If Team Andromeda had intended for Panzer Dragoon to be played in nightclubs, they would have created Rez. Tetsuya Mizuguchi changed the rhythm genre with Space Channel 5 and the puzzle genre with Lumines, but neither approaches the beauty and ingenuity of Rez.
Essentially, Rez is an on-rails shooter in the classic mould of AfterBurner, Space Harrier, Panzer Dragoon and more. There are no bullets, just lock-on lasers, of which you can fire up to eight at a time. Each level is divided into ten areas with a final boss, and to pass each area you must simply find and destroy a small box. It doesn’t sound hugely innovative, but every aspect of the game exudes style, elevating it far beyond its simple concept.
Graphically speaking, Rez is the most unexpectedly beautiful game you’re likely to encounter. Made up of simple wireframe models against a black void, it’s like being back in a 1980s Atari arcade game, but this simplicity is deceiving; the beauty is in the execution of such minimalism, with no need to introduce huge explosions or cluttered backgrounds. There’s a wonderful sense of fluidity and inertia to the game, and you can feel yourself gaining momentum as you approach each of the five stunning bosses.
Part of that sense of acceleration is down to the astonishing soundtrack, which does the impossible by making me like dance music. Each level begins extremely sparsely, with perhaps a simple drumline and some bass, but grows with each area, swelling into some of the most exciting and adrenaline-boosting music I’ve heard in a game. I could tell it was good when I found my heart beating faster and my foot tapping halfway through the first level of my first play. Couple that with the now infamous "trance vibrator" and you’re left with a completely euphoric experience that leaves you sweating every bit as much as any Wii game.
There’s just something revelatory about playing Rez that I can’t define. In spite of its simplicity, it’s not a casual game by any means, and I’ve found it requires quite a level of preparation to enjoy it properly. Such preparation will be familiar to any gamer – curtains closed, lights down, music up – but the idea of creating atmosphere for the game is a huge part of its appeal. It doesn’t work in daylight; it’s an intimate, sometimes demanding experience that reciprocates your input tenfold.
Rez is a classic Sega game because I can’t imagine it coming from any other publisher. It’s a testament to the freedom and expression they afford to their most talented staff that such a game got made when it would perhaps have been easier for Sega to push Mr Mizuguchi back towards more lucrative arcade driving games. Such integrity is a classic Sega characteristic.
Rez‘s rarity on Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 places a high price barrier in front of many people after the original dance-on-a-disc game, but with Rez HD one of the best-selling games on Xbox Live (which must please Mr Mizuguchi after Lumines Live‘s poor performance!) there’s never been a better time to access this true classic in Sega’s history.