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Joystiq hands-on: Rez HD

Zack Stern

As vector-like throwing-star enemies corkscrewed towards me, I defended myself with a gun that made electronic clapping sounds. I fired the gun. Clap. I fired two quick shots. Clap Clap. My applause aligned with the electronic beats spilling from the speakers. It was Korg-like synth-aesthesia, and almost immediately, I cared more about clapping in-time to the music than shooting back.

Rez HD surrounded me in a coordinated, sensory bombardment. The controller in my hand shook and bobbed with the beats while controllers under my feet and on my back vibrated a counter-tempo pattern. 5.1 surround-sound flew from all directions, and the neon-sharp HD game-world pulled me into its reality.

In my brief time with Rez HD, I decided that it wasn't a game as much as an experience. There's a game inside somewhere, but the title feels like a journey, rewarding meandering through levels instead of racing to the end. And even though it's a linear shooter, Rez HD hides a lot of exploration; I look forward to moving slowly through the game after its January 30 release.

Gallery: Rez HD (XBLA) | 14 Photos

Rez HD is a re-release of Sega's original Dreamcast and PS2 Rez. It includes the same levels and audio-driven gameplay as before. But the sounds have been remastered into a 5.1 field, and the graphics take advantage of the Xbox 360's HD power.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi explained that Sega still owns the rights to the 2001 game he helped create. However, Sega is on good terms with his current company, Q Entertainment, granting the license for the XBLA re-make.

I missed out on the original, since I waited until it was scarce before trying to buy it. Mizuguchi hopes that the digital distribution will give gamers like me a second chance. He also thinks that the demo download will introduce the experience to new players better than a retail box.

I was initially concerned that the controls were too simple. I tapped A to lock on, then I hit it again to fire. I could hold A to charge up a more powerful shot, and B launched a limited arsenal of missiles.

But even in my ten-minute play-through of the first level, the streamlined controls -- and adjustable difficulty -- began to make sense in the context of the whole experience. Rez HD doesn't have to be a tense shooter. I was content to experiment and take my time. I followed the game beat, peppering sound effects with my shot patterns. Brightly etched graphics drew me closer, while vibrating controllers rumbled against my back and feet. And even though I felt like more of a dork than usual, the vibration actually added to the experience.

Q Entertainment wouldn't officially comment on the 800 Microsoft Point ($10) game's release date, but reconfirmed that it's still coming in January. (And yes, there's only one XBLA Wednesday left in the month, on January 30. So expect Rez HD next week.) Q Entertainment hasn't ruled out Rez HD for other platforms -- especially PSN -- but has no current plans either. I look forward to trying it out again soon, at an even slower pace.

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