Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Rez (Playstation 2, 2001)

Rez is an amazing and little-known PS2 game. It's the far-superior predecessor to Child of Eden on the PS3/360. Unfortunately, the series ends there. This is a very unique music-based psychedelic shooter, for lack of a better term. It doesn't really seem to fit into any established genres.

Unfortunately, it's also fairly impossible to play. It's somewhat rare as is, and even if you buy a copy, it's one of those purple-disc PS2 games that barely runs right on any of the systems. That was a really common thing in 2001, unfortunately.... but I wonder what RPG Maker 2's excuse was in 2004.

In any case, emulation of this game is surprisingly easy for a PS2 game, likely because it came early in the life of the system and isn't graphically advanced as a result. There's also an HD version, but it's only on the XBox 360 and only playable if you have XBox Live Gold. So that's out for Playstation owners or casual XBox owners. It's too bad, they could make a mint by bringing it to the PS3 given how popular it still is today. Enough of this extended intro, onward with the game!


There are five stages in the game, and they ascend in difficulty steeply as you go on. The objective is to get through all of the stages intact while shooting down as many foes as possible. So basically, your typical shooter objectives... with a tweest.

The environments in this game are generally wireframe three-dimensional hallways. You don't have control over where your character moves, so you need to intercept all of the enemies and projectiles that are incoming at any given time. How do you intercept, you ask? Via homing lasers; not just any lasers, though. These lasers emit musical notes as you fire, which adds to the soundtrack of the level. It's so cool that I wish every game did that. Then again, with a lot of modern games I find myself wishing that they even had music.

Yanno what? It'd be easier to just show it. Here's the game in action. See how the sound effects add to the music? It's so cool.

Progression is a matter of blasting various cubes that move you to the next section of stage. Each stage has ten sections; each section is typically accompanied by a slight music change.

The first boss is some sort of plated sphere. While you can shoot standard lasers pretty fast, charging up while highlighting enemies will eventually deploy eight homing lasers on the targeted foes. On multi-part bosses like this (where every "plate" on the sphere is a target) you can really cut loose with a charged multi-blast.

This is also extremely useful when you have a bunch of incoming projectiles. For the most part, though, the first two stages are pretty devoid of projectile assaults. They're very easy, to the point that I started wondering if it was even possible to lose.

Some of the enemy designs are impressive, despite the wire-frame nature of the game.

As you progress, your character "levels up" and changes form. Some of the forms are humanoid, while some are just weird shapes. Get hit, and you revert to the previous form. The lowest form is a sphere, and once you get there, you're basically in critical condition.

Things get very Matrix-like by stage three, with lots of green letters ghosting around.

This wall of hexagons at the end of stage three is the first particularly challenging part of the game. The lasers it emits can easily slice right through you if you don't take them out before they rotate around. In retrospect, this is laughably easy compared to later challenges, but it's the first time that the game tests you.
Stage four is considerably more difficult, and memorable for being full of wireframe Oriental architecture. Here we see sphere form, which means I'm near-defeat.

Collecting powerups puts me back at the base, starting form, which is form two overall. This stage is awesome, so different from the computer-worlds of the earlier stages.

At some point the visuals almost turn into drawings. It's psychedelic, man.

The stage four boss is this running man; it also pops up as one of the later bosses in Child of Eden.

Oh, this might be a good time to quickly explain the two meters onscreen. The lower left one is basically "exp", showing how far you are from evolving into the next form (gaining an extra HP). Every time you collect a powerup, you get anywhere from one to four bars towards that next form.

The lower right meter is for Overdrive, which lets you rapid-fire at everything onscreen automatically in a sort of hyper mode. It's very useful, to say the least. When used at the right times, it can get you through the boss fights much more easily.

After finishing the first four stages, I thought I'd be whisked off to stage five. Not the case. Turns out that you need 100% analyzation in all four stages, which means blasting every area-change cube with a full eight shots. Luckily, I did this by default while I was playing without even knowing that I had to, which means I only missed one cube in stage three (hence, 90%). After repeating that one stage...

...bam, stage five unlocked. Only problem is, this stage is EXPONENTIALLY harder than the others. This game might have the biggest difficulty curve I've ever seen, with the first two stages being practically gimmes, stage 3 being a little bit challenging, stage four being difficult... and stage five being off the wall, hair-pulling-out difficult.

