Thursday 2 June 2011

Rez HD

If only the atagonist of Gex broke out of the TV realm and became the title of an unrelated game...

Oh look, he did. It's Rez, or more specifically, Rez HD, the 2008 Xbox Live Arcade release. Ported to the system by HexaDrive... who haven't really done anything since, published by Q Entertainment who have done many things since, it's an on-the-rails shooter that has a nasty habit of not being bought.

And doesn't it look pretty?

We like Rez, but Rez doesn't like us very much. Well okay, I use the term "we" lightly - first released in 2001, Rez failed to sell on the Dreamcast. Then it failed to sell on the PlayStation 2. Now despite constant critical acclaim it's probably not selling as well as hoped on Xbox Live Arcade. So although it's a game worth liking, we don't seem to like it enough.

Which as said, is probably for the better, because Rez doesn't want to return that favour any time soon. The fact that it under-performed meant there was never a US Dreamcast release, and the PAL one averages about £50-£60 on eBay second hand, but that's not the problem with Rez.

But before I diverge into Rez's major flaws let me just say that on the surface, Rez is a very good game. It's ten years old, but you wouldn't know it just from looking. Now granted, the HD upgrade helped things along, but even with this feature turned off Rez isn't an ugly game. It is, as you might say, "art" and in this gritty world of first person shooters, art always has a place on your Xbox.

Rez essentially has you control a... erm... thing which represents a "hacker". You fly about in a big super network trying to save the AI, Eden, who with all the knowledge in the universe has begun to doubt its own existence and is committing computer suicide. It's not a bad premise and as I will keep mentioning, the visuals are very well done. Likewise there's an emphasis on sound, with every action in the game being timed to work with the beat. It's very clever, though why the Japanese felt the need to package this game with vibrators I couldn't tell you.

It's an on-the-rails shooter, which means you're restricted to just controlling the firepower, not so much the character. You essentially shoot targets - up to eight at once - in an attempt to score points and make sure you don't get killed. I think it's optional as to whether you decide to destroy any enemies (bar the bosses), but you'd be foolish not to as you'll probably get yourself killed.

The hacker's "avatar" which you play as is an odd one. Essentially you collect blue plus signs to work towards levelling your character up - if you're hit, you instantly level down, and you need eight or so plus signs to level up. This means getting to the final level is a bit of a challenge, though as it performs no better than the first upgrading isn't a big deal if you can avoid getting hit. Level down enough times and its a game over.

As your character upgrades it changes its image, though to be honest, I don't quite understand the thought pattern. You start off as a badly defined man at level... 2 I think. Level 1 is just a small sphere, levels 3 and 4 are better defined men. Level 5 is a meditating man in a sphere, level 6 is a sphere with spiky bits, and level 7 is what looks like an embryo, i.e. a man in a sphere.

So just to get this straight, it's sphere -> man -> man in sphere -> sphere -> man in sphere. Not what we might consider evolution. Each level makes slightly different sounds when you fire and hit things, but as said, I don't think there's any differences otherwise. But who cares, it looks cool.

The game shockingly makes use of a second button too, which can trigger "overdrive". Overdrive is basically what most shoot-'em-ups would consider a bomb, except it's not a bomb, it's the computer firing shots incredibly fast for a few seconds, essentially annihilating everything on screen. Outside of bosses, I saw no reason to use it, and to be honest, I didn't even realise it existed until I started getting crushed at the end. This is probably because in order to use overdrive you need red items, and they don't tend to appear until the later stages.

But basically, it's a game you should play. Download the demo of Xbox Live Arcade for free and you should see what I mean. I didn't find the normal difficulty setting much of a challenge mind you, so if you're really into your rail shooters, you might want to crank it up a notch.

Oh but yeah I was going to criticise Rez wasn't I. Well, okay - Rez is a disappointment. You play the demo and find yourself inspired to buy the game. You buy the game, and then you find it only consists of five levels, one of which you've already played for free. Yes kids, you can get access to 20% of Rez for nothing, and the combined playtime totals just over an hour, not including the boss rushes and the "play every stage from beginning to end" parts.

