When you play Rez, you do a good job of imagining for the game all kinds of properties that it probably doesn't possess. As you're guided through its semitangible lightscapes, you'll swear that their seemingly dynamic contours are reacting to your movements. And during sequences when the notion of space is particularly hazy, they'll even seem like they're preempting your actions. The sounds to which the light show is synched further cloud the distinction between actual and perceived gameplay; the songs will gain depth as you progress through the environments, and your attacks will contribute audibly all throughout, the actual samples they trigger changing with each track. When you hear the beats get a little snappier as you blast light to destroy graphical abstractions and flow a little faster through electric ether, you'll likely find it easy to deny that Rez, at its core, is in fact a fairly straightforward on-rails shooter.
And ultimately, it is. But it's how this mix of brainy club music and planetarium light-show aesthetics meshes with the Space Harrier-game mechanics that allows Rez to transcend our expectations for a shooter of its kind. The game's mechanics, in truth, don't really like that they're its focus, a fact that's exemplified by its "watch mode" (which, incidentally, is given higher priority on the game's interface than its primary play mode). Really, they're just another chip in the whole synaesthetic pool--even, some may argue, its most understated. But by letting you feel and, to an extent, manipulate its world, Rez becomes more than just a moderately interesting musical video or a mildly flaky shooter--it becomes a way to interact with a set of nice songs, at its best, by means of familiar gameplay mechanics. At its worst, though, the fact that you're aiming at relatively slow-moving targets on-rails seems pretty hard to ignore. Even then, however, you're likely to be wowed by the aesthetic candy.
Rez moves like any number of on-rails shooters before it. You basically guide your onscreen persona and its targeting reticle through a perpetually scrolling environment and shoot things as they're drawn into your range of vision. Being a 3D game, Rez incorporates all kinds of view shifts, causing the environments to scroll from above and below you, as well as from before and behind you, with some flank scrolls thrown in for good measure. You're also able to rotate your view, in most cases, though the source of the action is generally contained to your default view. The game's shooting mechanic is basically a Panzer Dragoon-style lock-and-shoot. If you aim your reticle on something and hold the button down, it'll lock on its target a series of up to eight shots. When you release the button, the shots are fired.
When you shoot things, they'll generally explode or otherwise metamorphose into nonexistence. Sounds will also be played after every shot is fired, the exact samples depending on what exactly was shot, when the shots were fired, and how many blasts you used to take it down. It doesn't feel as complicated as it sounds, rest assured--the general sound for shooting air is a shrill, 808-style handclap, while most of the other samples are generally cuts that appear throughout the song in question. In any event, the sounds you make when you shoot were designed with the accompanying track in question, and they'll feel like it. You'll lock onto a series of enemies, and you'll play a light synth tone. Release the button and blast them, and a drum fill will accompany the synth, which will have been extended. The resulting riff will fill a lull in the song or else add its tone to the existing soundscape. It's all very well done, though the coolest thing is that--depending on how spazzy you're feeling during a particular sequence--you can tangibly affect its song's tempo, simply by shooting things faster, or shooting them more vigorously. All of this is provided you're paying attention to the sounds rather than the pictures.
Rock is Sponge
Though the rash of rhythm games released in the last few years definitely stand as a good argument against this, gaming in general is largely a visual medium. As such, it is Rez's visual presentation that one will most easily associate with it. When compared with the look of modern games, Rez is pretty out there. Ironically enough, many of the techniques it uses to achieve this are fairly ancient. Accompanying flat-shaded polygons, pulsating, geometrical vector graphics are used to draw most of the game's environments. The forms that these lines take are many: light-painted hallways in one or seismographic panoramas in others. They'll usually deform to the beat of the music or else react to some other agent. In the end, though, despite all the visual madness they seem to be a party to, they're painstakingly crafted, and their movements are flawlessly scripted. They really feel like some of the most interesting game environments ever conceived.
Your own onscreen persona is similarly dynamic. You'll start out as a coily, human-shaped mass, but you'll evolve into other forms as you collect power-ups. Your form will gradually get more tangible, one of the interesting being that your persona assumes a lotus position and is surrounded by a sort of disco-ball-like aura. The shots you fire will also change with your form; your third form, for instance, will fire white trailing orbs that form geometric arrays when you shoot them in volleys.
The enemies are where the game's design gets its battiest, however. As you traverse the innards of the computer system in which you're trapped, you'll encounter all kinds of fanciful oddities: giant flowerlike arrays whose individual stems fire stuff upon you; Tron light-cycle clones with bobbing chassis that shoot you; and fully textured, abstract mecha sections that assail you with projectiles, among others. As per the dictates of its "genre," you can assume that everything in Rez is there to kill you, despite how flighty it's designed.
The boss battles definitely follow in this vein. They really do feel like Rez's focal point, visually and climactically, and they're usually very drawn out. One of the more interesting ones pits you against this huge, flowering satellite--sort of a grandfather version of the ones you encounter earlier--whose petals shoot light bombs at you. After messing with its petals for a spell, the huge construct contracts its petals/arms and sucks you into its center. Once there, you'll have to shoot small, yellow cubes resting on the face of a deforming, rotating white cylindrical object. Aside from adding drum hits and synth licks to the music, shooting the cubes will eventually cause the central unit to emerge--the boss' weak point--which you can then proceed to bombard.
So indeed, Rez is a quite a trip. The connection with the dance music scene is obvious--the laser light show vibe and the danceable bleeps and beats seem designed to appeal to the glowstick set. There's a bit more to it, though; it seems that Mizuguchi and company have been most successful at marrying the rhythmic twitches we've always unconsciously associated with shooting games with the polyrhythms of modern dance music. Perhaps this is the start of something; perhaps it's just a flighty fluke. In any event, Rez definitely seems like something to keep an eye on.
The preview version we have is four levels long, and we'd be surprised if the final game had more than five. We'll have developments for you when they surface. The game is scheduled for release in January.