Platforms: PC - HTC Vive (Reviewed), PC - Oculus Rift, PSVR
I’ve played a lot of Rez, starting when when it was first released on Sega’s criminally underrated Dreamcast. It was quite a revelation for me at the time; I found the synthesis of music and simple yet compelling gameplay to be an absolute joy.
I played it again when the HD version was released in the Xbox Live Arcade in 2008, and loved it then too. Now that it’s available for the Vive, Oculus, and PSVR, I had the perfect excuse to play it again.
Revisiting my old friend (originally released in Japan in 2001!) was an immensely satisfying experience. The VR immersion doesn’t just breathe new life into an aging game, it transforms Rez into what it was always meant to be.
Rez is a game that delights in engaging the senses, and is, by the nature of its design, difficult to describe in words. It’s an auditory and sensory experience that’s somewhat difficult to articulate, and is best experienced for oneself.
This trailer should provide a taste of what this game is all about.
Rez is essentially a rail shooter. You play as an errant virus named Swayzak, attempting to shut down an AI named Eden so she can be reformatted and reborn. You do this by moving through a mainframe and shooting down defense systems as you fly across psychedelic wireframe backgrounds. You don't control the movement of anything except the targeting reticule, and use your cursor to lock onto foes and destroy them by releasing. The enemies start off as simple cannon fodder, but quickly increase in defensive and offensive capability until your reflexes are pushed to the limit.
If you’ve ever played any of the Panzer Dragoon games you’ll know more or less what to expect from Rez, which is not a huge surprise given it was developed by many of the same people.
At the end of each stage is a boss, and these massive polygonal constructs are a bigger challenge than the standard enemies. Taking down these multi-stage behemoths is the highlight of each of the five stages.
Throughout the levels you can pick up power ups that advance you from a small polygonal shape through varying degrees of transformative human avatars. If you’re damaged, you revert to a previous evolution. Play your cards right, and you’ll evolve into a superpowered ball of transcendent light that can take substantial damage before being destroyed.
There are also red power ups scattered throughout the levels. These are bombs that destroy everything on the screen for a limited amount of time, and you can carry four of these eye-searing explosives at a time. They can be used against bosses for devastating effect.
Every stage is locked until you complete the one before, and then you’re free to retry the stages for a perfect completion rate. After you beat the game there’s a boss rush mode and an unlimited “trance” mode for those of you who can’t get enough.
The gameplay is fun, if simple, but where Rez truly shines is in the way it deftly weaves the visuals and the audio together. Every time you lock onto a target there is a drum hit, every time you destroy a foe there’s another. In conjunction with the thumping beats of the music, Rez orchestrates a foot tapping rhythm that results in an immensely compelling and almost trancelike experience. Rez is all about the sound, and when you have headphones on and you’re in the zone, it’s a unique game that seems to be immune to age.
When Rez Infinite was released in 2016 it included a brand new level called Area X, and it’s a truly mesmerizing experience. Because it was created so much later than the rest of the content it looks spectacular, and adds full movement as opposed to the on-rails style of the rest of the main game.
In VR, Area X is Rez at its zenith. Great care was put into updating the visuals with beautiful particle effects and a transcendent new song by Hydelic. It’s a wonderful update of the main game, and exemplifies what has kept Rez relevant for so long. It’s hard not to smile while exploring Area X, and I’m hoping it’s a sign of some more Rez to come now that it has found its new home in VR.
No Accounting for (Musical) Taste
I consider myself to have fairly eclectic musical preferences, but I’ve always gravitated toward electronic music. Electronic music is at the heart of Rez, and if you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy samples or electronic drums, this could potentially be an issue. Playing Rez with the audio off significantly detracts from the experience. It’s still a fun game, but I’m not sure I can recommend the it for someone who isn’t interested in the futuristic sounds of transcendent cyber hacking from the future.
The music in the original game is still quite good, though it is starting to show its age slightly. This is through no fault of the original musicians; the game is almost two decades old. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still be putting the soundtrack on and dancing badly, but it seems to me the original songs don’t sound quite as epic as they once did.
Rez is absolutely playable with a controller (it was designed for the insane Dreamcast hamburger after all) and playing with a mouse is also a unique experience, but the inclusion of VR controls quite literally change the game.
In addition to the added immersion of VR, the new medium also adds the ability to target enemies with your headset and fire with the controller. Once I realized this, gameplay became much more natural, and it felt as though this was how Rez should have always been played. Gone was the seemingly archaic necessity of maneuvering a joystick; I could simply look at an enemy, fire, and move on.
While this adds a compelling fluidity, it also dissipates the challenge. Being able to target enemies by looking at them makes the game quite easy. Rez isn’t really the sort of game you play for a challenge (at least I never did) but if you want it to be hard, playing with a controller or mouse is probably the way to go.
For those of you who haven’t played Rez in its Dreamcast, PS2, or HD Xbox 360 iterations, I highly recommend you pick up Rez Infinite for PC or PS4 as soon as possible. It’s an altogether unique and well crafted sensory delight.
If you have played it before and liked it, it’s worth taking another look for Area X alone. It’s a brilliant expansion, and though it’s over relatively quickly, it’s a fantastic taste of things (hopefully) to come.
Rez Infinite is delightful on a standard screen, but in VR it’s something else entirely. Those of you with access to a Vive, Oculus Touch, or PSVR headset should know that Rez, and especially Area X, is one of the most intriguing and engaging VR experiences available.
The gameplay might be relatively simple, but when combined with the suitingly opaque narrative and fantastic visual and audio design, it’s clear why Rez is still going strong after almost two decades.
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