January 17, 2008

Commentary: Rez

I first heard about Rez from Penny Arcade; Gabe listed it as his favorite game. That got me curious, so I started reading up on it. I read about how it featured procedurally created music, where the player helps create the soundtrack. I read about how it evoked a feeling of synesthesia (the mixing of senses) in the player, where the gameplay and music melded together. I read about how you couldn't be sure whether you were playing the game or whether it was playing you. That pushed me from curious to intrigued, and I hopped on eBay and bought a used copy (the only one available).

My first experience with playing Rez was thrilling. After popping the disc in the PS2 and starting up the first level, I could immediately tell what all the fuss was about. Every time I targeted something, every time I fired, and every time I hit an enemy, I'd hear a different sound; together, they made some pretty sweet trance music.

Unfortunately, things went downhill after that. After the first section of the first level, a more dominating background music starts up. The sounds from your actions in the game are still present, but they eventually start to get washed out. The rest of the first level, and the second, and the third, and the fourth all resulted in disappointment. The levels are rather short, so I kept playing, and I had some fun with it, but I felt let down. This was not "synesthesia". It was cool, but it was not revolutionary. The elements were there, but I just couldn't hear them.

But the fifth level reversed my opinion yet again. First of all, the climactic level features a healthy injection of powerful imagery representing life's evolution from the primitive sea to the modern day. Second, the difficulty is adjusted based on your previous performance to provide a more intense experience. Lastly, and most importantly, the music is great. The overpowering background music of the previous levels is replaced by something more low-key that melds perfectly with the gameplay-generated musical additions. It's truly a novel experience, and it's really in this level that Rez delivers.

I should note that the game is a somewhat standard rail shooter with no especially innovative gameplay. A story is present, but it's present mostly in the manual; it's something about a rogue supercomputer that you have to infiltrate, presumably by shooting everything that moves. The graphics deserve some accolades for succeeding in their highly stylized nature. The inside-a-computer look and the trance music match perfectly.

There's been a lot of talk about how Rez is a prime example of games-as-art, and it's connection to the Russian painter Wassily Kadinsky (see the bottom section of this page) certainly gives that view credence. Normally when I've thought about games-as-art, I've considered the story/narrative elements and the game mechanics; essentially, I've thought that games can be art either through the story that it tells (interactively, of course) or through the systems that it models. Rez adds another perspective: games can be art by providing a unique sensory experience. The combination of stylized graphics, pulsing haptic feedback, and procedural music really makes this game something wholly new, and any hardcore gamer owes it to himself or herself to find a copy of Rez (or buy the upcoming Rez HD on XBox Live Arcade) and play it to completion.


Anonymous said...

I suggest using the rez trance vibrator while playing the game.

It works with NTSC U/C REZ and PS2 (Both original and slim)

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