Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

During the end credits of Rez HD, creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi dedicates the game to the "creative soul of Kandinsky." This namedrop should come as a relief to anyone tiring of the stranglehold that James Cameron and J.R.R. Tolkien have had over the not-so-creative souls of most game designers. Even more encouraging is the fact that Rez HD builds beyond its aesthetic aspirations—Mizuguchi uses sound and vision to expand on traditional shooting mechanics.

Rez HD is a rail shooter in the vein of Panzer Dragoon or even Area 51. Players aim but don't steer—it's like being armed with a paintball gun on a Disneyland ride. Only rather than recreating a haunted house, Mizuguchi sends players on a Snow Crash-style hacking run. As a cyberspace agent, you plow through wild visual representations of firewalls, viral defense mechanisms, and layers of black ice to attack a rogue artificial intelligence.

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Like Jeff Minter's Space Giraffe, Rez HD relies heavily on the disarming effects of psychedelia. But Mizuguchi's touch is lighter—he aims for "trance" over "tense." And music is woven seamlessly into the mix. Pulsing techno beats by Cold Cut, Ken Ishii, and Mist aren't just background noise—they're part of the audiovisual palate that you manipulate as you play. Every exploding enemy or nabbed power-up adds another aural element. Some are shimmering chimes, others vocal samples, like a paraphrasing of the Dune mantra "Fear is the mind-killer."

During the game's exquisite fifth level, Mizuguchi unfolds a spare but effective retelling of the creation myth. When a chopped sample of Marlena Shaw's "California Soul" cover breaks through the IDM clatter and soaring air battles, the sensation is transcendent.

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Beyond the game: Rez was originally released in 2001 on the Dreamcast, then again on the PlayStation 2. This gorgeous HD re-release as an Xbox 360 download is your third and final chance to jump on the bandwagon.

Worth playing for: The wise YouTube poster who uploaded video of the fifth mission calls it "possibly the best level in gaming history." It's a rare instance of sanity in that site's discourse.

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Frustration sets in when: Rapid-fire shooting can draw attention away from your third eye and center it on your aching thumb.

Final judgment: Rez does Tron better than any Tron videogame ever has.

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