Friday, February 15, 2008

Rez Review

After spending some time with Panzer Dragoon, I decided to try out Rez, which I've been hearing good things about since the death of the Dreamcast. Rather than shell out $40 plus shipping on eBay, I called up a local Gamestop, and sure enough, they had it. (It’s not the cheapest used game, but it's no Panzer Dragoon Saga either.) Whether it was playable or not was a different question. Regardless, I had them hold the game for me and I picked it up after work. The case was a little beat up, the manual was pristine, but the CD was pretty questionable. I threw it in the PS2 and felt a sigh of relief as the disc began to spin. Rez fired up without a hitch.

As the game loads, a screen pops up advising players to wear headphones or make sure they are in a quality listening environment – already a good sign for an audio fanatic. Upon first seeing the game, I could tell it was something different. The audio and visuals blend well to create a unique style that’s akin to a psychedelic Tron. The environments are rendered in wireframe with objects flying around and exploding in sparks of color, a contrast to the digital world that surrounds them. As enemies fly around the screen and weapons blast, the game pumps along at about 60 fps. Sometimes, I wonder why many modern games only try to make things look more realistic when modern consoles have the power to create a different universe altogether. Rez takes the latter approach and the results are pretty goddamn good.

In the story, Eden, a self-aware computer system has fallen into an existential funk and is shutting itself down. The goal: hack the system, destroy any viruses and firewalls and ultimately find Eden to save her from herself. While the storyline is fairly basic, there have been some interesting interpretations of what's actually going on during the game. Originally titled K-Project in development, the stylish imagery of the game was inspired by the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky, who suffered from the synesthesia (the bleeding of one sense into another, like seeing sound or hearing color) around which his artwork was based. Others have seen the game as a telling of human evolution, as the player transforms and the game's worlds gradually grow and morph along the history of society.As far as playing the game, it's a standard on-rails shooter. Take Panzer Dragoon and remove the rotation and dragon movement. Now you've got the controls down. What separates Rez from the other shooters, though, is the use of sound when playing the game. Every time the fire button is pressed or an enemy is shot, a sound plays. Hold down the fire button and link up to eight shots together, creating a small melodic line. The trance (house, or whatever electronic style) music in the background pumps along, while all of the shots and destruction of the enemies add accents and melodies on top of the beat. Music has been able to evoke an emotional response, and Rez relies on this to create a result that is strangely immersive.

Enemies aren't the only things floating around, as certain objects will allow you to evolve. Collect enough of these and your character will change to a higher form, mixing in different sounds and providing a higher firing speed, not to mention more intense visuals. Take a hit, though, and the character devolves. Take one at the lowest form and it's game over. Overdrive object can be collected and, if things get too crazy, used to attack everything on the screen at once. As the level progresses, the music and visuals intensify.

Each level ends with a firewall, the game's term for a boss. These are the big bad guys (or gals) and their life bar will appear on the screen. Take them out and survive long enough to finish off the level. The bosses themselves are pretty impressive and get more interesting as the game progresses. With the intense visuals and crazy sounds, I'd describe them as being able to play a Blue Man concert.Rez is a game that is definitely greater than the sum of its part. Just the shooting alone would be a solid, but not spectacular, game. Sound pumps in an out, but without being integrated into the firing and controlling, it wouldn't have the same effect. The visuals are unique and would most likely turn a few heads, but it's really the combination of these elements that makes the game truly unique. Everything seems to blend together in a way that feels like playing the game, mixing music, and toying with the colors on the screen are one.

Though hard to find, the infamous Trance Vibrator is supported, which may or may not have been intended for use as a sex toy. It’s a small vibrating pad that can be placed in pockets or sat upon and will vibrate along with the beats, the idea being to make the player feel even more connected with the game. With the Dual Shock controller, the vibration is built in, but I'll be honest, I've not been much of a fan of vibration in games. If you've got a decent sub, just crank up the volume. It's much more natural than having the controller leap out of your hands.To keep interest in the game, there are several other modes in addition to the normal play. Score Attack mixes up the enemies and allows players to compete for the most points. There's a traveling mode for practicing or just relaxing. After completion, a beyond mode opens, with an extra level, a direct assault (play through all stages) and a variety of unlockable cheats. Despite this, the game is relatively short. There's a lot to unlock, but ultimately, there's really only about five and a half levels to the game, which is not to say that the game isn't fun or hasn't held my attention. Despite this, it's a game that I find myself drawn to play over and over.

Ultimately, Rez is a game that is all about the experience. The music, the visuals, the controls, and even the vibration all combine to create something that is greater than their individual components. It could looked at as just what it is - a shooting game, but or those willing to soak up what Rez has to offer, it's well worth it.


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