Sega seems to have a knack for inflating simple ideas into giant, majestic feats; a controlled mastery of the art of style over substance. Maybe itís because of their deep rooted history with arcades, or perhaps it stems from the fact that theyíve been in this mixed-up console business for so long. To drive the point home, no other game has the elements of a gratifying flash in the pan than Segaís and Team Andromedaís Panzer Dragoon. It wasnít much more than a Space Harrier brought into the new world of dirty polygons and mishmashes (the fun cheat that allows you to fly around sans dragon proves just that). But yet, there was something that brought most normal people back for that hundredth time. Was it the music? The characters? The exotic locales? The primitive yet thoroughly realized graphics? It was all that and more and for a long time, no 3D shooter could hope to topple it. But then, at the beginning of the 21st century, appeared Rez.
In a future where our planet is obesely overpopulated, a super-computer has been built to control spiraling crime and misdemeanors, a watching eye over our world. At the center of this network is the artificial intelligence known as Eden, a depressed, confused version of Clarkeís Hal 9000. Insane from its burden and responsibilities, Eden is shutting down and you embark on a mission to reactivate it.
Simplicity is the order of the day. The gameplay is shrewdly undemanding, the graphics eloquent and crisp, and the music fits like a master key. But in return for its simple offerings, however, Rez demands your full attention, and when all is in place, thereís a beautiful connection between your retinas and the screen that renders you both reticent and paraplegic.
Using your targeting reticule, you fly through this cyberspace targeting viruses thatís hindering Edenís good judgment. Press it once and fire out a single laser or hold it down and lock onto a maximum of eight targets, all of which are destroyed or damaged upon release of the button. The requisite bomb attack is titled Overdrive, and that releases wave after wave of lasers on your enemies upon launch. Also scattered along your flight trajectory are blue objects called progress nodes, where if enough are collected, youíll evolve to your next form. Get hit once and youíll relegate an entire form. Your first form is very simple; thereís not even an exoskeleton, just a stack of squares lined up to create a tenuous figure of a human. As you progress, you obtain more coating and skin, until you transform until an almost Dural-like incarnation. Succeeding forms get even more transcendental.
Each stage (of which there are five main ones) is composed of 10 separate layers, which are unlocked by attacking a satellite that floats by pretty frequently and each layer needs to be explored if you wish to even begin to obtain a perfect score. To ensure and sustain replayability, there are percentage and statistics at the end of each level for all you perfectionists and well over a dozen unlockable modes and stages. Itís all a very uncomplicated affair and may turn off an unjust quantity of people, but thereís such an incredible amount more offered here, but only for those who wish to realize it.
Itís a long held conjecture of mine that if video games ever wish to be regarded on the same level as movies, books, or music, then there needs to be a more widespread exploitation of the shooter genre. With shooters, thereís a more emphasis based on ideas, rather than length, where youíre placed on an unstoppable, predetermined track set by the developer, and not even you can disrupt that original vision. Shown everything the designers want you to see, whether you want to or not. That Rez is a shooter and that the levels are so readily available to revisit is paramount. Video games can probably never be analyzed or discussed in the same way books or cinema can, but thereís an explicit quality about Rez that makes me love this medium for what it is.
It should be known that I entirely detest rave and trance music. That said, itís an absolute wonder that Iím not reaching for the mute button every time I turn on the game. I suppose itís because I can appreciate it as it is, since Rez would be an utter disaster and failure if it werenít for the music. While the music isnít perfect at all, it is perfect for the game. Also, nearly every action you take, whether it is shooting or simply locking-on, makes a distinct sound effect (ping and pang, plic and ploc) that adds to the music that gets more and more complex as you progress through the layers.
Last, but definitely not least, are the visuals. The visuals. Where to start? Well, it really seems impossible, you know; how can anything as basic as squares, lines, circles, wire frame meshes, and vector graphics create something so starkly magnificent? I can draw these figures but the connection to make them as superior as Rez is lost upon me. Itís shocking to think that what I see before me can be reduced to 1s and 0s and lines of code. New machines will get released in subsequent years, and they will be more powerful, but without this artistic integrity and vision, they can never hope to win against Rez because these are, simply put, the best graphics I have ever seen. Sketchy airplanes, ships, globes, primitive life forms, and organic monsters, all with fluid movements and colored in with vibrant hues. You may look at the screenshots and not begin to understand how a game like this can work and thatís not necessary; to know that something so bold and unique is so remarkably playable is enough. This is a wonderfully realized and executed world, the apex of creative epiphanies.
Thereís something about on-rails shooters, an entity that is both concurrently earthy and unbelievable, an inventive, mind-melding fusion of classic gameplay and incredible visuals. If there was any question, ever a shred of doubt, as to why the on-rails shooter should continue to exist, then the answer would surely be Rez. As a game, as an art form, and as an unmatched visual and aural experience, Rez fails on no counts.