Rez is a strange game. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that it – despite being rereleased twice – never has been a commercial success. You could describe it as an abstract game, and not just because of the graphics. Like in abstract art, it’s almost nonrepresentational, it’s more about the experience than about anything else.
For people who aren’t familiar with the game, here’s a short history lesson. It was made by game designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi, who is now the head of game studio Q Entertainment, and also the creator of games like Space Channel 5, Lumines, Meteos and Child of Eden. Rez was first released in 2001 on the Dreamcast, then ported to PlayStation 2 in 2002, and finally released as an Xbox Live Arcade game in the form of Rez HD, in 2008. It’s always had very modest sales numbers, but also a cult following.
Rez is an onrail shooter that, like the majority of Mizuguchi’s games, mainly revolves around music. In most games you have sound effects and a background track, but in this game the sound effects are part of the music. Locking onto enemies creates a specific sound fitting to the track, shooting them often sounds like a beat or rhythm, and each time you clear a segment of the stage another layer is added to the music.
The visuals contribute to this experience. The game has a very abstract, minimalistic look with bright colors. It mainly consists of shapes and lines, that sometimes take the form of animals, plants and buildings.
Another element that adds to the sensation of rhythm and flow, is the rumble functionality of the controller. A heavy beat is accompanied by a rhythmic thumbing of the controller, clearing a stage segments has the controller shaking constantly while the music reaches its peak. Mizuguchi’s idea behind the game was to create a sensory experience, a pulsing fusion of sound, images and sense. A rhythmic unity.
Underneath this musical, sensory experience lay sparse hints of a story. Especially memorable is the last act, which takes you through the evolution of life on earth. For a game with an actual story mode, Rez is consistently abstract and minimalistic, leaving a lot to the interpretation of the player.
In 2011, more than 10 years after it came out, Rez received a spiritual successor: Child of Eden. Both games are quite unique, and I’d recommend them if you like to try something new from time to time.