This year’s E3 expo has played host to all sorts of new gaming hotness. We’ve learned that the Need for Speed franchise will return to its police-chase roots with another Hot Pursuit title, that Gran Turismo 5 will defy Duke Nukem: Forever and indeed be released this decade, that at least some of Portal 2 takes place on the set of Life After People, and that Microsoft and Sony both want you waving your arms in the air like you just don’t care.
Honestly, I’m not all that interested in controlling video games with wild gesticulations. I play games specifically as an escape from physical activity, not because I want to engage in more of it. But I may make an exception for one Kinect-enabled title that caught my eye: Ubisoft’s Child of Eden. The game is being developed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the man responsible for the cult Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 game Rez. I don’t own either of those consoles, but I’ve sunk a lot of time into Rez HD, which is a prettied up version of the original available for the Xbox 360.
For me, Rez HD is like a great album. It may not get as much play time as the flavor of the week or even old favorites that I dabble in on occasion. However, if I’m going to sit down for some Rez, I make a point of playing through the game in its entirety. Anything less would sell the experience short, and I probably wouldn’t be able to tear myself away, anyway.
Like with all my favorite albums, I have to be in the right mood for Rez. Usually, that requires some level of mental exhaustion combined with mild intoxication, often at the hands of British Columbia’s finest. Um, wine, that is. I’m generally not a fan of the province’s reds, but Gray Monk makes an amazing Pinot Gris from grapes grown just a few clicks from where I spent my high-school years. Wait, now I’ve gone off on a tangent. Where was I?
Best described as a rhythm-infused rail shooter, Rez puts the player in the role of a l33t hax0r who must travel through the K-Project "supernetwork" to save an artificial intelligence dubbed Eden. I’m not up on my art history, but Wikipedia points out that the K is a nod to Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, whose vividly abstract works apparently inspired the vibrant and eclectic world through which Rez guides the player.
The on-rails nature of the game allows for a simple control scheme that uses only the left analog stick and two buttons. This makes Rez incredibly easy to pick up and play, even for newbies and those whose motor skills might be otherwise, er, impaired. The gameplay is pretty simple, too: hold the A button and sweep the crosshair over enemies to lock on, then release to fire. Up to eight enemies can be targeted at once, and you can lock multiple shots on those who require a few hits to take down. The B button triggers an "overdrive" mode that automatically attacks all on-screen enemies for several seconds. It’s the bomb, yo.
Rez progresses through five levels, the first four of which follow a similar pattern of multiple stages followed by a multi-part boss battle. The final stage is less structured and concludes with a stream of boss encounters that build to the game’s climax. Lulls in the action are few and far between, and the game does a good job of being challenging without resorting to cheap tactics. There’s even a god mode for those who want to enjoy the ride without fighting to survive it.
Each level has a unique feel and music, although I wouldn’t say that any of them has a coherent theme. The sheer variety of enemies that occupy the game’s abstract worlds is nothing short of impressive, though. The enemy behaviors aren’t particularly complex, but there doesn’t seem to be any cross-population between levels. Fresh fodder greets the player throughout, and even though the models are pretty low-fi by today’s standards, they look right at home in the game’s retro environments. Even the bosses brim with diversity.
In truth, the rhythm component in Rez HD seems more like an afterthought than a central gameplay element. The music is also a little more trance and techno than I’d like, although it’s a great setup for a guitar solo that comes out of nowhere during one of the later boss stages. The track that accompanies the game’s final level switches to what can only be described as much phatter beats, signaling a definite shift in mood that never fails to pull me deeper into the game.
Of course, by then I’ve already been entranced for close to an hour. It takes a little more time than that to progress through the game’s start-to-finish Direct Assault mode, making Rez about the same length as a solid album and short enough to squeeze into even a busy evening. At only $10, it’s cheaper than an album, too. And when the final credits roll, my brain doesn’t instinctively scream out for just one more level. I’ve played Rez enough to know better, although I have, on occasion, succumbed to taking the entire trip once more.