Sunday, 3 February 2008

The Pixel Diaries - Rez HD Edition

When this game was originally released on Dreamcast and PlayStation 2, to be honest I proberbly never gave it a second look. My taste in videogames was just too traditionally mainstream to see the appeal of it. In recent years it’s become almost a holy grail, fetching inflated prices on ebay and never turning up in the used section of game stores. Its rebirth on Live Arcade is one of the greatest things I could have asked for, a second chance for gamers to get hold of it, and a second chance for the developers (see Digital Auteurs below) to build it how it was always intended to be. High definition, 5.1 surround sound and online scoreboards.

I finished the game yesterday, or at least stages 1-5, and it left me pretty speechless. When you complete a first-person shooter you have similar games to compare your experience to, so it’s easy to recognise when something is special. But with Rez there are practically no comparisons to make. You know it was fantastic, but you’ve no idea what it was that made it so fantastic. It’s just an enthralling and beautifully made visual and audio experience. It’s short, it’s simple, and it’s generally very easy to complete, but while those would seem to be complaints when dealing with other games, here that’s just missing the point. Rez HD constantly shifts you from the deepest and most relaxed depths of your seat, to the very frantic edge in a shift of environment and rhythm.

It’s first 4 stages essentially act as a fast moving tutorial, or perhaps a taster, easing you into its unique design philosophies. Achieve 100% analyzation on each of these levels (generally achievable first time without problems) and you’ll unlock stage 5, by far the main event, and the thing fans come back to every time to re-experience. Suddenly the black and neon lined tunnels and valleys disappear and give way to an expansive digital vector-world of trees, landscapes and mountains. The pace is slower, yet the action is far more erratic. The multiple levels per stage concept vanishes and is replaced instead with a sequence of short narrative bursts, describing the birth, evolution and death of new life, and the future of our existence. The half hour level lays a knockout blow to any ‘games as art’ debate, and provides the audience with a window looking into what our medium could really provide if we weren’t so often bogged down with sticking to proven genres and play styles, constantly thieving techniques from films that barely hold together when put under the strain of interactivity.

I’m not finished with the game yet. I’ve got ‘lost’ levels and other various unlockables to play through, and the second half of the achievement points to work for, both of which I’m looking forwards to. To be honest I never thought I’d like this game. Appreciate its originality, yes, and its visual design, of course, but I never gave much hope to becoming a true believer, grasping Mizuguchi’s intentions and hailing Rez as a landmark achievement. But Rez HD has shattered by expectations. When the credits began to roll, the only memory of having a similar feeling within me was when finishing Portal, that knowing of having played something truly new and unexpected. It took Rez seven years to find its way to me, but it was worth the wait. I beg you to try it if you haven’t already, and not give up with it until you’ve experienced its final stage. If it’s not your thing, fair enough, I proberbly would have felt the same several years ago, but when priced at only 800 points it’s worth that risk. This has provided me with the first great gaming moment of 2008. Please don’t let this pass you by again.

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