This is about the length you would expect the average arcade game from this era to be. Not a full price Dreamcast release. Not a Dreamcast release that's retailing past it's recommended retail price on the basis that someone thinks it's "rare". I found the concept of only a handful of levels extremely disappointing, though I did come onto this after toying with Peggle for weeks which might explain things.

I think the problem with Rez bottles down to the development ethics of the time. Rez appears to have been poorly managed, developed by the stereotypical "artists" (United Game Artists, I might add) which can't see the bigger picture. Level 1? Excellent. Level 5? Excellent. All the bosses? Excellent, but levels 2, 3 and 4? Good lord.

These three levels are literally the first one, the level you can play for free, copied, pasted and given a colour change. Sure of course the layout is different, the graphics tweaked and a different musical track is used, but there simply is no "wow" factor with these three stages as they're practically the same thing. Bar the bosses, they are forgettable, and the game's flaws really start to shine through when you start seeing the same enemies pop up in them.

So again, 20% of this game is free, 60% of this game is recycled. From the fourth boss outwards you'll experience nothing dull, but surely it's not right for such a huge chunk of the game to be... boring.

When you look into it in more detail facts start to emerge. Consider this - Rez went through a number of name changes during its development cycle, from "K-Project" (K most likely meaning Katana, the Dreamcast's code name), "Project Eden" and "Vibes" before landing with the name "Rez". What does "Rez" mean? Who knows. Apparently it might be considered RPG slang for "resurrect", which is what you're effectively aiming to do in this game, but it's needlessly obtuse. Clever though, and it looks good.

However, when you publicly change the name of your project four times during the development cycle, that tends to suggest not a lot of planning time was put in at the beginning. If it really takes that long to come up with a name it's going to take even longer to come up with imaginative stages, so here's my theory - Sega issued a wake up call to UGA towards the end of the development line and they flushed out a half-assed version, with only two stages (the first and fifth) up to spec.

So just like "art", Rez needed time to grow into something memorable and extraordinary, and that doesn't tend to fit in well with Sega's then declining video game console business. You can't afford another Shenmue when you're losing millions a year and so my gut feeling is Rez just wasn't ready to go. Maybe that's why they didn't produce a demo disc with Rez on it. Maybe that's why the thing was barely marketed and failed to sell. Only UGA know that answer.

This theory could be be backed up by the inclusion of a "lost area" - a small Rez level delivered on the side with no boss and doesn't seem to serve a purpose. But this is all just speculation - maybe Rez was intended to be short, and if that's the case, Rez isn't a good game. But again, I like Rez, so I hope it's just a case of poor time management and leftovers of stupid Sega ideas from the mid-1990s (damn you Sega 32X).

I suppose the sad thing of course is that even though there was a seven year gap, the short length has yet to be fixed in Rez HD. The HD part of course improves the visuals, but other than that it's an identical game (with achievements). Of course, UGA have since been swallowed by Sonic Team so perhaps not "improving" Rez is for the best. They might introduce voice acting or find some way of making the hacker fall in love with a piece of scenery or something

Overall as said, Rez is a demo worth playing. If you own an Xbox 360 and have access to the internet, you should download it if you haven't already. Now. But is it worth buying the full thing you ask? Well... yeah... it probably is.

I mean sure Rez gets dull but it never gets bad. It's short but so are a lot of games, and it's not so difficult that you give up after a few minutes. Plus at £5, you're making a 90% saving on what the Dreamcast version wants from you, and you get the benefit of HD visuals. You can also apparently mimic the trancy vibrationy bit with a second controller - the official accessory from the PS2 era will raise the second-hand total to nearer £100.

But one thing's for sure, the demo's free. So play it and come to your own conclusions. I think a big opportunity was missed to spice the game up but I think I missed even more by not purchasing the game ten years ago.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, that's damn annoying when you hear "Rez", but it's not about Gex villain.