Rez HD Xbox Live Review

How does one explain Rez? Well, let’s try some history and science classes…

The game was originally programmed by United Game Artists (UGA) AKA team AM9 of Sega. Initially developed for the Dreamcast console, it was one of the last of a glut of mainly 2D shumps released during the 2000 and 2001 period. During conception it was known as the ‘K’ project. UGA were formed of programmers from Sega’s Team Andromeda, who at the time were the Sega Devco’s behind the rather cool Sega Saturn on-rails shump: Panzer Dragoon. Indeed Rez shares a rather obvious similarity because both games use a “target and lock” gameplay system. On a machine that hosts so many great shumps (because it still does), when Rez was released it was a game that artistically stood atop the shoulders of giants. The DC had many fantastic shumps at the time but it was the art direction that seperated Rez from the other titles. When released it astounded people with its superb retro/future graphics and splicing of techno/electronica and hip hop to lock players into an almost trance like state during play. So lets go a little deeper…

The game concept was drawn up by Tetsuya Mizuguchi back in 1995 and was inspired by the concept of Synaesthesia (here we go….”Stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway” – you get that?). In this case it was the correlation of sound and colour drawn up by painter Wassily Kandinsky 100 years ago which was the concept that inspired Mizuguchi. Sound and vision aside this game is littered with expressive visuals and there’s so many “opposing factions” in both story and game that can stimulate a player trying to find some reasoning behind the game’s eccentricity. It’s these subtle visions that are often overlooked so for these alone Mizuguchi deserves much credit.

A cursory glance would reveal it’s nothing more than a simple “on-rails shump” (a shooter whose arena direction you have no control). In fact the main character really doesn’t move much at all. You simply control his large targeting cursor. As you fly through each level (or sub-system), enemies (or rather viruses) attack you in a myriad of waves. When you first target an enemy you have two choices. Stabbing the fire button releases a shot which will kill the enemy, and holding it down gives you a target lock, of which up to 8 viruses can be locked. This lock remains whatever direction they fly and it’s in this lock mechanism that the deeper slice Rez’s score attack will become prominent. At the end of the wave a portal cube appears that you must shoot down to gain access to the next sub-system and to have “analysed” that sub-level. Fail this and the next wave of AI will appear but the level’s graphics will remain the same and your lose 10% of your analysation bonus. After 10 waves, a huge boss will appear. So far, so meh. Initially playing the game allows you to play without score – this part of the game is the story mode – and if the truth is to be told it’s actually rather easy. I won’t burden you with details but suffice to say that its set in a super computer network called the “K project”, to which an AI called “eden” controls the data flow. It has become overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge floating around the network causing her to doubt her own existence and enter a shutdown sequence. If this goes ahead, chaos will ensue. The player is a hacker called in to try and reboot her and destroy any virus that stand in the way. Certain viruses contain power up items (blue crosses) and if 8 are collected you will power-up into a new form. This will basically upgrade your weapons speed and player control to make it easier to obtain locks and control movement. As I say, this story mode is relatively easy and completing any level in this mode will open up a scoring version of the level featuring different attack patterns and it’s here that we really submerge to the inner depths of Rez’s scoring mode with its sublime mechanics.

In this mode, as you lock, a multiplier increases up to 8x (for 8 locks). Anything can be locked including objects and missiles. You score based on this multiplier and will score bigger depending on what you have locked. AI scores the most and the bigger the AI the bigger the score. This may sound obvious but a key part of the score mechanics is that you could lock 7 enemy missiles and save your last lock for an enemy AI for which you’ll received an 8x score (1-7x for the missiles but 8x for the AI which scores the most). Now can you see the scoring potentials? It’s a masterstroke in game design and the scoring mechanic was sadly overlooked by many who only played Rez as a story game, completing missing the point. Another masterstroke is the bosses – their design is superb, but get this – there are 3 types depending on the amount of enemies a player has shot down. Shoot down 90% and you’ll get the mega boss, 95% for Giga boss, but shoot 98% or above and you’ll get a Tera version – each with more energy, greater attacks and a bigger potential for scoring (these bosses also exist in story mode when the same conditions are met). Add to this a direct assault mode that allows the player to compete for score in all 5 levels combined (and therefore obtain a combined score). So already we have 7 modes, and trust me, when played for score each level becomes a game in itself, especially as you compete on Live, against the world. Lets just say I’ve been playing and learning level 1 for the last 5 days since the game’s release, and because the levels are relatively short, its very easy to pick up and play for 15 minutes or so. The actual “lock on” concept is not new and SEGA has been here before in both Panzar Dragoon and Afterburner but it’s more obvious in Taito’s Layer Section (Raystorm in the UK). Rez takes this scoring concept and pushes the idea further forward and once you learn that shooting the portal can also be used as a multiplier extend new strategies can be applied.

In this age, graphically, the game has few equals. A hardened aged gamer will liken it to many 16 bit computer classics. Almost like Starglider 2 on rails. A cool blend of wireframe and solid polygons, textured and bas relief, highlighted with neon combined with Egyptian, Aztec and futuristic themes that sweep over you as you fly. As you progress the graphics get more and more special but I won’t spoil the content of later levels. Indeed further play also releases filter options which take the game into Jeff Minter territory, and then forwards to new styles. Sadly very few games utilise the stying used in Rez HD – obviously Tron (that is Tron, Version 2 – Killer App) springs to mind and Sqauresoft’s rare PS1 3D blaster Internal Section is another. One can also liken the graphics to the Amiga days when polygons where starting to appear at home. They were bland enough for you to want to mentally fill in the gaps, and so stimulated your imagination. Rez too does this, but complements it with details that astound your eyes. Oh and let me assure you, this HD version is nothing short of amazing. This is the truest vision of Rez you will ever see although if you don’t agree the original is in there as well. A nice bonus. There are other level bonuses hidden away too so be sure to check all the options.

Sonically the game is amazing, but it somewhat depends on your tastes. Rock and pop fans are not catered for at all as this is all eletronica, techno, big beat and hip hop but they fit the game perfectly and it’s here we see yet another layer. As you progress through the waves the locking missiles are set to deploy somewhere in time with the music so for all your blasting, you almost create your own track. Each missile noise and subsequent virus destruction use samples roughly in tune with the main track, and as each level passes the track builds up until you reach the boss. It’s so subtle, yet so good and attacks both your audio and visual senses together. It makes you feel like part of the system and immerses you in a way few games can.

To end then, a great shump with a simple mechanic but massively deep scoring system. Turn off your lights, turn up the sound and prepare to have your senses stimulated

So hard, so deep, so stimulating, so… Rez

9 out of 10
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