Rez Infinite is PlayStation VR's best game yet
Talking to Tetsuya Mizuguchi about a remake that's been waiting to happen for 15 years - and trying his crazy VR suit.
Of course this is how it was always meant to be played. Rez always felt ahead of its time - when it was released back in 2001, there wasn't anything really like Tetsuya Mizuguchi and United Game Artists' rhythmic Dreamcast game, a wilfully artful, arrestingly stylish shooter that matched club cool with slick music action. It was a delicious taste of a future that's finally arrived.
"15 years ago when we shipped the first Rez, the basic concept, the vision was that Rez would be in VR," says Mizuguchi, fresh from a dazzling appearance on-stage at this year's PlayStation Experience, where he revealed Rez Infinite, a VR-enabled remake of the original from his newly formed studio Enhance Games. "The vision that we had was limited to what was available. Now fast forward to 15 years, it's like technology's catching up with what I had in mind, always, with Rez."
I still return to the original Rez at least once a year, and its magic hasn't dimmed in the slightest. Rez Infinite is something else, though. Strapping on the PlayStation VR headset and playing this newly specced version, I'm reminded of seeing 2001: A Space Odyssey on 70mm for the first time, having previously only seen it on DVD; there's a new clarity, and a new sense of purpose. Rez really does feel like it was always intended for virtual reality. And, conversely, this new wave of virtual reality feels like it's been waiting for something like Rez.
The giddy motion as you pulse through the abstract levels is new, the euphoric rush as you push up through layers is immeasurably enhanced. How dizzying it is to be pulled so completely within the abstract darkness of Rez, a world I've watched so many times before. Targeting using the VR unit's sensors - as in PlayStation VR stablemate Eve Valkyrie, you shoot where you look - becomes second nature within seconds, and as your head's tugged around by the enemies that dance into view, you're pulled into Rez's world that much quicker. Strapping into the bespoke synaesthesia suit draws you in even quicker too, of course.
There's only one of them in existence, and it's sadly likely to stay that way. What a trip, though! Taking the premise of the infamous Trance Vibrator that complemented the original Rez to an absolute extreme, this suit places 26 vibrating motors in a tight-fitting, all-body suit. It felt absolutely amazing, even if I ended up looking like Tron guy in the process; the upward tickle in your stomach during the transitions between Rez's layers is helped along by a trickle of vibrations working their way up your chest. "You can feel the texture with this vibration," says Mizuguchi of the suit, the result of a collaboration between himself and some of his students at the Keio University media design course where he teaches. "You can feel the sound texture, like the bass sounds, or the kick snare."
It's absolutely exquisite: the total sensory immersion completes the experience in a way that wasn't possible before without resorting to narcotics. It's worth noting that Rez Infinite won't be confined to VR - there'll be a more traditional PS4 version that benefits from the 3D audio and significant texture work that's gone into the remaster. And both will be getting an all-new area. "We're using the current technology," says Mizuguchi of the new Rez. "We want to make something that is also Rez. We want to try many things, and we want to add something. But we can't say too much yet."
So what, I ask, does the Infinite mean in this remaster's title? "As you know, Rez isn't a game where you play a stage and say, okay I'm done," says Mizuguchi. "You can play the same area or layer over and over, and it's not going to have the same textures twice. My desire, my hope is that Rez is a game that you can play infinitely. Why doesn't Rez die? It's because people are playing it over and over and over again. Rez isn't a game that ends. It brings infinite possibilities of how you experience a level that you may have played just yesterday, or five weeks ago. You're going to have a brand new experience every time you play it. It's not a one time play game. So Infinite has a pretty deep attachment to what Rez means to me."
Rez Infinite's been swirling around Mizuguchi's mind for a while - and, of course, the idea of a VR version likely goes all the way back to the Project-K prototype for the game - but what we're seeing at PlayStation Experience is the result of six short month's work. There are more improvements to come, and more tweaks, as well as that all-new area that's being crafted by the small team at Mizuguchi's Enhance Games. How many of that team, I ask, were part of the United Game Artists set-up back in 2001?
"There's a team member, on the dev team, who's worked alongside me since the original Rez. But not only from back in the day - I have staff who played Rez when they were teenagers, high school kids. One guy told me it was a life-changing experience for him - he got through to Sega, and shortly after I left Sega... He was sort of chasing me! The next stop for me was Q Entertainment, and he was a concept artist on Child of Eden - he did something like 2000 pieces - and now he's with me at Enhance Games doing the concept and art direction. There's a new generation, but the common denominator is still Rez - it's the communication path and channel between them and I."
Rez Infinite also marks the return of Mizuguchi after a short sabbatical. Thankfully, it seems like he's back for good. "I've done things like media, music or the whole trans-media thing. Games is my life's work. There's meaning why I added games to Enhance Games. I felt like that is going to be the foundation. Because the goal is to really enhance the experience of games in the future, it could turn into something else - it could be interpreted into something else. For now, there's a very good reason it's called Enhance Games. That's where I am right now. I want to enhance the games!"
How lovely it is to have Mizuguchi properly back, and how exciting it is to see Rez getting something that already feels like much more than a remaster. "Nothing's aged," says Mizuguchi. "Because of the new technology, it's ageing very well. Like when we say wine ages very well - it's almost like that. The ingredient doesn't change. Due to the limitations of the technology, the vision that we had was limited to what was available. Now fast forward to 15 years, it's like technology's catching up with what I had in mind, always, with Rez. That's why, to me, Rez never really ages."
Rez always did feel ahead of its time, and played through today it still does. With Rez Infinite, and with the exciting new frontier of virtual reality, maybe Rez's time is about to come.
This article is based on a press trip to San Francisco. Sony covered travel and accommodation expenses.