Before starting Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s remade rail shooter, I was a VR skeptic. After, I felt like I’d ascended to the stars.
As the great Satoru Iwata once noted: "Above all, video games are meant to just be one thing: fun for everyone." Whether you agree or not, games can certainly cheer you up when you're feeling low. With that in mind, Chris Schilling's column The Pick-Me-Up focuses on games that can make you smile in just ten minutes. Today's selection is Rez Infinite: SEGA's classic rail shooter has been remade for 2016 and is best experienced in VR, but it's also playable on PS4 without headset immersion.
Until this year, I was a VR skeptic. It wasn't that I believed the hardware was too costly to take off for a mainstream audience, rather that I didn't necessarily think it was a great idea to immerse yourself in the world to the exclusion of everything else. I wasn't convinced such an escape was needed, or even particularly healthy. I didn't feel like I'd ever be able to forget I was wearing a heavy device on my head with two screens positioned worryingly close to my eyes. I figured I'd always be aware of the artifice of inhabiting a space or a body that wasn't really there.
Then I played Rez Infinite.
Rez, when it came out for PS2 and Dreamcast in 2001, felt like a game from somewhere other than the present, a hypnotic missive sent back from the future by an optimistic time-traveller, played on a medium that wasn't quite ready to deliver that message in the way intended. But now, to quote The Six Million Dollar Man's Oscar Goldman, we have the technology.
VR is Rez's natural home: the sights and, more importantly, the sounds of its world can now completely surround you. It's here that designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi's long-standing fascination with synaesthesia, the phenomenon whereby a stimulus applied to one sense can trigger an involuntary reaction within another, can be more fully understood. The pulsing rhythm of its wireframe worlds isn't just heard, but felt.
At times, the sensation is mildly euphoric; at others you'll feel strangely relaxed. Aiming by looking allows you to lock onto targets almost without thinking, letting you hold and release the X button to cue in extra percussion instinctively. There are revelations, too, even for those who know the original game and its HD remake backwards, like the exhilarating moment you physically turn around to see Area 4's boss, a towering figure composed of purple blocks, sprinting after you.
But even that pales next to Area X, the dreamy new world created specifically for VR. I simply can't fathom playing it on a regular screen, even though I technically could. In truth, it's perhaps closer in spirit to Mizuguchi's woefully underrated Child of Eden, trading Rez's sharp edges and ominous beats for brighter, more uplifting themes in an infinite space filled with glowing particles of light. These form abstract shapes and structures, around which creatures dart like marine life from the darkest recesses of the sea floor. I began to imagine my PS VR helmet was actually a scuba mask—and, as I released them from their corporeal form in a burst of shimmering neon, I felt almost like I was swimming through an interactive firework display.
That probably sounds silly, but Rez Infinite is the kind of experience that's difficult to effectively put into words without lapsing into babbling hyperbole. If I said it gave me something close to an out-of-body experience, it would sound like the worst kind of dribbling fanboy nonsense. It would also be completely true. On a rainy winter afternoon in a grim, grey suburb of Stockport, I briefly ascended to the stars. I returned to Earth a VR convert, feeling happier than I'd been in weeks.