Reviewing Rez HD

By Kevin Juang / February 6, 2008

Alex's note: This is a piece on the vagaries of sequel reviewing, reflecting much of what I said in my recent article on the subject. It's written by Kevin "Enhasa" Juang, one of the guys who run the Speed Demos Archive. I haven't known him long so I can't introduce him as I did with Randorama, but I am sure if he decides to start writing here regularly he will in due course endeavor to introduce himself to us. He certainly seems to be one of us (if you know what I mean), and for the time being that's all that matters.

If I was writing a review of Rez HD I would be deathly sure to avoid saying three things:

1) trance vibrator omg vibrator get it

2) synesthesia and/or Kandinsky

3) underneath it all it's just a rail shooter like PANZER DRAGOON but omg here it's so much more!

Every game journalist or new games journalist or artfag or anyone I have ever heard talk about this game fails at all three of these, and I am just fed up of reading the same stupid bullshit over and over again, devoid of meaning. Keep in mind we are talking about Rez HD here, not Rez. It would perhaps be fine to say things like that in a Rez review, when it's actually new information people might not know about.

The biggest problem with statements like those is that they aren't very useful, and replace or dilute the more informative things you could say. Who is going to be reading a Rez HD review? People who just play Halo won't know or care about Rez in the first place, nor Rez HD. Someone who is a total Mizuguchi fangirl would buy Rez HD without a second thought. Anyone who had any interest in playing Rez in the first place (and thus knows what the game is about) would probably have done so already, since with the PS2 reprint it isn't hard to find, even in the US. And someone who has never heard of Rez but checks Live Arcade regularly would just try out the demo to see what this is, if they were even remotely interested.

So who would be reading a Rez HD review? How about: Someone who has played the original game and who is wondering whether it's worth getting this new version. I tried clicking and going through review after review only to get the same recycled, useless crap. All it proves is that reviewers just indulge in groupthink and copy ad nauseam from other sources. At least these three factoids are all true, but I know of games where everyone parrots the same completely inaccurate facts (usually taken from the first review that was published).

The trance vibrator isn't even available for this version, so talking about it (omg female stimulation snicker) is just an indulgence that proves you are "in the know" at the expense of a more readable and useful review. This all originated from that one gamer girl (or whatever) article. If that article had never been written nobody would be saying this.

Yes, this game is about synesthesia (although, yes, I know this word is being somewhat abused compared to its actual definition). But so is Lumines, Every Extend Extra, and, well, just about every rhythm game actually. Why don't people make a big fuss about synesthesia in Lumines or Zillion Beatz? It's because one day Andrew Vestal wrote an article, and that article mentioned Rez, and now everyone just parrots it without bothering to insert any original thoughts.

But the strict copy-pasting of buzzwords runs counter to intelligent criticism. The fact is simply that if one Andrew Vestal was never born the number of Rez HD reviews with the word 'synesthesia' would be about the same as the number of Lumines reviews with it. I have no problem with attaching this concept to Rez; I just don't like reviewers who parrot this information instead of discovering it themselves. Not having a real understanding of the material leads to shoddy work.

Buzzwords don't help describe concepts because unless everyone already knows what they mean they still have to be explained anyway. Were Lumines reviews hurt at all by their authors' not mentioning synesthesia? No, because the idea behind the graphics and music and game mechanics tying together can be explained just fine without it. There's just no real reason to keep parroting the word 'synesthesia' unless you are trying to look cool or prove to your boss that you did your homework.

I cheated on the last one. The first part about Rez being a rail shooter is of course very relevant. The second part about it being "somehow more" is like the old "it has a certain je ne sais quoi" that nobody should say because it is ridiculous and meaningless. If the reader has already been told that Rez is a rail shooter, and has already been told about the audio-visual mindtrip, that's it! It's a rail shooter with a different presentation. Expanding on this for even more paragraphs is just artfag wankery.

All I wanted to know was how Rez HD differed from the original. If I knew it would take more than two minutes I would have just gone the demo route and compared them for myself. Every review talked about how the graphics were updated and how you can play in 5.1 surround now. That was it. Nothing about any other changes, how faithful the port plays, etc.

Eventually I just gave up and went to lamefaqs to actually find out some of this info. Things like: the pitch is slightly altered, so it is disconcerting to people with absolute pitch. Some new effects were added. All the old modes are still there. There are some minor differences in the stages, such as the shading and visibility of the asteroid in area 5.

Of course the issue here is not limited to Rez HD; the problem with these reviews is systemic. These reviewers are on a deadline, and they are obviously low on the totem pole if they are assigned to review downloadable content. So copying everyone else is like using CliffsNotes on your English homework, only nobody will call you out for cheating since copying is the norm. Also, I'm positive that the vast majority of these reviewers never played Rez (and if they did, not for very long), so of course they woudn't be able to make meaningful comparisons.

And the target audience is always skewed towards the kind of people who know nothing anyway. How many people who read a review of Rez HD know absolutely nothing about Rez? How many people who read a review of Virtua Fighter 5 know nothing about Virtua Fighter? An ideal VF5 review would focus on the changes from VF4 and how they make the game better or worse, and simply link to the review of the original for those who need to catch up. Instead, this is what you get: "It's just like any other fighting game, you have your punches and your kicks, you have a story mode, a versus mode" and so on and so forth.

I guess there's just no use giving a fuck anymore about any of this. Let the dimwits say what they will.