Rez HD

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"You totally did not!"

Paulie is incredulous. He's a year older than I am. He has money - or rather, tokens - that I can only dream about. And yet, his high score has fallen to his overweight 12 year old friend Julesy. Me. For the last 20 minutes I've been in a groove, milking my quarter for every second, shooting every spindly vector ship that flew past me in reverse.

Tailgunner was my first railshooting heartache. Rez HD is my latest. It's been almost 30 years, and I'm still falling in love.

When Rez was revving up the game world and triggering 1,000 Rated-M-for-Mature jokes with it's Trance vibrator add-on in 2001, I was busy trying to figure out what the hell you do when the 2 year old poops in the tub. It wasn't exactly gaming's golden age for me. So my experience with United Game Artists' offering for the Dreamcast and PS2 remained something of a joke, a snarky side-note to the mid-life PS2 golden age I missed. But if I'd known that the team behind it was the same folks who'd made Panzer Dragoon back in 1995, I'd have handed my daughter off to the Nanny and grabbed a copy.

Because I love a good railshooter.

The fundamental conceit of a good railshooter is that of inexorable momentum. The rails that you're on are that of a roller coaster, and the only way it ends is either by running into a wall or breaking through. In a good rail shooter, there's a constant sense of failure intermixed with an odd hint of freedom and euphoria. It's the kind of freedom that comes from having no control, no ability to stop, no way to stop the inevitable, and ultimately letting go.

I suspect that the early prevalence of rail shooters has to do with their seeming simplicity. In an d y 80s stand up video game system, both control and screen real estate was at a premium. Ergonomics are challenging in the best of times, but in the loud and crampt quarters of the local arcade, it's especially tricky. Add to this the brief flash in the pan that was the late 70s/early 80s Vectorbeam era and you had a display system that was simply incapable of showing much information on the screen at one time – the complex visual cues required for navigation maxed out at with Battlezone.

But even more problematic, today as then, is training. Even the most hard-core console first person shooter sequel still spends the first 15 minutes teaching the player how to move, how to jump, how to aim and how to shoot. We're fond of arguing about how many hours we, as gamers in the SciFi year of 2008, should give a game before we give up and look for something that's actually fun. In a 1980s arcade, that learning-to-fun time window had to last less than a quarter, or no more quarters would be forthcoming from these pockets.

The two earliest examples of railshooter bliss I recall were both vector games. The first was the 1979 arcade hit Tailgunner from Vectorbeam/Cinematronics/Dan Sunday. While the motion was decidedly backwards (the star field moves away from you) the sense of claustrophobia and your limited motion is intense and effective. Add to that the subtle mechanic of losing a life every time you missed a target - instead of every time your ship was hit – and you had the makings of the kind of "we can only fail" emotional construct railshooters thrive on.

The second more well known railshooter I recall from those days of pizza stained jeans and post-punk hair was Star Wars, the definitive 1983 vector game from Atari. No subtitle, no episode number, no nothing. It was just called Star Wars, and while it did offer at least the illusion of control, you were still falling down the inevitable pit towards the destruction of Darth Vader's ultimate weapon. What can be more "on rails" than the trench of the Death Star. Star Wars excelled not just because it used the breathtaking innovation of color, but because it, like all good railshooters since, created a perfect illusion - that you actually had some measure of control, that victory was possible. And Star Wars let you win - it let you defeat the boss - the thermal exhaust port. The "next level" after the boss was just doing it all over again.

This sliding-towards-doom-or-glory dynamic is also what makes Guitar Hero, Rock Band and DDR so compelling. Before you start, you already know exactly how the game can end – with total failure, or with complete victory. It seems almost by accident, or the tyranny of the 3 minute song, that this kind of brutal game play has emerged into the public consciousness, ironically in the guise of somewhat "casual" games.

Rez HD takes this combination of music and railshooting to its most boiled down apotheosis. By relying on extremely well trod ground - railshooters, vector graphics - it gives the player room to breath. Unlike recent quasi-retro vector-esque games like Space Giraffe, Everyday Shooter, and Geometry Wars, the visuals never get so complex that they get in the way of the game. Some of this is just artistic restraint, but they also train the player to accelerate the visuals at their own pace: the first level of each area starts at a 1980s level of simplicity, and advances in complexity only as the player chooses to move layers deeper into the game by shooting portals.

This is the gift of Rez - it lets players have the space to explore. The game can be played from start to finish (skipping the unlockables) in a few hours. But Rez isn't about finishing, it's about experiencing. Like Lumines (designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi's best-known claim to fame) it's the process that's satisfying, not the result. The music is tied to players actions (as in Lumines) where each shot, explosion or missed cue results in a change to the soundtrack. But the feedback, both in the main controller or the optional other three, is masterful. A few hours of total immersion in Rez should be mandatory for anyone who ever programs force feedback, on anything. Ever.

But this space that Rez gives the player is also why it won't find a place on enough gamers "bought" list. Played in the wrong environment, even the wrong mood, Rez HD would be wholly unsatisfying. It is not a difficult game. Indeed, the best way to play it is in "traveling" mode where you can't actually even die. (I lost my wife to traveling for an evening. And just shut your trap about "vibrators" or I'll come over to your house and kick your dog.) Played in a noisy college dorm room surrounded by Tenacious D posters and cases of Mountain Dew, it's not gonna push the right buttons. But sitting on a couch, with your feet up, the lights low, 5.1 headphones on and the extra controllers stuck behind your back and under your feet, the game will take you somewhere you haven't been before.

This is what games are supposed to do. Games are supposed to take you into core fantasies - experiences that completely divorce the self from the real world. Rez HD does this. $10 is way to little for a game that does it this well.


