Take the red pill, take the blue pill.
Since joining the Revolution, I've seen more video games than most people see in a lifetime. Some have been really, really good, others have been really, really bad, and the rest have been stuck somewhere in between. It's rare for a game to find its way outside the box, but a new PS2 game has done just that. In some senses, it's really good. In others, it's really bad. All I know for sure is that this is one of those games you either hate to love or love to hate.
Confusing, eh? Well, that's the point. So without further ado, I give you Sega's Rez.
Rez is the latest game from Sega's own Tetsuya Mizuguchi. Similar to Space Channel 5 (another Mizuguchi's creation), Rez combines music and art with simplistic gameplay. Unfortunately, it also falls into the same trap as SC5 of becoming better as an art piece than as a game.
In its most basic form, Rez is a rail shooter. Think of it as Panzer Dragoon - minus the dragon - set in The Matrix. In its most complex form, Rez is an artistic, mind-altering, music-based action shooter like no other game you've ever seen. Think of it as something that would go great in a museum or with a tab of ecstasy.
The short version of the story is that the world is going to suffer a massive meltdown because the supercomputer that was built to stop the violence suddenly developed a consciousness and decided to shut down. Whatever. Your job is to enter the, ahem, "Matrix" and destroy all the "viruses" you encounter to bring it back online.
The gameplay is easy enough. Your virtual character floats along on his own accord and you control an aiming cursor that is used to shoot everything in your path. Keep hitting the shoot button for super fast attacks (and a sore thumb), or just hold it down and lock on to a maximum of eight targets before you fire. Power-ups include Progress Nodes, which will change your form, and Overdrive Nodes, which act like smart bombs and go after all onscreen targets. It's the stuff of classic scrolling shooters.
But Rez is hardly a classic shooter. With more artistic qualities than you can shake a bent spoon at, Rez ends up being much more.
First and foremost is the music aspect. The game is played to a variety of trance beats that are influenced by your onscreen performance. Shoot fast and the beats increase. Change forms and your shots will cause a new musical tone. It's really interesting how it all works. The dual shock also plays along and really draws you in by throbbing to match the thumping bass. A definite head-bobber, unless you absolutely hate trance.
The visuals are also interesting. Everything takes place in a wire-frame world that's vaguely reminiscent of the computer-hacking mode in the classic Shadowrun. On one hand, it's incredibly artistic. On the other, it's incredibly plain. Like the rest of the game, it all depends on how you look at it. At least it all runs very smoothly.
One definite downer is that the main game can be passed in, say, an hour or so. There are five areas with ten stages each, but they aren't very challenging and will be finished in the blink of an eye. Even though there are a few unlockable modes, they don't do anything more interesting or different than the main one. All filler, no killer.
Another frustration is the issue of getting hit. About a quarter of the time, you'll never even see what hit you. Sometimes enemies will just throw out a whole mass of projectiles, and after shooting as many as you can, you'll notice that you lost some health. Yikes.
Rez could use a boost when it comes to complexity. The game gets very redundant, due in part to the fact that you don't really gain any new weapons aside from when you change forms. Even the control layout is almost ridiculously bland: one shoot button and one smart bomb button.
There are two ways to look at this game. For some, Rez will be an incredibly creative experience that fuses art and game. It's got the look, it's got the style, and it's got the feel. Others will just see it as a plain shooter that is way too short. No cool enemies, no cool pick-ups - just a cursor and a shoot button that will save the world in one sitting. Which side will you be on? I don't know, but make sure you try before you buy.