Games criticism is a complex skill that asks the critic to evaluate a multi-faceted media experience and compress it down into binary opinions. The result is often an intellectually-competent piece of writing that doesn’t actually serve its audience with any level of weight. Rather, criticism should focus on better relaying the critic’s emotional experience, using specific aspects like mechanics and music as relaying tools instead of the critical foundation. This is all a long-winded way for me to announce that I absolutely adore Rez Infinite, despite in many ways seeming a lackluster experience on paper.
Rez infinite is a re-release of the 2001 classic with added content and HD visuals. As someone who never played the original and heard little about until I saw the steam page the other day, I had few expectations going in other than that I love Tetris Effect, another game by lead designer Tetsuya Mizaguchi. But where Tetris Effect is openly vulnerable and sweet, I was shocked to experience the harsh techno-future of Rez. The player zooms through digital Matrix-esque environments and fires a seeking beam at spiky insectoid robots while a severe EDM soundtrack launches an assault on the player’s ears. There is an immediate vibe to Rez that feels so essential to the Dreamcast era that it couldn’t have possibly been created today — a dim neon low-poly shock to the senses.
While gameplay and aesthetics are generally separated into their own sections, Rez is so paper-thin on a mechanical plane that it’s barely worth discussing on its own merits. But that’s intentional. This is first and foremost an experience, one that fully rests on the laurels of visuals and music. The player aims their crosshair with the mouse and targets enemies and powerups with the click of a button while automatically traveling along a set path, and that’s it. But there’s so much more happening here beyond simple rail shooting — including a heady plot that tasks the player with invading a supercomputer before it finishes developing sentience. The writing is sparse and cryptic, hauntingly futuristic despite being penned almost twenty years ago. This strange aura extends to the divine ascension of the player’s physical form, as they transform from basic polygonal shapes to something much grander in tandem with the performance and skill of the player.
The enemy designs are fascinating, with each foe supposedly representing virus safeguards in the world’s most mature artificial intelligence. But in practice, they look suspiciously similar to ancient sea creatures coated in silver paint and dazzling gemstones. They’re lovely. The bosses are a slight letdown in this regard, however. Each (final boss notwithstanding) is constructed of the same glowing tiles that flit around the arena to form imposing shapes and launch an array of projectiles. The fights are quick and thrilling, but I would have preferred stranger designs.
While I was gripped throughout the entirety of the game, the final level was so excellently over-the-top that I found myself wishing the previous stages included more eccentric elements. Allusions to the evolution of the planet and the Buddhist rebirth cycle collided with an insane musical track to create something truly memorable, and it would have been nice if those peaks were more evenly spread throughout the campaign. For stingy gamers, the value proposition is important to consider, as I finished the campaign in roughly two and half hours. There are extra challenges and modes to extend the playtime, but in total there’s less than maybe six hours of unique content present.
But length is never indicative of quality, and the best part of Rez infinite is less than 20 minutes long. It’s called Area X, a brand new stage created with Unreal Engine 4 that looks unrecognizable from the main game. And whereas stages 1–5 were harsh and cold, with Area X I finally felt the shared DNA from Tetris Effect. It is a truly beautiful thing to play through, and one that I anticipate will stay with me for years to come. Few games bring me to tears, and even fewer have the power to do so without a single word. Rez infinite is one such game. Released in 2016 for Playstation, steam, and virtual reality headsets, this is a transcendent title that is more than worth the afternoon it takes to finish.