Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-08-30 12:34:00



Big fish, little fish, cardboard box

It’s one of those accepted conventions of media, that if your premise is suitably weird or OTT in some way, it is [reference point] On Drugs. Gives you something to base your expectations and tells you that this is the next manic step forward from that. It’s Father Ted On Drugs, Angel on Speed, Tron mainlining Jack Daniel’s while getting into a chainsaw fight with Evangelion and Fullmetal Alchemist as Babylon 5 watches and takes notes, grabbing handfulls of impressively-coloured pills ‘purely for medicinal purposes’. Be impressed by the man whose life’s work is described as, say, “what FLCL takes to get high”, that’s a man who knows where it’s at.

So, following on from that logical progression, Rez is Panzer Dragoon at a 72-hour rave doing lots and lots of E with a few hits of acid for good measure. That’s it, review’s over, you can all go home now.

What, you’re still here? That wasn’t enough?!

*sigh* Fine.

Rez is an on-rails shooter that’s remarkably difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t played it before. Which kinda defeats the purpose, since reviews are generally there to aid people who haven’t played, read or watched something before. The plot, for what it’s worth, is that a supercomputer AI called Eden has become overwhelmed with knowledge, making her doubt her own existance. As a result, she’s shutting herself down, with an impending catastrophe on the way. The player takes on the role of a hacker, flying through her subsystems in an attempt to get Eden to pull herself together. This is acheived with the powers of wireframe graphics and techno, apparently. So it turns out Hackers was actually spot on. Who knew?

A stage goes like this. Your avatar flies along. Enemies pop up. You lock on, they explode. Eventually, a password cube comes along. You shoot it enough times, it opens, you go to the next layer of the stage where the music is more intricate and the graphics are slightly more detailed. Repeat until you get to a boss, kill the boss and that’s it, on to the next stage we go!

To give you some kind of reference for the next part, here’s how the game looks in action, since that’s the only way to actually get a feel for it. The Video’s of the 360 HD version, but it is, to all intents and purposes, the exact same game:

So, let’s take each element at a time. Gameplay is lifted directly from the Panzer Dragoon series. You can’t change your direction at all, and while you can move the camera around, it’s almost always facing in the right direction for you to deal with any oncoming threats. You hold down the fire button to lock on to enemies (up to 8 at a time) or you hammer the button to fire rapidly. You occasionally encounter items that give you Overdrive attacks, smart bomb-like items that target everything onscreen, which can be useful if you’re going for that all-important 100% shot down ratio. You also find health items, but rather than directly increasing the amount of damage you can take, they go into a bar. Fill the bar and your avatar evolves. Take a hit, and no matter how full your health bar is, you’ll go down to the previous form. Take too many hits and you’re booted out the system.

Rez, however, is one of the few games where I can say gameplay really doesn’t matter, since that’s not where the main draw is. This is a game all about the visuals and sound, though not in the obnoxious way most other games are. The word for tosay is “synesthesia” which, depending on its use, is either a neurological condition where senses become slightly skewed, most commonly perceiving sound as having shape or substance, or an artistic attempt to get several senses working in tandum, in this case, sight, hearing and touch. Everything that happens is synced up to the soundtrack. The graphics pulse in time with the beat, your shots basically hit when it’d sound best (but never interfering with your hit percentage or making you take damage). The soundtracks start off bare-bones, only a few skeletal beeps and notes to give you the impression that there is something there. As you progress, more effects are added, filling out the music slowly. It’s a great effect and gives an interesting feeling of progression, far different from almost any other game out there.

The graphics follow a similar path of gradual enhancement. If you’re someone who always demands the absolute finest from your machine at every turn, you’re probably going to be put off here. The visuals rarely ever progress further than basic textured polygons, so anyone seeking fancy shaders or lighting effects, this is not the droid you’re looking for. For everyone else though, the graphics work with everything else. When you actually start seeing something other than flat angles and pretty lights in the final stage, it’s oddly impressive, and gives you the feeling that this is going to be something different.

Downsides? Well, it’s hard to say really. It’s difficult to tell what’s actually a threat and what isn’t until it’s too late. And since you can only ever take, at absolute most, about 4 or 5 hits before dying, that not only results in you being blindsided more often than neccessary, it also makes boss battles more frustrating than hard, since when they attack, there’s usually a ton of missiles onscreen and working out which ones are actually going to hit you is guesswork at best. The boss battles themselves are arguably too long as well, some of the later ones being complete brick walls when it comes to taking damage, one having the added bonus of being super-fast, making hitting him trickier,and also having a shield of rapidly-shifting cubes! The whole thing hinges almost entirely on your enjoyment of the provided music as well, a problem common to every music game on the market, so if dance and techno cause you to erupt in a painful rash, you may want to steer clear. For my money, I actually like it, and I can’t stand most dance music, so take that as a recommendation if you will.

Rez is utterly unique, and for that reason alone, it’s worth a look. There’s a few similar games on the market – Synaesthete probably being one of the best-known, Darwinia sharing a similar visual style, but little else – but Rez stands virtually alone, I couldn’t tell you if it’s art, since I find the whole ‘games as art’ argument laughable at best. But I can tell you that it’s a solid game, short, but definitely worth your time, and that’s really the only thing that needs to be said.

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