SEATTLE—I just finished playing the final level in the upcoming PlayStation VR launch title Rez Infinite and took my headset off to see the game's creator, Tetsuya Mizuguchi, looking at me with a big smile. It's always at least a little jarring to cleanly segue out of a virtual reality experience, but in this moment's case, the intensity was nearly too much to bear. As in, I teared up.
I'd been waiting with great anticipation for this, the game's "Area X" level, ever since it was announced a little over a year ago. Rez has always sat at the edge of the rhythm-gaming conversation, even more so than the nichey likes of Parappa the Rapper and Dance Dance Revolution, but I have held a small torch for the game since its early 2001 release. Now, on the eve of its 15-year anniversary, my torch has been rekindled thanks to the stunning VR reinvention coming to Sony's headset next month. (If you're new to Rez, read more on its rhythm-gaming specifics and new VR twists here, as we've covered the game in the past.) At demo events, I have played this rhythm-gaming classic with new VR eyes and been delighted at how the game, and its synesthesia-loaded blasts of trance music and pulsing imagery, translates to a headset.
That excitement went over a particular threshold during a September demo ahead of the PAX West festival, when Mizuguchi-san and his team at new studio Enhance Games asked me to come by a hotel suite and test out one of the first press demos of Area X—as in, the new Rez level built specifically for this remaster.
I don't want to list off every single beat and moment in the level. Anybody who hasn't played Rezto completion won't appreciate the subtle differences in this new level, while people who love the series as much as I do will appreciate the same surprise experience I felt upon completion. But as the above, brand-new trailer shows off, Rez's new Area X offers one major change: total free-roaming in its outer-space sight-and-sound exploration.
Where the levels from the Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 versions focused on guided, on-rails grid levels (which are also included in Rez Infinite), this brand-new level lets players look and float wherever they desire, and the level's characters and light designs will follow and react accordingly. The technology powering this new level has changed as well, with incredible, dense particle effects making up many of the beautiful designs that float and appear. (For the uninitiated: Rez asks players to target and pop rhythmic elements as they float through levels, and doing so adds new sound elements to the electronic music already thumping in your ears.)
"This is a prologue experiment for the future," Mizuguchi-san said after I completed the demo. "Like, what is a new Rez? Now it's possible to generate tons of particles, and particles moving with the music and sounds. You can hear the colors! The particles blending together... I always wanted to make that, but we needed to wait a long time. Now it's getting possible using technologies like Unreal Engine. Our engineers, our designers, and our artists came together."
I'm not sure that Area X will astound me a second time the way it did my very first time (though the trailer reminds me of some of its more astounding creatures and moments I experienced). I will surely dig into the experience a few more times to trip out to the combined sights and sounds. VR gets a knock for exactly this sort of thing: "games" that don't have a ton of depth or a lot of replayability. The assumption is, you sit down, strap in, feel an incredible sense of presence, and then go back to your old life of playing traditional, less-bulky TV games.
Rez has always offered a high-intensity, arcade-like experience, and with PlayStation VR (and additionally with fully remastered visuals for 4K screens on PlayStation 4 Pro), its ahead-of-its-time ambitions have finally found hardware to match. (Update: By the way, for those thinking about buying the newest, upgraded PlayStation 4 Pro, Enhance Games has confirmed to Ars that such hardware will also lend a few upgrades to the VR version of Rez Infinite, and those will be announced "closer to the launch of PS4 Pro.")
At least in the case of Area X, I will admit: I cried. Its visual language, and how both in control and out of control I felt floating through its worlds, touched something in the emotional centers of my brain that I still struggle to understand, but the emotion was hard to deny. I had to admit this to Mizuguchi-san once I took the headset off.
He immediately empathized.
"I'm crying all the time," he said about having seen people outside of his development team finally play this new Rez chapter. "Today, I cry."
So I did the only thing that made sense in that moment: I hugged Tetsuya Mizuguchi. And, you know, that was pretty awesome. The intensity of Rez Infinite, of the game's story about redeeming and reinvigorating the idealized entity he calls "Eden," in some ways already feels like getting to hug the person who made it—at least, once all of your senses are wrapped up in this finely tuned VR experience. Using your head to look around and control a finely curated throbbing trance paradise was the stuff of cyberspace-obsessed sci-fi films in the '90s. Soon, it'll be the stuff of your living room.