Released: January 2008
Reviewed May 2009 by John Henderson
Designed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, and originally released by SEGA during 2001 on the Dreamcast and PlayStation2, Rez invited players to Feel it, dont think. and to Open your senses. Go to Synaesthesia.
The Synaesthesia in question is not a place or location, but a neurological phenomenon where stimulation of one sense leads to an involuntary and automatic response of another feeling or seeing sounds, for example. Its a condition that affected the 19th century Russian artist Wassily Kadinsky and he, or rather his work, is the main inspiration behind Rezs concept.
Mizuguchi has made a number of games over the years that feature psychedelic visuals and music in a big way. Most of them have been excellent, but none have quite achieved the same level of audio-visual integration that Rez does. The melding of sight, sound, touch (controller vibration plays a significant role) and player actions is remarkable and provides a truly unique experience. One guaranteed to leave a lasting impression and fill the mind with indelible images and sounds, whether you actually enjoy the game or not.
Essentially an on-rails shooter in the mould of Panzer Dragoon, the gameplay of Rez is quite simple and employs similar lock-on gameplay to its peers. Initial impressions are that the game appears to be as shallow as a bird bath and very easy, but experimenting with the lock-on system reveals that the enemies are carefully arranged in a manner that can reward the player for attempting multiple lock-ons and being creative. This is especially true for score-attacking, but even when playing the normal Play mode, the rewards are there to hear since the music is directly affected by your actions.
This is because Rez has no real sound effects in the traditional sense, only musical notes. Shooting actions such as targeting and locking-on are accompanied by beats and musical effects such as hi-hats, claps and snares. Destroyed enemies also explode to the sound of musical notes and riffs which often provide the melody for the main backing track.
There are five main play areas in Rez, all based on a different piece of music provided by DJ/Producers such as Ken Ishii, Coldcut and Adam Freeland, and each one is comprised of ten sub-levels called layers. These are appropriately named since successfully negotiating each of the sub-levels adds another layer of music, and indeed visuals, to the action. The opening stages of each Area start off in fairly barren environments, almost devoid of sound or colour save for simple wireframe shapes and minimal beats. However, as the player travels through the area, the graphics and music constantly evolve in complexity and spectacle before gradually building to a crescendo during the final layer and then onto a battle with a very imaginative Boss. The encounters with the Area Bosses are, without question, the highlight of the main game and are epic in both scope and length.
There is a story within Rez, although its fairly inconsequential with much of the games narrative being told through the audio-visuals and simple text messages. That said, the journey through Area 5 is something special and one of the most emotionally-stirring moments youre ever likely to experience in a videogame. Completing the game once, though, is just the beginning. There is a plethora of unlockable content available to committed players, and as a score-attack game, Rez is right up there with the best of them.
Purists will be glad to know that for this new HD version, absolutely nothing has been changed by the ports developer, HexaDrive. Indeed, save for the high-definition upgrade to the graphics and sound (5.1), this is exactly the same game as before. The only difference being that it has never looked or sounded this good. Rez has always been a visually-impressive game but now the graphics are ultra-smooth and displayed in proper widescreen with none of the jaggies and slight framerate hiccups that occasionally showed up in the original version. Sadly, the USB Trance Vibrator peripheral that was released in Japan for the PS2 version is incompatible, but additional Xbox 360 controllers can be plugged-in and configured to do a similar job.
The addition of online leaderboards have also enhanced the original, making an already great score-attack game, even greater. Along with comparing high-scores with friends and other players in the world, theres also the ability to upload and download replays. A special mention must also go to the games achievements which have been nicely thought-out to provide a long-term challenge, even for veterans.
Ultimately, what is Rez? You could argue that Rez is Synaesthesia. Its definitely greater than the sum of its parts and something that must be experienced first-hand to see what all the fuss is about. By its very nature it wont be for everyone, but you owe it to yourself to at least sample the trial version.