Rez HD Review

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Publisher: Microsoft
Developer: Q Entertainment

Platform: Xbox 360 Reviewed on Xbox 360

When Sega released Rez in 2001 for the Dreamcast, many weren't sure what to make of it. A limited run released the following year proved that the game's absolute critical success didn't always mean commercial success (around 40,000 copies were released in North America on the PS2). However, Rez turned out to be one of those diamonds in the rough and for some time, copies of Rez for the PS2 were going for well over $100. Once people tried it, they were hooked. Now available on Xbox Live Arcade for 800 points, Rez HD may finally get the audience it has always deserved, and it's never looked or sounded better.

Kevin Rice

Just Like You Remember It

First, this is the same game you may have played all those years ago. There are no new levels, no new songs, no new anything. Except that it's 2008, so the graphics have been redone for HD resolutions and the sound is now in 5.1 surround sound. This may sound like a letdown, but the difference is amazing. After playing my PlayStation 2 version and then switching to the Xbox 360 version, the difference is immediately noticeable.

Graphically, the frame rate is up from 30 to 60 frames per second, and the extra detail makes the retro-style vectors mixed with the bizarre splashes of color all the more vibrant. This game was updated by the same developer that more recently brought you Lumines (pronounced lew-men-ness) and Every Extend Extra Extreme, games with a similar graphical style and spirit to the original Rez.

The sound is also in the same vein, meaning that your play changes the music you hear. No other game has presented the mix of play and audio better than Rez. Even though there are only six levels, the songs are slightly different each time you try the game, depending on how you play. It certainly doesn't hurt that the music is top notch techno/trance music, with the highlight being Adam Freeland's "Fear" on the last proper level.

Even though it's the same game, Rez HD feels new, and while the gameplay hasn't changed at all, the Achievements (easily achieved by Rez veterans) and online leaderboards will add even more life to an already classic game.

Wait, I've Never Played!

If you're one of those unlucky souls that never got to experience Rez, this incarnation is definitely the one for you. At $10, it's inexpensive enough to warrant a "curiosity buy", and once it clicks, you'll be playing long after you've beat it.

The game is basically a shooter on rails. Your "character", a pulsating cell/human-like thing/buddha depending on how many upgrades you get, is flown through a 3D vector-like arena where various enemies attempt to impede your progress. You have some control over your direction, but the game never lets you stray too far without correcting your orientation. It may sound a little trite and repetitive, but wait... there's more!

The schtick in Rez is that you can target up to eight enemies at a time by holding down the fire button. Letting go tracks down whatever you've targeted and destroys it. More importantly, each lock-on, each shot, and each explosion is actually a sound effect that's in time with the upbeat electronica pulsating throughout the game world. In fact, most of the screen is pulsing, changing colors, or otherwise interacting with the soundtrack at all times. You're the painter and the game is your canvas.

Rez introduced me to the word synesthesia. (It's on the box for the original game – you didn't learn that one in school?) It's essentially the mixing or blending of two sensory experiences, in this case hearing and seeing. If something is "red hot", for example, it implies that the color red has a touch sensation. (Think: How does blue sound? smell?) In the case of Rez, the various explosions of color (they don't really look like traditional explosions) seem to be associated with various sounds. The missiles, for example, "sound" like various drums. Other explosions add musical flourishes, other effects, etc. This is one of those "you have to play it to truly understand it" situations, but be warned that the game may just rope you into the trance-like state it's designed to achieve.

There's a story, so to speak, in Rez, but it's metaphorical and open to (mostly dubious) discussion. You're invading a computer network of sorts, and the network is sending out defenses to attempt to stop you from getting to its core. Each level has a boss battle, loosely speaking. It’s like fighting a firewall, if a firewall were a giant spinning ferris wheel or a strangely compelling running man made out of squares.

Because that was clear as mud, the fifth level (the last proper level as the sixth level is really the "lost" level, or network node) seems to tell the story of evolution. The graphics truly shine here, and the boss battle starts off on the offensive but ends up with you saving what appears to be some form of humanity. Roll the credits.

Politely speaking, this story of network hacking is loose and slightly incoherent. Realistically, the story is more like the result of a Japanese developer on acid and/or ecstasy. Although the graphics do portray some of what's going on, as it sometimes looks like little mitochondria and other cell parts flying around, it's really a moot point. Just know that you've probably never seen or heard anything quite like this.

Beyond The Beyond

After you've beat the core game, which will probably take just a few hours, many more modes become unlocked. Perhaps the most addictive is Score Attack, where you can play any level you want, but score is kept. It's compelling not only in a high score sort of way, but provides a primitive form of difficulty scaling, as well. If you destroy 98% or more of the enemies before reaching the boss, it becomes much more difficult to destroy, but the points double. Additionally, larger chains increase the score multiplier, meaning that there's actually a strategy for getting those huge scores.

Additionally, there's Beyond Mode (the whole game at once), Trance Mode (a free-roaming mode where you cannot be hurt), and Boss Rush (all the boss battles in a row). While the levels don't change, the experience does, and it's easy to let an hour slip by playing through these various modes without even realizing it.

Should I Get It?

Even if you own an earlier version of the game, Rez HD is by far the best version of the bunch and at only $10, it's a bargain. Add to that leaderboards and achievements, and you've got perhaps the best deal that XBLA has ever offered. This is pure speculation on my part, but let's not forget that XBLA often carries DLC after a game's been out for a while. I can dream, can't I?

For those that fondly remember Rez, your love affair will start all over again. For those that never experienced the game, this is the best $10 you can spend through XBLA. The combination of retro-like HD graphics, a thumping soundtrack, and an undeniable pick-up-and-play attraction make Rez HD the first no brainer purchase in a long time.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on February 1, 2008 11:04 AM.

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