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Be still my beating heart.
I mean it. I’ve just finished the boss battle on area 4 of Rez HD and my heart is going at a rate I haven’t felt since I last went jogging. Blame the visuals, blame the music, blame the gameplay, but the whole experience seems to have pushed my pulse rate to the point of no return. I’m not entirely sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. What I am sure of is that Rez HD is an extraordinary game.
The original Sega version is spoken of in hushed tones whenever and wherever the ‘games as art’ debate springs up. Fusing his love of electronic music and club culture with his admiration for the art and ideas of Russian abstract painter, Vassili Kandinski, Tetsuya Mizuguchi created a stunning, stylised 3D on-rails shoot-em-up that looked, sounded and played unlike anything before. As a hacker trying to break through the security systems of a nutty super computer, you send your digital avatar floating through a series of stripped-back electronic landscapes, using a reticule to lock on to the various polygonal entities that stand in between you and the heart of the system. Shooting and collecting blue forms gives your avatar the power to evolve into a more recognisably human shape, the different stages effectively working as lives and offering you more offensive firepower. Blasting prismatic cubes that give off light repeatedly takes you to the next security level. At the end of ten security levels there’s a boss, and beating him unlocks the next area.
Sounds simple – and it is simple – but what made the original Rez so special was the way that the gameplay, the graphics and the music, not to mention the radical use of rumble feedback, all come together in one remarkably coherent package. For the time, the visuals were astonishing; the clean vector lines of the landscape moving at incredible speed before you, with the clean vector lines and simple shaded polygons of the enemies blossoming into glorious neon blooms as they explode, your missiles tracing their way across the screen towards them.
Mizuguchi worked with leading dance and trace artists to create the pounding soundtrack, then did three very clever things. First, he used samples for the sound effects that could work within the music tracks, meaning that your actions onscreen added cool new elements to the soundtrack as you played (a feature he’s take further in Q Entertainment’s puzzle game, Lumines). Secondly, he made visual elements – including your avatar and parts of the background – pulse in time with the music. Thirdly, he synchronised the beats on the soundtrack to rumble pulses in the controller, meaning Rez was a game you could actually feel in the same way you could feel the big bass beats in a noisy club. Arty types call this multi-sensory experience ‘synesthaesia.’ We’ll just label it plain awesome.