops being about “well, that was good for me” and becomes about “have I hit a target that I’m required to hit”.

Scores are weird and intensely personal things when used in a game properly, Geometry Wars always understood this. Geometry Wars let me concentrate on what was good for me or, if I wanted to, compete with my internet and real life chums. Now I can’t revel in that score being better than the last score because I’m too busy concentrating on whether I got a shiny that the game needs me to get. They’re no longer mine. Imagine if Super Hexagon gave you star ratings. Now stop imagining that, it’s a horrible thought.

I’d love to ignore it, I’d dearly dearly love to ignore it and just concentrate on beating the next person up on my score list but the fucking game insists that I have to earn these stars in order to progress. It’s Geometry Wars and they’ve gated the progress through the game in a way that requires me to grind levels to proceed and I don’t ever want to feel like I’m grinding yet here it is, Geometry Wars:Making Me Grind Edition. Why? Why?

I don’t understand why it’s there in a Geometry Wars game but I understand it less when Jeff’s Resume Best is a thing (see TxK, Space Giraffe etc…) Instead I require X amount of stars to carry on playing. Well, that’d be sort of a bit more fine if a lot of the levels in the adventure mode weren’t just plain tedious and dull, y’know? Not that there aren’t good Geometry Wars levels in here, just that there’s also plenty of not-good Geometry Wars levels alongside them and I’d sooner not have to see them again.

(Jeff’s Resume Best, for those who don’t know, stashes your best score away for each stage. There’s a few conditions on that but generally, it means that you can scoot through level to level with no progress being blocked and if you get a crap score, that’s OK, you can go back and try again when you’re better at the game. And if you don’t like or enjoy a particular stage, that’s OK. You never have to go near it again if you don’t want to. It’s a really elegant solution to opening up high score games to more abilities.)

And in a similar twist to Galaxies, I get to use the pick ups to buy stuff for my pet drone who does some of the work for me. So to make the grinding a bit more bearable, I need to grind some more to get enough geoms to get stuff for my drone and oh god, just kill me now.

I don’t get it. I don’t get why Geometry Wars, of all things, ended up like this. I don’t get why it’s workified. I don’t get why it’s gated. I don’t get why I have to grind and I really, seriously, do not get why I have to fight bosses because bosses are shit most of the time in videogames and in arena shooters even more so. For the real kick in the guts, it’s the fucking bosses that are gated. So I’m earning points and stars and geoms and whatever else along the way to play a stage I don’t even want to play and would sooner cut my nose off than have to sit through because seriously, fuck bosses.

Geometry Wars 3:Dimensions is the anti-Geometry Wars.

Where Geometry Wars to Geometry Wars RE to Geometry Wars RE2 felt like ever deeper experiments on how much you could flush out of a few simple mechanical ideas, Geometry Wars 3 adds stuff. Not depth. Stuff. It’s content but it’s not really ever adding anything to the game, at best it just sort of pads it out a bit, at worst it blocks you from progressing until you’ve achieved an arbitrary achievement.

Maybe that’s your thing, I dunno. It’s not really mine. It’ll probably be massive. We’ve spent a lot of time teaching people that working in a game instead of playing equals depth. I think that’s bullshit but hey, the public gets what the public wants.