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Rez
Review By:  J. Michael Neal
Developer:   United Game Artists
Publisher:   Sega
# of Players:   1
Genre:   Shooter
ESRB:   Everyone
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Card
Date Posted:   3-28-02

"Shooter Redefined" may only be the game’s tagline, but it’s not far from wrong. Breathing new life into one of gaming’s oldest genres, Rez mixes retro looks, techno beats, and high concept with the tried-and-true staples of the ‘on-rails shooter’ creating something surprisingly new yet refreshingly old school in the process. Sega’s United Game Artists, who developed Rez, also worked on such top sellers as Space Channel 5 and the Panzer Dragoon series. This time around they show that they know enough about shooters and music games to successfully blend the two into one, epilepsy-inducing package.

Taking place in the inner space of a global mainframe, Rez puts you in the role of a lone hacker as you brake into the network, decrypting security protocols and fighting off anti-virus programs, on your journey to the center of the system to prevent its eminent shut-down. All this after its central AI, by the name of Eden, has began malfunctioning as a result of questioning the meaning of her existence. While the story definitely has some cool-factor, in truth it’s relegated to manual filler, which is a disappointment considering the room for deep, philosophical undertones about the meaning of our own existences that could have run through the game if only a few cut-scenes were present.

The look of the game is pure retro cyber-chic and could easily double as Tron 2.0. It looks like this game was conceived on an Etch-a-Sketch while doing ecstasy at an all-night rave. Everything is constructed of three-dimensional lines, colored fog, and pulsing lights. Perspectives constantly shift, floors spontaneously transform into structures, and walls melt into nothing, lending Rez a sense of unreality that makes it feel more like an acid trip than a game.

The choice of vector-based wire frames over the photo-realistic, high polygon graphics seen in today’s ‘next gen’ titles proclaims a triumph of artist expression over guaranteed commercial success. Could this mean the UGA might indeed live up to their pretentious surname? Regardless, this game definitely earns kudos for Sega and along with titles like Jet Grind Radio, Ooga Booga, and Samba de Amigo, helps secure their newfound reputation as the quirky publisher to watch for the next generation.

Although it’s a music game at heart, don’t expect Rez to fall into the same category as Dance, Dance Revolution. This isn’t another ‘Simon Says’ PaRappa clone. The game is very much a shooter, but it’s soul lays in the player’s ability to transform the musical landscape by feeding off the frantic nature of the game. How this is done is by replacing the standard array of shooter effects like gunshots and explosions with drumbeats and digitized vocals to rock your speakers. Locking onto a target might create a drum kick. Shooting down an enemy might get a high-hat. Clear an entire screen and you’ve just made a song!

Each level has it’s own track that changes throughout its course and a set of accompanying sound effects created by such artist as Joujouka, Kenishii, and Mist. Yes, the Kenishii! Ok, I never heard of him either, but don’t expect anyone outside of Japan to recognize these artist’s names. The eletronica soundtrack itself is rather unremarkable; don’t expect to hear any groundbreaking material like you would from Radiohead or Nine Inch Nails. The tracks do work as nice background noise to paint with the cacophony of destruction created throughout the game, and the production values are about as high as the come. You’ll want a nice set of speakers to take full advantage of the dense layers of sounds present in the game.

The concept of the game may be a little complex, but playing Rez couldn’t be simpler: hold down the X button and drag the cursor over targets to highlight them, release the X button to fire. In typical shooter fashion destroying an entire wave of enemies rewards the player with power-ups, this time in the form of colored spheres. Blue spheres allow the player to evolve into "higher states of consciousness" once enough are collected, and red spheres increase an "Overdrive" bar that’s used to unleash screen-clearing super moves. Movement in the game is set on a fixed path, but the player is allowed 150o of camera movement during ‘Infiltration Mode’ and 360o of aiming during boss battles. And be prepared to use every last degree, during later levels enemies will come at you from every conceivable angle.

Levels are distinct enough to stand out from one another, each with their own look, style, and set of enemies, plus the boss encounters are varied and enjoyable. While the main mode is rather short, clocking in at paltry five levels that can easily be beaten in one sitting, doing well in those levels can unlock a host of hidden options, including a few secret levels, ‘remixed’ versions of previous levels with altered tracks and new color schemes, and probably the best secret in the game, a ‘Direct Assault’ mode that brings a point system into play. I found that breaking your high score or getting 100% was enough of a draw to bring me back to the game time and time again, and the extreme pace of the harder modes was enough to keep me glued to my chair for hours.

Aside from the short length, bland track list, and invisible story the game does have a few other flaws worth pointing out. For one the game has no multi-player modes, which would have done well to increase replay value and to play off of the competitive nature of the point-based modes. Second its accompanying peripheral, the Trance Vibrator, will not be released in North America. Acting as a force-feedback enhancer, the vibrator is a wrist pad shaped device that plugs into the PS2’s USB port, allowing the user to feel much more of the game’s throbbing beat and pulsing action but placing it somewhere on their bodies. While not necessary for enjoying the game the device does add the extra kick that the Dual Shock lacks, turning into your own personal sub-woofer, and actually making the game a little better.

Rez’s strength lays in the experience. This is like no other game seen before. The journey from start to finish may be short, but it’s an awesome trip. It’s a feast for the eyes as well as the ears, and one of the most thumb-centric titles released in the longest time. While fast paced the game has an almost Zen-like serenity about its chaos, and is so well envisioned it’s easy to think, "Yes, flying through cyber-space would look like this". Although the vector look may put off a few, this is definitely the kind of game you need to play at least once to call yourself a true gamer. Anyone with an open mind, a sense of rhythm, and a penchant for shooters should pick them selves up a copy.

HIGHS:

  • Simple controls allow anyone to pick up and play.
  • Music keeps in constant pace with the action, increasing the tempo as well as the excitement.
  • Graphics are definitely one of a kind.
  • Harkens back to the classic side-scrolling shooters.
  • Fair amount of unlockable options keeps replay value respectable.

LOWS:

  • Very short game.
  • Interesting story only seen in manual.
  • Single player only.
  • No Trance Vibrator.

FINAL VERDICT:

Turn off the lights, crank up the speakers, invite some friends, and enjoy one of the shortest, sweetest, strangest games released in a long, long time. Highly recommended.

Overall Score: 8.9

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