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Rez HD (Xbox 360) artwork

Rez HD (Xbox 360) review

"I donít think itís great art, but it is brilliant escapism."

Rez was first released just over ten years ago for the Sega Dreamcast. Produced by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, it felt very much like the work of a single auteur video game designer. It wasnít, of course. Former members of Team Andromeda (the people responsible for Panzer Dragoon) laid the foundations of its on-rails shooter gameplay. However, there was something unmistakably different, unique and individual about Rez. It presented a sparse wire-frame reality that was brought to life by the playerís actions: you would shoot an object and witness a bloom of fluorescent colour that pulsed in time to a cold electronic beat.

I hated it, or at least I wasnít blown away by its artistic vision in the same way that the majority of gamers were. For such a simple and intriguing concept (shoot things = colour + sound), Rez didnít half inspire a lot of silliness. Reviewers were keen to treat Rez as the pinnacle of human creativity, an ďexperienceĒ that would lead video games out of the wilderness and result in high artistic appreciation. It didnít really happen. Rez looked alright and it sounded OK, but it didn't change the world.

In 2007, long after the demise of the Dreamcast, a port of Rez was announced for Xbox Live Arcade. Mizuguchi told reporters at the Tokyo Games Show that he ďalways dreamed of high-def wide screen and very good sound. Now the future has come." Rez HD was released in 2008 with high-definition wide-screen visuals and 5.1 surround sound. Much to my surprise, I absolutely loved it. Iím not sure whether it was because my tastes had changed in the eight years since I first played Rez or because the technology had finally allowed Mizuguchi to realise his dream. I suspect both explanations are partly true.

Rez is a typical on-rails shooter in the style of Panzer Dragoon, only not as advanced. Space Harrier is probably a more accurate comparison. However, every time you shoot an enemy, the impact sends a spectrum of colour fizzing across the wire-frame landscape. In 2001 this cascade of colour was a little grainy, a bit subdued and hemmed in by the thick black edges of my humble 20-inch Mitsubishi television. In 2008 it was an altogether different story.

I remember being impressed right from the very start of Rez HD. Early in the first stage, youíre taken through a section in which the main character rocks back and forth between some imposing stylised pyramids. Amber hieroglyphs hang from wire-frame structures on the periphery of the screen Ė but thereís no time to study them because unusual, threatening shapes soon come spiraling into view from behind. Shoot each one down and the impact releases a burst of yellow, orange and red that infuses the dark wire structures with colour. In HD these colours are crisp, vivid and overwhelming, spreading right to the edges of my 32-inch wide-screen television before dissipating to allow new explosions to take their place.

When it was first released, people latched on to Mizuguchiís statements about ďsynesthesia,Ē using the term as a buzz-word and employing it in every hyperbolic review. Ten years on, I find it easier to understand Mizuguchiís actual intentions. Synesthesia refers to a condition in which the stimulation of one sense leads to an automatic, involuntary response in another sense. Rez HD is a representation of this condition: shoot an object and you receive an instant aural and visual response as the electronic music pulsates into life and colours dance across the screen. These responses are not exactly involuntary, mind you. Theyíve been carefully orchestrated to add layers of colour to the basic wire-frame reality, dovetailing with the loose focus on human civilization to create a distinct theme within each stage (hence the allusions to ancient Egypt in the first stage).

I was never going to appreciate these details all those years ago. To me, Rez was little more than an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes with some pretty visuals Ė a classic case of style over substance. Not that I'm suggesting anything miraculous has happened. As Mizuguchi has said, Rez HD is still 100% the same game. As an on-rails shooter itís still basic, leading you through linear stages, controlling your perspective and offering an upgrade system that only really improves the number of targets you can lock on to. I donít mind this, though. Iíve changed my mind about Rez. I like the purity of its design, the fact that it doesnít over-complicate the gameplay. I like the way it leads me through its world, maintaining a gentle wave of tension by introducing threats that need to be dealt with but are never difficult. I can relax when I play Rez, drifting through its interesting world, listening to the rhythmic techno surround me as colours and shapes are built up in layers over the wire-frame darkness.

I donít expect everyone to understand this. I donít expect everyone to like Rez. For a long time I hated it, but then I changed my mind because it offered me something different. You donít have to learn any special skills, invest hundreds of hours or make any tricky decisions with Rez Ė just press start and lose yourself in a wash of colour and sound. I donít think itís great art, but it is brilliant escapism.


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Featured community review by JANUS2 (March 18, 2012)

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