Fear is the mind killer.
Few games perfectly define the term “cult classic” in quite the same way Rez did. What can only be described as a rhythm action shooter was originally released on the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 in 2001, and was developed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, now of Q Entertainment. Mizuguchi would go on to design games like Lumines and Child of Eden, but Rez is arguably the game that put his name on the vast map of gaming.
Mizuguchi’s speciality is implementing licensed music with interesting, adrenaline-fueled gameplay to create a euphoric atmosphere unique to his portfolio of titles. Rez was the first in a respectable line of such games, and most who have played it can testify to its brilliance.
Look at you, hacker…
Rez has a simple story used to give reason for your in-game actions. The game takes place in a large virtual space known as the K-Project. Its AI host, Eden, has become self aware, and as such begins to question her own existence, and decides to shut down the K-Project as a result. If the project were to be shut down, it would have disastrous effects on the real world, so a professional hacker infiltrates the network in order to save Eden from, well, herself. This is where the player comes in; as the hacker, you must travel through each of the five on-rails stages, shooting down any security drones and firewalls, while listening to a collection of sweet techno music.
The K-Project itself resembles a giant virtual art installation, and is in fact inspired by Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky. The first four areas of the game are all themed on a specific cultural aesthetic, and the last stage? Well, that’s a massive mind trip in itself.
Understand Your Trip
At its core, Rez is a score attack game with a unique twist: the enemies you shoot down contribute to the rhythm of the backing track.
Anyone who played Rez around the time of its release could attest that it’s “quite unlike anything else they’d played” up to that point – myself included. You control an avatar whose path is predetermined through the level. All you have to do is shoot down incoming drones, racking up a score based on how many enemies you shoot down at once. At its core, Rez is a score attack game with a unique twist: the enemies you shoot down contribute to the rhythm of the backing track. By holding down the attack button, you can lock on to a maximum of ten targets and, naturally, the more you manage to shoot down at once, the larger point bonus you’ll receive and you’ll create a more awesome beat as a result. In addition you can absorb pickups that will evolve your avatar, making it more powerful, as well as screen clearing Overdrive bombs to give you some breathing space in the harder sections of the game.
Each stage (known as Areas) is divided into ten sections and a boss fight. Traversing to the next section of the stage is as easy as shooting a special drone ten times, warping you ahead. However, there are some sections where you may wish to ignore this drone, and press on ahead to fight more waves of enemies, and in turn earn more points. As you ascend in sections, so too does the backing track, adding layers of beats and instruments the further into the stage you travel. Around halfway through a stage all the way to the boss fight, the music and background imagery start to intensify, creating an engaging sense of synesthesia, making Rez all the more satisfying to play.
The boss fights are a particular highlight. All are massive in scope, and you’ll be fighting them when the music is at its most intense. They are also very challenging, resulting in extremely high octane fights which will completely absorb you in the moment. The final boss is unfortunately a tad unfair, often forcing you into using bombs to clear the screen of the immense amounts of damage-dealing clutter, but otherwise, the fights add a lot of memorable moments to an already brilliant experience.
Rez is certainly one of those games that, because of its rhythmic nature, would be nothing without its soundtrack. Thankfully, the music in the game is all high-quality, flawlessly composed techno that suits the game’s aesthetic design to a tee. So memorable is the music, in fact, that I often found myself playing through on the game’s practice mode, simply to manipulate the beats of the amazing tracks without fear of taking damage from the enemy drones.
Rez is sadly a very short game at just 5 stages, but the soundtrack and addictive score attack style gameplay more than make up for this shortcoming. There’s also a bunch of unlockables that greatly increase the game’s replay value. For me, Rez is a game that’s simply timeless. It never expects a great deal of time from you, making it ideal to jump in and have fun whenever you please. If you have an Xbox 360, I’d highly recommend downloading Rez HD, which came with a bunch of extra content as well as the higher resolution (or rezolution! Am I right?) and crisper visuals which, like fellow Dreamcast title Jet Set Radio, makes the game look even more gorgeous than it already was. Oh, and this version has online leaderboards, which is also nice.
Rez is one of those rare classics that stands the test of time, mainly due to its wonderful simplicity. The game doesn’t ask much of the player, allowing them to either chill out and experience the music at their own pace, or attempt suicidal high-score runs for bragging rights. The Dreamcast version is quite an expensive purchase these days, but the game is much cheaper on the PS2, and even cheaper still if you choose to go for the HD version on 360. In any case, Rez is simply worth buying, and is absolutely a game that must be seen to be believed.