Releasing Rez Infinite in virtual reality, long after the original 2001 release date of Rez on the Dreamcast, feels like fixing a 15 year-old mistake.
The premise itself has always been simple: You have an aiming reticle, you line it up with a series of enemies by holding the attack button and then let go to fire your salvo at up to eight targets. Rez is, at its most basic level, a rail shooter with style.
The rhythm game was a classic from the moment it was released. Rez mixed an idiosyncratic aesthetic — you flew through virtual pyramids that moved in time to the pulsing visuals and soundtrack — with the sense that you were having a conversation with the game’s conceit. Everything linked up to the beat of the music, even the timing of your attacks. The way the simple premise was held up by every aspect of the game’s visuals and soundtrack is what made it stand above so many other games with the same ideas before or since.
You can play the game on a flat screen if you’d like, but you’re missing out. Rez Infinite’s thumping heart can be found in the virtual reality mode on the PlayStation VR, where you can look around inside the surreal environment. The game locks you in when seen through the head-mounted display, and surrounds your point of view with the rhythm of the music and the psychedelic colors and effects of each level. This is clearly the way the game was meant to be played; it only took 15 years for the technology to catch up to the design.
It’s as if Star Wars had never been given a theatrical run, and suddenly it’s playing on every multiplex in the country. You may have seen it before, but the artistic vision had been stymied by the VHS technology of the time. Rez Infinite, played in virtual reality, seems like the “finished” version of the game.
Rez Infinite didn’t stop at the VR makeover, however.
A look into the future
Area X is a new standalone mission released alongside the original game in Rez Infinite, and this is where the game jumps from being a spirited update to something even more impressive.
"This [VR] technology, to me, is a huge jump," Enhance Games founder and Rez Infiniteproducer 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.”
Area X allows the player to fly around in 3D space instead of being stuck on rails, and the clean lines of the original levels are replaced in part by a dazzling particle system. Area X isn’t just enhanced by virtual reality, this new section of the game is informed by the technology’s ability to engulf you in the game. It feels like an artist returning to a work with years of fresh techniques having been mastered.
Its a beautiful, ambitious yet comfortable take on the original Rez formula, and many of the VR enthusiasts I bumped into at Oculus Connect 3 who have tried it reported an oddly emotional response to the new section of the game ... even if they didn’t feel nostalgic for the original release.
Rez Infinite is a wonderful re-release in general, but in virtual reality it’s one of the first canonical experiences of the technology.
Rez Infinite will be released on Oct. 13, alongside the PSVR headset.