Over the years, games come and go. Beloved consoles are replaced by shiny new versions boasting flashy new graphics and updated app support. But in spite of the fast pace at which we consume this oh so special form of media, some experiences just stick with us.
Link to the Past taught me that video games could be filled with secrets. Resident Evil showed me that video games could terrify me. Metal Gear Solid proved to me that you could use games tell a story as good as any movie could. And Rez, well Rez showed me that I could fall in love with a game and have no idea why.
My first experience with Rez came 11 years after its release. I was just about to start university and was at a house party, sitting in my friends bedroom. I had gotten talking to a guy about gaming and he asked me if I’d ever played Rez. I am ashamed to admit that at the time I had never even heard of the game let alone played it. Chalk it up to the time and place, or maybe my altered state of mind, but I was blown away.
For those of you that have not played Rez (in which case, what are you reading this for? Go play the game!) it can be described as a rhythm game, a musical on-rails shooter, developed and composed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi. The game was designed to simulate synesthesia, the neurological phenomenon wherein the stimulation of one sense leads to the involuntary stimulation of another. Using a combination of electronic music and trippy visuals, the game aims to blur the lines between audio, visual and gameplay elements.
Rez is an abstract game, which is difficult to describe, but instantly familiar and memorable to those who’ve played it. The game features an iconic soundtrack, which was developed with input from techno artists like Aphex Twin and Coldcut. Adding to its experimental nature, a peripheral was released for the game, the trance vibrator. The device was a usb powered, mouse-sized box which vibrated along with the game. The goal was to introduce another sensory input to the game, thus heightening the concept of linked sensory stimuli and bringing the game closer to the artist’s original vision.
Over the years Rez has undergone many revisions and refinements. The game can be seen as a fluid piece of art, adapting to the technology of the time. Creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s vision from the outset was to prove that games as an art-form can exist.
Despite the cult status the game had earned, the added peripheral, or the countless critical accolades received, there was always a sense that the game had more to give. Since its release on PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast, Rez had always seemed restrained and hindered by the hardware it existed on. As a concept and as a piece of art, the game was always waiting for technology to catch up with it, for the true version of the game to finally reveal itself.
15 years after its initial release, technology finally caught up, virtual reality headsets were released to the masses, along with a new remaster of the game. Rez Infinite was the game we all knew and loved, fully playable in VR. I picked up the PlayStation VR on launch day, and I’d be lying if I said that Rez wasn’t the main reason. I got the headset home, loaded up Rez Infinite which I’d had downloaded for days prior, and braced myself for what was to come. I didn’t remove the headset until 6 hours later.
It’s difficult to describe exactly what makes the VR version of the game special. I suspect its a combination of being fully immersed in the kaleidoscopic world. Maybe it’s the new level of accuracy and physicality made possible by the head tracking controlled aiming. But ultimately I believe it’s because of the way everything comes together, finally realising the creator’s vision of offering a truly multi-sensory experience.
Rez Infinite reminded me of why I fell in love with the game in the first place. I played through the classic five stages one after the other and as the credits rolled, a message popped up, “Area X unlocked”. I had played the game inside and out over the years so knew that this was something new. I immediately readjusted the headset and loaded up the mysterious Area X.
From the outset it dawned on me that this was new content, the colours were more vivid and the visuals seemed more advanced than the rest of the game. It was then that I made a startling discovery, in Area X you can control the character freely. The original game was always on-rails, a design choice I had never given a second thought to, until now. Area X allowed me to soar through the digital world, controlling the speed and direction using my head. Giant enemies swirled around me as a new soundtrack blared out in the background. The level starts slow, then builds and builds, slowly at first, then at a pace which almost induced nausea. As I rose and fell, twisted and turned, firing at the luminescent enemies, the music rose to a roaring crescendo. What I felt can only be described as the fusing of my audio and visual senses, it was exactly as the game was designed to make me feel.
Area X culminates in a boss fight of sorts, but in a sense its so much more. At this point I’d been in the headset for hours and had completely forgotten I was even wearing it. As far as I was concerned I was part of Rez‘s world, a feeling amplified by the butterflies in my stomach as I flew through the level. The final minutes feature an assault on the senses, equal parts boss battle and fireworks show. Firing missiles at a giant, building-sized woman with golden hair, I dodged and weaved between enemies which raced past me. The music adapted to my movements and amplified what I was feeling.
I had not expected what happened next. As I landed the final blow on the digital woman towering above me, golden light engulfed the space around me and the energy of the music fell to a quiet whisper. Sat cross-legged on the floor of my apartment, beaming from ear to ear, I took the headset off. As the credits rolled I wiped tears from my eyes and stood up, my whole body twitching and shaking. I wasn’t sure what I had experienced but it was unlike anything any form of media has ever given me. The closest thing I can compare it to is drug-fuelled euphoria.
I have always had a soft spot for Rez and always appreciated its ambition in what it was trying to achieve. It wasn’t until I experienced it in VR that I finally got the full version, as the artist intended. Rez is unlike any other game ever made, it the only game I can authentically describe as an experience. It is the only game to ever make me cry, and I can still not put my finger on why it did. It is one of the best games ever made and is an experience I will never forget.