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Xbox 360 at 10: Geometry Wars and the doors of perception


Xbox 360 is 10 years old this week - in fact, it turned 10 yesterday, 22nd November. We'll be running articles about this remarkable console, and about some of our favourite 360 games, all week.

Back in December of 2005, I thought I was heading down to GAME in Wimbledon to pick up my Xbox 360 so that I could lose myself in Project Gotham Racing 3 for a few years. The game's predecessor had felt like a revelation in the way it married its embarrassment of racing riches with a primitive online system designed to reward nothing more than gross participation and commitment, and I gave it both. It had been very much a drop of the good stuff that would come to consume me in World of Warcraft just a few months later - and long after PGR3 had been left on the shelf, along with its joyless Elo-driven matchmaking system.

One game penetrated the madness of those years, though - Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. It was the sequel to a comparatively primitive twin-stick shooter included for free with PGR2, but which was only on offer in-game as a demo this time around. There were plenty of grumbles about that at the time, but few could resist parting with their cash and unknowingly kickstarting the nascent Xbox Live Arcade platform. Lesser games in the series have followed, but the perfect purity of what I call the real Geometry Wars has yet to be surpassed by any other game that I can recall playing.

You're in here somewhere.

Geometry Wars was - is - a gloriously hypnotic thing to watch, let alone play. There's the thumping soundtrack that plays with its own panic in the most mischievous way possible, the cacophony of devilish creatures that combine to provide a wicked assortment of attack puzzles for you to solve, and a pair of pulsating electronic weapons that ripple and warp the very fabric of space. There's a disgustingly satisfying sense of every separate thing being connected to the whole in Geometry Wars, and mastering this new universe became an obsession of mine overnight.

Progress was slow at first, but I soon reached a point where, with enough persistence and focus, I could bring my shiny next-generation games console to its knees. Through nothing more than a determined display of my own prowess at the game, I could force the framerate to chug and sizzle while the screen choked on the fumes of its own frenzied activity.

It wasn't until writing this article that I realised how much I'd been benefitting from video as a platform for thinking about games, long before Trump taught me how to stop being terrible at Hearthstone. In the early days of both the online high score table and YouTube itself, there was gold to be had for the committed student of Geometry Wars.

Back when a high score of 16.6 million was considered an impossible thing - a bit like high quality video on the internet.

You learned, for example, how to weave in a circular fashion around the arena in order to force your foes into a gravitationally dense, endlessly moving mass of enemies. You learned to focus only on what lay ahead of you, rather than behind, with almost transcendental commitment. You discovered the importance of finding space to breathe during the corner cluster spawns that provide the game with its natural, rhythmic pauses - for the machine's benefit, as much as yours. Tips were swapped and guarded in equal measure by the community as the competition played out online.

Friends would chastise me for finishing games with plenty of bombs in the bank. They didn't understand that it wasn't about bagging a new high score, it was about finding a new door of perception. Aliens could knock on my door and plead for my combat assistance in a remote corner of the galaxy: go away! At one point I could call myself a member of the top 30 players on the global leaderboards, but while I was never the best in the world, I was s***loads better than anyone else I knew - and that, my friends, is often enough.

I've worked at it for years, but to my eternal disappointment, I've never managed to break through the final wall that separates the mere mortals of Geometry Wars from the gods. The one true obstacle separating me from the game's final state of spawn difficulty is represented by packs of swooping, charging suicidal red bastards that cut off every path to freedom, and have always proved to be an insoluble problem for my wits.

I was unable to make further progress, and the world moved on without me. I still fire the game up every month or so though, just to see if I can still achieve that fleeting glimpse of the glory of infinite play. One day I will touch it for myself.

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About the Author
John Bedford avatar

John Bedford


John is a freelance writer based in West Sussex.

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