Stage five is much brighter than the earlier stages. It may seem like the game is 80% over, but stage five is so long and difficult that it's pretty much the second half of the game.

This stage takes you on a journey through the epochs of the Earth. It's definitely the coolest idea for a level.

Wireframe artwork of early sea life, with various trilobites to battle with... this is inventive and cool.

Eventually, the stage takes you out of the oceans as planet life migrated onto land.

Unfortunately the music takes a significant quality dip in this final stage. It turns into a kind of rap-like tune that doesn't fit what's happening onscreen at all.

Later in the level you end up in the space age, doing battle with a rocketship.

I thought this was referring to space travel, but it's actually referring to transcending the physical body to become a pure energy being (sorta like the character we're playing as).

Unfortunately, being a pure energy being apparently means having to battle all kinds of fearsome beings inside of a computer world. I think the point of the game is that you're transcending your body and becoming one with this game character in energy form... or something like that.

For the final boss, you warp into... a Virtual Boy game? NOOOOOOOOO!

We get some creepy Earthbound-like wall-dialogue. Oh, and you automatically ascend to the highest form in the game: Space Fetus. The creators of Metroid: Other M suddenly just became interested in Rez.

The final battle consists of a bunch of boss fights in succession. The first is this octopus-like red being. It's very difficult, and I thought this was the last fight. Nope, it's the FIFTH TO LAST fight.

These bosses run the gamut of the primary color spectrum, with the fourth being a yellow monstrosity that transforms a bunch of times as you fight it.

Get past those four bosses, and you end up in an epic confrontation with a giant metal halo. Death can be unavoidable at a number of points in this fight if you aren't aware of the various cheap attacks that the boss dishes out, like the one part where missiles appear behind you without warning. Lose this fight and you're doing ALL of stage five over again, which is a pretty brutal death penalty for losing.

In the end, this sultry wire-frame woman materializes and ascends into the cosmos, or something. I don't know. The game is pretty bizarre.

So, final thoughts? This is a great game and it's WELL worth checking out. The first three stages are a total blast to play (while the fourth and fifth ratchet up the difficulty a bit much for the scope of someone just trying to run the game once rather than master it). It's definitely best to emulate this (or download it on XBL) rather than attempting to play it on a PS2, given the purple disc lameness.

There's also Child of Eden on later-gen systems, which is similar and fun... though Rez wins overall. Child of Eden suffers from the game being designed as a vehicle to push a Japanese pop artist; the story was actually reworked to totally revolve around this woman as opposed to being a "transcendent experience" like Rez. That would be fine if most non-Japanese audiences had any idea who she is. In any case, Rez certainly seems to be the definitive experience of the two.

6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. The woman is actually a hacker hacking into a computer named "Eden" that is shutting down because all the info in the universe is too goddamn much for it to handle, and apparently said hacker's goal is to keep it going. So based on what I've read for CoE I can only assume this avatar is the same hacker---just a vehicle for the player.
      Also, I'm a bit disappointed you didn't bother covering the Lost Area level. It's pretty difficult, but has no boss (It's also known as "Area 0", or at least called that) and is really fun. Unless of course you didn't know it existed. It took me a long time to figure out it existed, TBH.

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    2. Sounds cool, I'll check it out. I noticed that there were some new things on the main menu after I finished the game, and I wouldn't mind having more to do with this one.

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  2. The purple discs are actually CDs, rather than DVDs. Rez PS2 is less than 300 MB, so there would've been a lot of unused space on a DVD. Of course there wouldn't have been the playback issues either. That might've been a factor in Sony requiring all physical PS3 releases to use Blu-rays, though I imagine that was more about shoring up their then-new format.

    (The 360 remake is actually smaller—about 120 MB.)

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  3. Wait, you can only play Rez on 360 if you have a Gold account? The heck? Normally you can still buy any game with the free Silver account.

    Fortunately the CD blue disc games are less problematic on Slim PS2s. It may be my fourth darn PS2, but the slim model I've had since 2006ish still plays all games perfectly. Never playing any movie DVDs in it probably helps.

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  4. Whoa, I knew about PS4 Rez but this PS2 Rez is something new. And then I thought it was another music game we've covered before but nope, this was new content to me. Great stuff. I just read through it all again to get another load of this unique art style.

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