While working at Sega, Tetsuya Mizuguchi produced Rez, a lock-on rail shooter infused with trippy music, scintillating graphics, and a healthy dose of weird. That alchemical formula became a critical delight and a collector's dream. The good news is that Rez HD for the Xbox 360 has remained true to the original design after a presentation upgrade to wide-screen, high-definition graphics with colors that really pop.
The gameplay of Rez has always been on par with other classic lead-you-by-the-hand romps. You lock on to geometric enemies and destroy them in groups of between one and eight, depending on how many you selected. The gameplay is simple yet elegant in both presentation and flexibility. The twist comes in the music. Each level begins with a single audio track. Every time you unlock a scanning orb, a new track is layered over the previous one while the graphical flair simultaneously ratchets up. By the time you face off against the area's boss, the music is 10 layers deep and the fun is in full swing. Your progress and completion are marked by three metrics tallied at the end of each area: analysis of nodes, total enemy kills, and how many support items you acquire. The more support items you collect, the more you're able to level up your avatar. The higher your level, the more damage you can take. Like most shooters, if you take too much damage, it's game over. The game is rarely frustrating to the point of being unfair, but the offerings range from a good challenge to a chill experience.
Gameplay options in Rez HD include a tutorial demo, a traveling mode (the game's version of practice mode), and play mode. You can choose to play with either the flashy new HD visuals or the jaggy graphics of the original version. There's no reason, other than some sentimentality, to go back to the PlayStation 2 visuals. Through dedicated completion of play mode, you can unlock score attack and "beyond" modes.
Score attack provides numerical rewards for playing through the core five areas. This mode offers no added frills, but plenty of challenge if you are looking to get to the top of the in-game or global leaderboards. Beyond mode offers a cornucopia of additional options including: direct assault, lost (levels), and boss-rush modes. Direct assault starts you at the beginning of the first area in your basic form and challenges you to play all the way to the very end without dying. Lost might as well have been called the deleted scenes of the game. They are self-contained and comparatively shorter levels full of similar enemies that populate unique locations and form in varied patterns. Finally, the boss-rush mode tasks you with defeating all of the game's bosses in rapid succession. Each time you complete a particular challenge, whether it's in play, score mode, or beyond, the game rewards you with achievements, bonus skins, challenges, or a new version of the challenge you just completed. The prizing may be a bit subtle, but the game design rewards you for tackling tests of your skill, patience, and pattern recognition.
The visual and audio design is reminiscent of TRON while also incorporating Indian, Egyptian, and East Asian spiritual influences. The traditional crashes and booms of exploding enemies are replaced with the blings, wonks, and bupp-bupps of Rez's inventive sound effects. The alternate audio adds flair to what ends up being fun but otherwise repetitive tracks. Some lightly digitized voice work is used in the menu system, but other than that, the flow of the mix is your only audio companion during this trippy jaunt.
The story is not the centerpiece of the experience, nor is it what keeps you going through the levels. If you take the time to read the story summary, though, you will have a point of reference for why your linear avatar is flying through a system intent on annihilation. By the end of Area 5, the game's final level, things get so metaphysical you'd think you were playing Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Up until recently, copies of the original game have commanded hefty price tags from collectors or gray-market suppliers. Rez HD is offered on Xbox Live for the comparatively low price of 800 points, or $10. Given the sheer volume of content, the unique experience, and the pick-up-and-play nature of the game, it's hard not to recommend Rez to any shooter fan. Similarly, if you enjoy other Mizuguchi experiences and you don't have Rez, you owe it to yourself to download this one. If you already own a copy of the game on the Dreamcast or PS2, online leaderboards and a slick facelift may not be enough to make you want to drop another $10 on a game that is seven years old.