My first brush with Rez in person was at some “games = art” presentation at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts a few years back. (Of course, I had already seen “that article” about it, too, but I wasn’t going to dismiss the game as a gimmick since it had received such widespread acclaim.) The PS2 version was on display, along with some other games of dubious “artiness,” albeit in an exhibition environment that did little to actually showcase its virtues. It was displayed on a small TV, probably about 15”, with the sound turned down quite low. I played a bit of the first level, not really knowing what I was doing apart from shooting things, noted the cool retro visual style, then moved on.

Last year, Rez was re-released as an Xbox Live Arcade title, and when it was part of a Thanksgiving promotional sale, I decided to check it out again. This time, I had the benefit of not only having instructions and a tutorial, but also being able to spend more time with the game. The latter, it turns out, was really the key – you don’t “get” the game until you’ve played through an entire level, in an environment where you can really pay attention to and notice all of the synergy between the gameplay and the audio/visual experience. The music drives the environment art and your character’s animation – in turn, the music is driven by the gameplay, with layers of instruments gradually being added in as you “crack security” throughout the level. Elements of the game are connected to each other in ways that are rarely seen. Your shots are synchronized with the tempo of the music, blending in with the soundtrack, never jarring you as in other games. The base of the landscape acts as a music visualizer. Parts of the HUD, and your character, pulsate in time with the music, and transitions between “layers” (which add layers of instruments as well as change the visual representation of the level) are also synchronized to occur at the start of the next bar. All of this synergy creates an experience that, to me at least, feels very much like being in “the zone,” or that things are all falling into place – a feeling that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced from a game before.

The Xbox version has “improved visuals,” and since I didn’t really play the PS2 version very much (nor the original Dreamcast version!), I don’t know exactly what has changed, but I will say that it looks great, and is very stylish – it’s like an 80s vision of “cyberspace” brought to life. The soundtrack is appropriately catchy, and is a huge part of the game experience. The Xbox version also supports downloadable replays, which will make you realize that, even though you’ve beaten the game, you’re still nowhere near as good at it as the hardcore shooter players. I should note that the game is not particularly tough, and with a little practice, it’s fairly straightforward to get through the entire game.

So, in closing, the hype is true – Rez really is remarkable, with a truly unique audio/visual style, and a stunning final level that proves that a story need not be wordy, or even comprehensible, to leave a lasting impression. Heck, it’s also proof that art direction is timeless (and often sadly lacking in games), even if art technology shows its age. It’s definitely worth at least checking out the demo.

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