It's difficult not to admire Sega's resilience. After the (some, myself included, would say unfair) demise of the utterly exceptional Dreamcast, the legendary games company have persevered at a time where many a lesser company would simply fold and cease operations. They are doing what was unthinkable all of five years beforehand - they're going multiformat. They're actually developing games for the new gaming trinity - Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony.
And this is where Rez comes in. Encouraged by their fans' unwavering faith, Sega green lighted this ambitious, innovative project, allowing Tetsuya Mizuguchi to guide his United Game Artists team through what has turned out to be a very lengthy development. Right from the initial unveiling, the game has been heavily promoted in the specialist press, whipping up a fever-pitch of anticipation among the (and I hate to use the word) â€hardcoreâ€. Now, with Rez's release, we can all rest easy in the knowledge that our excitement was not unfounded - inadequate, even, given the explosion of magnificence that awaits you intelligent individuals who will hopefully, after reading this review, rush out and buy the game.
Rez puts you in control of the digital representation of a computer hacker, intent on destroying a virus hidden deep within a computer system known only as â€Edenâ€. And that's it. That's the plot. Almost totally superfluous to the gameplay, yet it fits perfectly.
Simplicity is the new complexity, it would seem.
Now that we've got such frivolous matters as storyline out of the way, it's time to delve deeper into what makes Rez what Rez is, specifically what it's like to play. And it is here that we encounter our little quandary. To crassly mis-quote Morpheus, â€Unfortunately, no-one can be told what Rez is - you have to see it for yourselfâ€. Therein lies our problem. Mere words cannot do this game justice, but I shall endeavour to use my zero years of experience in the journalism industry to transmit this magnificent experience into words.
On the surface, the game is deceptively simple. Think the on-rails mentality of â€Panzer Dragoonâ€ fused with a â€Tronâ€ graphical aesthetic, and you're somewhere close to getting there. The shooting system is, at first glance, disarmingly uncomplicated. Your airborne avatar glides through the game, as a series of abstract assailants assault you from all angles. All you have to do is hover your target square over them, holding the lock-on button, letting go to destroy them. It is only when you enter score attack mode, and attempt those elusive 100% ratings on each level that the control system's nuances become apparent, of which there are plenty - for example, the differing scores you procure based on how many enemies you lock onto at once. The only other major gameplay element of note is the character evolution. Enemies will occasionally drop a blue sphere upon destruction, which, for every eight collected by you will evolve you by one level - The lowest level being a simple sphere, the highest being a ball of pure, pulsating energy. Taking damage from an enemy will devolve you by one level, eventually wiping you out, and forcing you to start over, and play through the level anew. Which is hardly a bad thing.
The main argument that will be no doubt put forth by the game's naysayers, which there will invariably be, as with any game, is one of the game's initial brevity - something which initially sparked a flicker of dismay in this reviewer's mind, but strip away the game's many layers, and you will uncover a wealth of unlockable extras, such as a score attack, new game modes, and, most importantly, the utterly wonderful fifth area. But more on that later.
The game's initially selectable four areas each contain ten â€layersâ€, all of increasing complexity, concluding with a boss (or â€firewallâ€) encounter, each of which provides one of the most truly original, astonishing, awe-inspiring gaming moments in memory, which, in a just world, would go down in the annals of audio-visual entertainment history, but I'm not cruel enough to spoil them here. All I can say is that each boss confrontation presents some of the most innovative design in gaming history, beautifully complimented by astonishing graphics. The graphics. Oh, the graphics.
Too many games nowadays evaporate from the mind just after playing them, let alone watching them. Rez is one of those rare games that provides a memorable experience for the mere onlooker. Each level begins simply - just a simple horizon and string of rudimentary enemies, but grows in complexity as you progress through each layer, building and building, until you have a breathtaking representation of the location which provided the inspiration for the level, such as Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. The visual style definitely harkens back to the days of â€Eliteâ€ and the original â€Star Warsâ€ game, and certainly takes inspiration from Jeff Minter's seminal â€Tempest 2000â€. But Rez does it so much better. It's Elite to the Nth degree. It's Elite set in the Tron universe. Right from the get-go, Rez initiates a relentless visual assault, which refuses to cease. Which brings us back to the game's climactic, unlockable fifth level, which I mentioned earlier. Arguably the highlight of what is already destined to become a classic game, this level catches you off guard by throwing it's minimalist palette at you, consisting almost entirely of white, grey, and smatterings of purple, providing a stark contrast to the â€every colour of the rainbowâ€ approach used to great effect in the first four levels. This visual about-turn is neatly complimented by a similarly inspired change in aural style, in the form of Adam Freeland's epic â€Fearâ€, beautifully rounding off a magnificently accomplished soundtrack.
Ah yes, the soundtrack. Often an overlooked element of the gaming experience, it takes a game like Rez to show how a masterfully constructed aural element can transform a good game into a great game. Everything in this game makes a sound. From the triumphantly choral â€Aaahhhâ€ that accompanies successfully firing at eight targets, to the barely audible â€clickâ€ made when you press the lock-on button (which I occasionally found myself unconsciously tapping in rhythm with the music, such is the game's impeccable sonic synchronisation), right through to the immensely satisfying â€Terrwang!â€ that supplements a hit on the â€Running Manâ€ boss. Everything you do has a direct effect on the soundtrack, elevating a simple, linear beat into a giddily magnificent concoction of sound.
To play this game on a portable TV with Mono sound would be to do it a massive injustice - to be truly appreciated and experienced to it's full, awe-inspiring potential, Rez must be played on as large a TV as possible and, most importantly, with a surround sound system. This means you'll have to go against the developers advice and play it in a dark room, with the sound up to eleven. Everything has a health warning nowadays, anyway.
That's it. That's all I can say. Unfortunately, Rez is a game that falls into that â€Marmiteâ€ category, where you will either love it or hate it. If you think all that I have written stank profusely of hyperbole, get out and rent it at least and, should you fail to be enchanted by it's sheer unbridled splendour, then I have pity on you. It is genuinely one of, if not the most inspired, inspiring, amazing, venerable games in this reviewer's memory. It makes one truly sad for the recent demise of the United Game Artists, and the subsequent departure from Sega of the game's visionary creator, Tetsuya Mizuguchi. It is a sure sign of this game's quality and aesthetic, artistic merit that it is already one of the principal games put forward by yes-people in the â€Are Games Art?â€ argument. And that can only be a good thing.