Rez is one of those titles that has a firm split in its fan base. You either love it or you hate it. When the original title was released on the Sega Dreamcast and PS2, it quickly became a sleeper hit. Since it was a very limited production run, copies of the game became collector’s items and were soon very hard to come by. Q Entertainment has upgraded the game’s visuals into an HD splendor and released the title through the Xbox Live Arcade service. It is pleasing to report that all the rhythm-shooting goodness from the original remains intact with this version, and the nice new graphical coat of paint adds to the visual splendor and fun.
If you are near (or over) the age of thirty, you will notice very familiar themes and visuals within Rez’s graphical style and gameplay. Nearly every single moment of this title contains some sort of reference to the cult-classic film Tron, where computer programs live as humanoid beings within their circuit boards and pulses. Rez’s entire gameplay system is reminiscent of the main plot of this film, where a human attempts to defeat the master control program (MCP) and escape the digital world. Throw in some influence from the film version of Stephen King’s “The Lawnmower Man” as well, and one begins to grasp what they are in for when they fire up this title.
Beyond that point, the game’s thrust is a rail shooter set to music. Rez is considered to be the first in the genre that is so popular today, the rhythm-based-shooter (Guitar Hero and Rock Band can be considered the natural evolution of this genre). The music starts off with one channel of sound as players travel through this electronic world toward their main goal. Players are outfitted with lock-on weaponry that plays out in a gameplay style similar to Atari’s classic Missile Command. You can aim (and lock) on to anywhere from one to six enemy objects at once and then fire. Destroying (or “hacking”) these orbs, objects and pulses also enables the player to ‘level up’ their avatar with new strengths and skills. With each ‘hacked’ orb the music ratchets up one overlaying soundtrack at a time, leading to a multi-layered intensity toward the end of each level. Rez’s attributes really shine as the game picks up speed, with all visuals flying, all music tracks at full and the thumping vibrations of your controller keeping you rolling along like a metronome. The game also makes it all worthwhile at the end of each level with its achievements and unlockables.
The visuals are trippy and mind-blowing, and really shine out in their new HD incarnations. That is not to say that they are of a graphical power similar to today’s epic titles, but the stlyle present here is so unique it is almost hypnotizing in a “1990s Virtual Reality” kind of way. The game also offers players the choice of going back to REZ’s original standard-def look from six years ago, but there is no reason to even bother. Rez is also not a particularly long game, with only five levels of base gameplay and a few unlockable modes that follow. Fans of the title may not have a problem with shelling out the ten dollars to download the game (especially since all prior versions fetch much higher dollar amounts and don’t look half as good graphically) despite its short length, but for some this may be a consideration.
Adding to the incentive to purchase this version is the host of Xbox360 achievements to unlock, and there are also “replay” modes available for players to sit and watch their best runs as they space out their brains into the visuals. This mode can be considered both a blessing and a curse since it enables the game’s main weakness to shine very quickly; the repetitive nature of the music. Rez’s entire appeal is in its music, and after a while the tracks can become a bit trying to the ear. Save the replay modes until after you’ve completed the game.
For those who have not been fans in the past, Rez can be a tough sell. Its unique style may be considered “too unique” for some and it is definitely not a title for the masses. However, the much lower price point of this new version may be the gateway for those unwilling to take the plunge before, and Xbox Live Arcade offers free trial versions for download should you be one of those who are “on the fence” about the whole thing. If you give it a chance you just might find yourself locked in the trance that so many have come to enjoy.