The last time we got some time with Q Entertainment's HD upgrade of Rez for XBLA, the game looked like it was well on its way to delivering exactly what we wanted: HD Rez. Now that we got our mitts on a near-final version of the game, we can say that view hasn't changed. Q and developer Hexa Drive appear to have nailed a faithful, gorgeous upgrade to the unique Sega shooter from back in the day. Although we're obviously longing for some content, we have to say we're pleased by what Rez HD will be offering.
The futuristic shooter was always big on atmosphere, and the HD upgrade serves that very well. You'll cruise through five totally insane, but gorgeous, levels that blend a striking mix of light and sound. The framework for the madness is a cerebral story that's often overlooked when the game is discussed. The action is set in a futuristic computer network called the K-project. The vast machine manages a staggering array of information and is overseen by an artificial intelligence named Eden. Unfortunately, Eden's having an existential crisis because of the overwhelming load of info pouring through it and has entered into a shutdown sequence. While a shutdown might seem like a sensible thing to do, it will have catastrophic consequences for society, given how vital the K-project is to day-to-day life. You play the role of a hacker who's logged into the network with the hope of rebooting Eden before that happens. Sadly, it's not as easy as hitting ctrl-alt-delete, and you're forced to venture through the network to reach Eden in the core. You'll have to contend with firewalls, viruses, and Eden's general lack of enthusiasm at your efforts on your journey, which all makes for some stunning visuals.
While Rez's story is deep, its gameplay takes a minimalistic, old-school approach that ensures anyone can play the game. Your journey through the network happens on rails, requiring you to target enemies with a cursor and shooting them individually or lock on to several of them at once. Your arsenal of weapons numbers two: your standard shot and a smart bomb like overdrive attack that you'll be able to trigger if you've collected the appropriate pickup. Although this may not sound like much to rely on when facing off against hordes of computer enemies, you get one perk with your main weapon on your journey that helps out considerably. Besides collecting red overdrive pickups, you'll also be able to collect blue orbs that fill a meter in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. This lets your virtual avatar evolve into one of six different forms, which improve your main weapon. Given this simple scheme, it shouldn't be surprising to learn that the game's control is good and basic. You'll have one button to shoot, which you can use to lock on to enemies by holding it down, and one to trigger an overdrive. Outside of that, you'll just have to use the analog stick to move your cursor around. On paper, all of the above may not sound terribly compelling, but in practice, Rez just works incredibly well, even after six years. The five levels are made up of 10 subareas you'll have to journey through to reach a boss.
Besides the single-player game, you'll find several other modes with which to play around. The game offers two main modes to choose from: Rez HD and Rez Standard. Rez HD is the sexy, upgraded version of the original game with widescreen support, 5.1 audio, and enhanced art. The game mode offers several suboptions, which include a tutorial movie; a "travelling" mode for beginners that doesn't sweat lives; score attack, which challenges you to get the best score possible; and beyond mode, which includes several different game types using the existing levels, as well as a brand new one exclusive to the mode. The more you play beyond mode, the more customizable options you'll unlock. The Rez standard mode offers all of the above in the original 4:3 standard-def resolution, jaggies and all. While the standard-def mode is basically a throwaway mode, it does a good job of highlighting how much the game has benefitted from the HD makeover.
Rez's audio is right up there next to its visuals when to comes to selling the whole experience. The game's trace-y music tracks hold up well after all these years and still manage to feel fresh. Better still, the 5.1 upgrade helps highlight the game's finely crafted audio. Everything from the main music tracks to the various, often subtle, sound effects that crop up during a game have some nice kick to them.
From the looks of everything we played and heard, Rez is definitely going to be a game worth picking up when it hits late January. The upgraded visuals really stand out in HD, and the price--800 Microsoft Points--makes it a no brainer to pick up. While it would be nice to have gotten some extra content, preferably new levels or something along those lines, Rez HD still packs a lot of appeal and is one to watch out for next month.