When Enhance Games revealed it was bringing musical shooter Rez to PlayStation VR, under the name Rez Infinite, the remake of the Dreamcast-era game felt like a perfect fit for virtual reality. Now more than ever, players would be able to immerse themselves in the colorful virtual world of Rez's sights, sounds and vibrations.
While the original Rez levels look and feel spectacular in PlayStation VR, they pale in comparison to the game's new level, Area X. Unlike the rest of Rez Infinite, a higher-than-ever-definition remake of the game, Area X was designed with VR in mind. And it shows; Area X is the most beautiful, the most immersive experience I've ever had in virtual reality and potentially the best argument yet for a PlayStation VR day-one purchase.
Area X is a new, self-contained level coming to Rez Infinite. The new area can be unlocked after playing the Rez remake for one hour because, producer Mark MacDonald said, they want players to understand the game's lock-on and shooting controls before they jump into Area X.
In designing Area X, MacDonald said, Enhance Games wanted to strip Rez down to its core and imagine what a new area built with modern technology — in this case, particle-based rendering — would look and feel like. Unlike Rez's other levels, Area X is not on-rails; players can glide throughout the level freely, for the most part, moving in 360 degrees. In virtual reality, this level of free movement gives players an up-close visual and aural experience unlike anything else in Rez, bathing the player in a stunning shower of multicolored sparks and directional sound. It's a powerful, emotional experience that truly feels like the next evolution of Rez, not simply some add-on level designed to sell Rez completists another copy of the game.
Area X, given its off-rails controls, feels much more relaxed than the game's other levels. Its vibe, as it were, exists somewhere between Rez's more traditional levels, in which you're constantly queueing up shots and avoiding enemy fire, and its Traveling mode, where players can play the game without fear of dying.
"Finally I can realize that vision ... that I wanted to execute for Rez."
Although Area X, like the rest of the PlayStation 4 game, can be played on a 2D television, it's in virtual reality (while wearing good-quality headphones) where Rez Infinite's new level shines brightest. The ability to look up, down and behind you, to see abstract creatures swimming past you leaving a dazzling trail in their wake, is entrancing. Finally, it feels like Rez's synesthetic trip into a fantastic computer world has been fully realized, thanks to VR.
"This [VR] technology, to me, is a huge jump," Enhance Games founder and Rez Infinite producer Tetsuya Mizuguchi said in an interview with Polygon. "Finally I can realize that vision ... that dream ... that I wanted to execute for Rez. It is very similar to the original Rez, how we started it out as kind of an experiment, but there was this gut feeling that we can pull it off in the way we have now imagined it.
"Fifteen years ago, we were working the most advanced technology and tools available. We felt like we were so restricted and limited to what we could put on the screen — whether it's the visuals or sounds, it was so minimal.
"In many ways things are [now] very organic, they can be built and expressed in 3D and in 360-degree form. What I'm hoping that allows me to do is pursue something that can be more emotional in a different way and bring out that emotional element from players who are experiencing [Area X]."
Mizuguchi said that virtual reality — and Area X — are a good indicator of the future direction for Enhance Games.
"Myself and this company Enhance, we're definitely focused on and committed to VR," he said, explaining that after taking some time off from game development to teach and pursue other projects, he has "recharged" his creative batteries.
"There are so many ideas I have stacked on top of each other. That's how much excitement and I think joy and happiness that we've felt [during the development of Rez Infinite]. That's how much energy that I feel this has given me. It's fuel to my ideas."
Rez Infinite will be released for PlayStation 4 on Oct. 13, the same day Sony's PlayStation VR headset launches.