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Rez is 20 years old but still feels like the future of games

While nearly everything else in games has changed, one thing remains the same

The main character in Rez flies forward while shooting at enemies made up of simple geometric shapes Image: Enhance Experience
Matt Leone has written about games for three decades, focusing on behind-the-scenes coverage of the industry, including books on Final Fantasy 7 and Street Fighter 2.

In 2001, Sega’s musical rail-shooter Rez felt like a science experiment. By playing with the idea that gameplay could create music and sound effects could form a soundtrack, it arrived with a sense that we don’t really know what video games are yet, so let’s try this. It threw you inside a computer with a wireframe look, an AI-driven story, and all the optimism and fear of technology that came with that. It felt like a game reaching for the future.

In 2021 … it still feels that way.

I’ve long thought of Rez as the poster child for the future of video games. You’d think that over time that impression would fade, and something else would take its place. Games have evolved massively since then. And certainly, you can define the future in a million different ways. But as someone who grew up on ‘80s movies centered around wild visions of where technology could go, and for someone who loves the technical achievement of game mechanics far more than is healthy, 20 years later, Rez is still that game.

In part, I credit external factors — things like the game’s re-releases in HD and then VR. In recent years, marketing the game with a full-body vibration suit and Sony’s PSVR headset has helped pull attention from the aging textures and pacing issues. You can also point to the game’s visual style, which holds up better than most early 3D visuals thanks to its use of simple shapes. And I constantly reference the bonus stage in 2016’s Rez Infinite, Area X, as the thing I’ve enjoyed most in VR.

More than any of that, though, Rez — even today — feels like an exploration of what a video game can be. It doesn’t just introduce a new genre or setting; it plays with how music and gameplay can work together to offer a sensory experience — an idea that still has only been explored in limited ways in other games.

On Monday, Rez Infinite publisher Enhance posted a YouTube video celebrating Rez’s 20th anniversary (embedded above; disclosure: I used to work with a couple of these people) and announced some related merchandise. They’re calling it Rez20, which kind of looks like a coupon code, but what stands out the most is that 20 years later, we still haven’t seen a game that feels quite so much like it’s directly reaching for that sense of the future — and that Rez is still one of the best examples of something that games haven’t yet fully achieved.

The next level of puzzles.

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