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Comments

I missed Rez back on the Dreamcast as well as the PS2. I'm glad it was released on XBLA. It's a definite must buy.

Experiencing Rez for the first time is one of my most vivid videogame memories. While I had already listened to the soundtrack a lot in the years since, going at it on the 360 felt all fresh again.

I had never played Rez until yesterday.

It is awesome.

Tailgunner.. can't help but think "SHOOT that Fokker!" when playing this one these days! I can't forget about rail shooters like Starblade and the original Cobra Command.

Rez came as a surprise game with Worms Armageddon bought from e-bay. The way the music drags you into the game is amazing and makes those normally rare moments of total immersion much more accessible. This game is art, dammit!

When speaking of rail shooters, I can't help but recall fondly the Cyberia I & II games, produced in '90 for PC by Xatrix.

Rez first caught me eye when reading an interview (in Next Gen?) with developer stating directly that he was trying to induce synesthesia. Although the gameplay described seemed quaint, even outdated, I could not let such a bold intention go ignored. Whether or not he truly suceeded in a scientific sense, Rez certainly hits a fullness of the sense like no other game (including N20). It would be akin to a trascendental experience if such a trite comparison wouldn't cheapen both.

The PS2 special edition came with a very special piece of hardware (NSFW). You can't get the same experience on XBLA.

Yes you can You can set the other 3 controllers to vibrate. It's the only way to play.

Purchased based on this review. It is quite a unique experience.

rabbit wrote:

$10 is way to little for a game that does it this well.

Still, I'm glad I didn't cave and pay a premium for this on ebay.

There you have it, rabbit's a stoner.

I might add that I tried the demo before buying (I played it on the Dreamcast too but wanted to see how it held up), and it cut me off in the middle of the boss fight. Sneaky bastards...

By the way, go into options. There are settings for graphical effects (blur, glare, etc.) and sound environments.

yeah playing with only one controller on crappy stereo speakers on an SD screen would be an entirely different experience and inferior in every way.

I am compelled to point out:

http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/20...

Oh, and Rez HD is indescribably delicious. It must be experienced.

I played the demo yesterday and it left me nonplussed.

rabbit wrote:

yeah playing with only one controller on crappy stereo speakers on an SD screen would be an entirely different experience and inferior in every way.

Crappy speakers maybe, but the 100+ times I ran through Rez on both the Dreamcast and PS2 versions are sure enough a testament to its power even when under sub-par settings by todays standards, hell the Dreamcast version even had some crazy slow-down on ocassion and the copy I got froze at least 50% of the time around the ending. Rez is quite possibly the only game i've played that I would consider for my favorite game of all time, forever, times infinity + 1. The whole game is simply so unbelievably cohesive and unrelenting in its slick presentation. RezHD is such a steal at $10, cheaper than the launch price of Lumines Live (and arguably a more complete experience) if I remember correctly. One can hope that Mizuguchi can convince himself and Sega that a Wii port is necessary. With the installed base of the Wii and the huge casual market one would hope that a Wii Rez would result in the mass-market attention that the game has always deserved.

Rabbit, Asz, thanks to you, my heart is set on a Wii Rez, with point and click controls. I don't need HD, but direct point and click (and the Wiimote making music in my hand) would flow really well. They could even bundle it with some kind of vibrator add-on. Those Nintendo folks love the bundled peripherals.

Wow, rail shooters always loved them. I too remember playing Star Wars in the arcade with limited quakes. I was like 15 or 16, it was a hassle to get to the arcade all dingy, dark and to my eyes today a little gross, but it was heaven back then. And Star Wars was like awesome and at that time I think it wwas still only 25 cents. It was before they started to bring out the 50 and 75 cent games. I remember everyone standing around, a few quarters in their pockets trying to learn from the current player so you could make your quarter last longer. Ah the good old days "reminisce Reminisce" as it were

Gah. The level 5 boss is kicking my butt. Leave the space trance cyber fetus alone!

Gah. The level 5 boss is kicking my butt. Leave the space trance cyber fetus alone!

OK, that's odd... it not only double-posted but it counted the second one as an unread post for me.

I am completely blocked on area 3. I simply can't for the life of me figure out how to get past the third stage of the boss. I think a couple of more tries what I'm getting out of this game will no longer be worth the pain and suffering.

psu_13 wrote:

I am completely blocked on area 3. I simply can't for the life of me figure out how to get past the third stage of the boss. I think a couple of more tries what I'm getting out of this game will no longer be worth the pain and suffering.

Once it "clicks" with you, it'll be the easiest stage of that boss.

spoilaaar wrote:

[color=white]Keep your reticle near the top of the cylinder. When the red darts appear just move to the left to destroy them right away. After they're gone concentrate on the red squares on the cylinder to unlock the core. Hammer at the core until the cylinder is almost closed. More red darts will appear the moment the cylinder closes so be ready up at the top to lock onto them again. This is the strategy I always use and it only takes me about 3 minutes to blow up the core. [/color]

I'm stuck trying to finish Stage 5.

I do really well for a long time, and then you get to what seems to be the neverending boss fight and I just can't last through all of it. Not even close I don't think. I've made pretty far into the area after it starts asking you questions between each fight section, but I'm pretty sure there's plenty more to go and I seem to run out of luck at about the same point every time.

Don't target the boss cores, target their extremities instead. I can make it through the boss run at the end without loosing form doing it that way.

Save your orange shots... you're gonna need 'em

I'm glad I heard about this game on the confrence call and the site otherwise I might have just skipped it. Its a great little game though!

Wow. I just bought and played through this game. Amazing.

I'll be honest. If the game had ended after the first 4 levels, I would have said "well, it was cool, but not worth all the fuss it got." But that fifth level made me 'get it.' Damn. If only all the stages could have been as amazing as that final level.