I stuck my middle finger up at my TV within five minutes of playing Geometry Wars 3. It was a moment of elation that I'd just beaten a friend's high score at the fifth attempt, having failed to even complete the level the previous three times because the run wasn't 'perfect'.
Perfection, of course, is relative in score attack games of Geometry Wars' ilk. Perfect means you're better than all of your friends. Perfect means your micro-failures, and often your overall position on the global leaderboard become irrelevant, because you're the best amongst your social circle, and that means you define perfection. It is this incredible obsession that Geometry Wars feeds on so well, and its ability to take inspiration from elsewhere while leaping into the third dimension make for a worthy entry to the series.
For the purists, Arcade mode sticks to its 2D roots and includes all the game types from previous entries except for Sequence. But the game's centrepiece, Adventure mode, offers 3D levels set upon a variety of shapes. You'll be whizzing across spheres, cubes and other geometric shapes trying to survive against the never-ending onslaught of foes in a variety of game types. Each of the mode's 50 levels has its own leaderboard, too, so even if you obtain the desired three stars, you can still try to climb further up the ranks. Every enemy tries to kill you in its own way, and learning how to deal with each is the key to a good score.
Where Adventure mode excels is how it improves user skill without forcing practice. Previous Wars required players to get better through repetition on the same level. Adventure mode has a great amount of variety in both its stage design and game types, but the core gameplay remains the same, so you're able to translate those principles across the whole experience. I grew to loathe Geometry Wars 2 because I didn't become a world-beater in my first three games. 3's Adventure mode distracts me from the need to practice. Instead I'm busy worrying about other factors: what Drones and Supers are best for this level? When should I use the smart bombs? How the hell did my friend achieve THAT score?
Drones and Supers, another new addition to Adventure, are boosters to help you against the hoard. Drones are floating companions while Supers are limited-use items similar to the board-wiping smart bombs. You can upgrade your preferred options by spending the little green geom multipliers collected in each stage. Knowing which combinations work best for each level is key to obtaining three stars. The Collect drone, which mops up geoms for you, works better in condensed maps with a time limit, while Attack, an additional gun, is better in larger stages against waves of enemies. These added layers of depth are great new features that give you even more excuses to try every arena at least once more.
However, Adventure mode stumbles when it introduces gametypes which fail to grasp the concept of the series. When your entire purpose is to achieve a high score, a 10 minute endurance slog in which enemies spawn at random is pretty useless, as you can learn little from such stages. Nor is there an element of challenge or a desire to go back and play said level again, as it's far too long.
Randomly-spawning enemies will be a constant thorn in your side. You'll be dealing with hundreds of foes at once, nimbly crafting a small gap in which to weave through, only for the game to decide to load in the latest wave of foes right on top of your bonce. There are times when it can feel impossible to avoid death and you'll have an excellent run cruelly ripped away thanks to luck, something which should never become a factor in a game which requires such immense skill.
Geometry Wars 3 most certainly isn't for everyone, but for the masochists it's intended for there aren't many better games around. It's one long adrenaline rush. You'll curse its name after every death, but then you'll get good, and you won't be able to stop. 'One more go' will start to mean 'one more hour'. Time spent not playing the game will be spent thinking about how to improve on current scores. You'll be striving for perfection, and once it's achieved, every bump along the way will be worth it. All those mistakes fade away, and you're left stood atop the mountain that is the friends leaderboard.
Version Tested: Xbox One.
Population Theory: Why Geometry Wars 3 needs more players
A game like Geometry Wars is dependent on a dense population of players to thrive. No matter how wonderful the game is, without a thriving user base eagerly trying to best each other, it won't last long. Geometry Wars 3 is excellent, but as things stand, its leaderboards are vacant.
On one of the latter stages of Adventure Mode (level 44) I ranked in the top 750 in the world (on Xbox One). I was quite proud of myself, but cynicism took over, and I checked the full leaderboard list. There were just over 1300 scores submitted on the level in total. So it turns out, even at the tail-end of Adventure Mode, and even with a severely limited amount of players, I'm still rubbish at Geometry Wars 3.
Some leaderboards have more upwards of 10,000 scores submitted, but until this is true of every inch of the game, the experience risks being short-lived. The game hasn't been out long, so there's still time for the number of players to grow over the festive period, but I remember playing Retro Evolved 2, and it felt like every 360 owner had it. I had loads of friends' scores to battle against, I never really cared for the global leaderboards, but right now I have just a few to compare with.
Geometry Wars 3 deserves your attention. Hopefully it doesn't get ignored under the swarm of holiday releases, and people find the time to post scores like it's 2008 all over again.