Geometry Wars Galaxies

If you look at the list of games on our Reviews page, there are generally two types of games. The first are games with a strong narrative. They have engrossing stories and great characters. The second are games which lack those things, but make up for them in some other way relevant to new media. In most of these titles, a narrative can be assumed, either by injecting yourself into the game, or by deducing a story from the presented media. This game doesn’t fit into either of those categories.

Geometry Wars is a franchise of games for which are highly reminiscent of Atari’s Asteroids game. Unlike Asteroids, which has the assumed story of a space ship destroying asteroids for whatever reason, Geometry Wars has no contextual references that place it into any kind of realistic narrative. Your “ship” in this game is, as in Asteroids, simply a polygon that is able to fire projectiles. The difference is the companion media that came with the Asteroids game.

The image at right is promotional material published by Atari for the Asteroids game. The asteroid in the background of the image is a good indicator of the game’s story. Look closely at the cabinet art, and you will see a space ship blasting asteroids apart. This assumed story is common in early games, which existed before complex narratives could be conveyed through computer programs.

The addition of an assumed narrative allowed these early games to engross players who found the idea of being in space to be more exciting than standing in front of a computer manipulating shapes on a screen. The “physics” of Asteroids, which simulated a space ship’s thrusters moving through space and chunks of debris being propelled from explosions further added to this feeling.

Retro Evolved

Moving ahead to Geometry Wars Galaxies, we find none of those bells or whistles. The game has its own. It is colorful, exciting, full of many various shapes to shoot. Unlike asteroids, where the “nature” of the objects on screen was clear, Galaxies does not provide a real world context for its action. The ships in this game are called ships, but they are not in outer space. They seem to have rather basic physics models. This isn’t space, and it isn’t even some kind of microscopic realm. Clearly, despite all of our dissembling, Geometry Wars take place in its own realm which has little or no meaning other than its own.

This realm is one in which the universe is assembled as “planets.” Each “planet” is depicted as a two dimensional surface of varying shape. Within this realm is your ship, and in this new version of the game its companion. These ships are threatened by the various other shapes that appear and move around the screen. These shapes either move randomly, according to some specific programming, try to evade your attacks, or try to ram into you. While it might seem to be a rather trite observation, these behaviors establish that these other ships lack “intelligence.” Rather than behave in a way which makes some instinctive or rational sense, they behave the same way a ball would when rolling it down a hill, or bouncing it along a sidewalk. They are forces of nature, rather than “enemies.”

Player 1

Where does this leave the player? The narrative? In the same place it has always been. The player is working toward an experience and a challenge, therefore, he or she is still getting something out of the game. It is fun, to be sure, but that isn’t the only draw. The game’s unusual art design, using polygons and lights, is clever and aesthetically interesting. It is far more interesting than pixel built space ships from 16-bit era games. While a personal narrative could be applied to this experience, it wouldn’t work in the same way it works for other non-narrative games like Brain Age, because in terms of context, the game play has nothing to do with the player. This is a fun game, one that requires fast reflexes and high visual acuity. What it lacks in narrative, it makes up for in style and fun. It is an excellent send off to the games of yesterday.

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