Anger Management: A Review of Geometry Wars 2

By Nick Breckon, Aug 27, 2008 11:42am PDT Some people can handle defeat gracefully, but I am not one of those people.

When I finally die in Geometry Wars 2, a few million points into what was surely a historic run, I really can't believe it. Suddenly I'm Tiger Woods on the 18th hole, and someone just blasted an air horn in my ear.

I look around the room for people to blame, like a secret service agent hunting for the source of the magic bullet. I start putting together wild theories in my head to explain such a shocking turn of events.

The television glass was clearly refracting the light from that lamp at a 24 degree angle, striking my right eye long enough to obscure my vision, directly impairing my reaction time, which resulted in that blue rectangle thingy exploding my spaceship.

Anyone in the vicinity is immediately branded a suspect in the ongoing investigation of my death. Was that a cough I heard coming from the corner of the room? Did you close the refrigerator door on the night of the 25th? Don't you realize I was playing a video game? How can you live with yourself?

I was talking with a friend recently about the range of emotions that Geometry Wars 2 puts one through. Certainly I feel more playing this game than any two melodramatic war shooters. I can't begin to describe how much more hatred I harbor for those dodgy green boxes compared to any plain Nazi.

As we talked, I thought about all the times in my life I've set a goal for myself, and all the times I've been denied that goal. Sometimes I'll set more realistic goals, and enjoy the progression of reaching them one at a time. Other times I'll set an unrealistic goal, only to find a reward in the pursuit of the impossible.

Geometry Wars tends to mirror these processes in a very pronounced, often painstaking way. Playing this game, I really am Tiger Woods--setting my own finish lines, practicing every day, looking for that perfect strategy that will unlock a whole new level of personal achievement. In reality, I can't really beat anyone else--all I can do is beat myself.

Of course, even Tiger sneaks a look at the leaderboard every now and then.

And what a board Geometry Wars 2 tortures us with. Each of its six modes is a constant reminder that our friends are better people than us, taunting us with their top numbers like a sadistic teacher posting only the grades of the best students.

The game's leaderboards smartly narrow the big picture to only your next few targets. Each ranking seems attainable and significant. And even if your friends are all terrible players, beating them feels better than earning any real achievement point.

Naturally, I hated every single one of those bastard friends from the start. I became obsessed with kicking them from their podiums one by one. I found myself providing daily updates on the progress of my crusade, rubbing my newest conquests in their faces and cursing those who still stood in my way.

Initially some of their scores seemed untouchable. The concentration required to crack the upper echelon is unreal. About 30 million points into a Pacifism run, you begin to enter a Zen-like state. A simple glance at your score, a single break in the pattern is enough to eject you from The Zone and send you hurtling back to Earth.

To make matters worse, any sense of progression is tempered by the inevitability of failure. There is no real end to Geometry Wars 2. After a few minutes of play, the boulder always rolls back down on you.

Death in Geometry Wars 2 always feels unfairly abrupt, like beginning a race only to plow straight into a brick wall at high speed. You have no idea what hit you. Your heart rate crashes. The adrenaline high gives way to a crushing, empty-chested low. You're left talking to the screen in futility, faced only with the prospect of starting all over again.

"Oh, come on."

Does Tiger feel the same way at the end of a bad hole? Does he talk to himself, too? Does he message his friends after winning the PGA Tour and say, "12 under on Pebble Beach mode, what up now lolllzz"?

If he did, I'd understand after playing Geometry Wars 2. This game is not so much a war of geometry as it is a war of wills. It's not a test of your ability to destroy shapes, but the ability to shape yourself.

Overcoming these personal challenges is a lot of fun, in a maddening sort of way.

Just don't be surprised when you feel the sting of that magic bullet.

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