When I think back to most games I've known and loved, I can clearly envision them in my mind. That includes the original Rez, which I've replayed probably a dozen times by this point. But whenever I recall my recent PlayStation VR playthroughs of Area X, an all-new stage that acts as the crown jewel of Rez Infinite and its refinements to the 2001 cult classic shooter, it feels like I'm trying to conjure up the exact details of a vivid dream. The spellbinding sights and sounds of Area X take on an ethereal quality in my memory, and the only way to truly relive them is to strap the PS VR headset back on and go again. When viewed through the immersive lens(es) of PlayStation VR, Rez Infinite accomplishes one of the most profound things any work of art and entertainment can: giving the audience an experience unlike anything they've encountered before.
If you've never been initiated into the Church of Rez, it's a psychedelic on-rails shooter that's distinct from everything else in all of gaming, let alone the genre. By syncing up elements of rhythm to your every action, Rez is meticulously designed to induce sensations of synesthesia, a phenomenon where your brain seems to expand beyond its boundaries and make you see sounds or feel colors. Snares snap, synths echo, and choirs sing whenever you lock on or shoot at an enemy, which builds up into a crescendo of euphonic noise whenever the screen fills up with targets. All the while, the action's underscored by thumping techno tunes you'll likely remember fondly for the rest of your life, while the DualShock 4 rumbles along to the rhythm. The colorful, quasi-wireframe visuals perfectly complement the premise: you're a hacker (with an evolving, astral-projection-like avatar) sent to revive a cloistered AI named Eden, who's isolated behind viruses and firewalls you'll have to laser your way through. It all weaves together to create a spectacular sensory trek into the surreal.
For the context of this review, I'm choosing to treat Rez Infinite as a PS VR game. If you don't own a PS VR headset, you can still enjoy Rez Infinite for all its technical improvements to a timeless classic. The graphics look phenomenal on PS4, with the resolution upped to 1080p and the framerate maintaining a crisp 60fps, and when it comes to audio, you can bask in the beats of 7.1 surround sound if you've got a setup that can support it. These upgrades are all appreciated, but I wouldn't say they drastically transform the voyage presented in Rez HD on Xbox 360, which costs a third of Infinite's retail price (and is still available for purchase as of this writing). Of course, Rez HD doesn't include Area X, which unlocks in Infinite after you've cleared the original five areas (and can be played on ordinary TV, no headset required).
But I urge you not to approach Area X until you're able to play it in PS VR. It uses a completely different aesthetic than the original game, switching from simple geometric shapes to objects made of radiant light particles, and the visuals look absolutely phenomenal when they're swirling all around you in VR. The control scheme also shifts to remove the continuous, on-rails movement, letting you freely control the speed and heading of your flight through cyberspace: with the right shoulder to stop and go while your gaze determines your direction (using two Move controllers is also an option with the headset). Complementing the reimagined graphical style and 360-degree movement is a fresh soundscape, with an uplifting new song and unique noises like popping bubbles, clanging chimes, and reverberating taiko drums pushing you forward on your otherworldly musical journey towards an awe-inspiring zenith.
It's the kind of creation that'll have stunned players saying, "This is what PlayStation VR was made for". I could practically feel the endorphins gushing through my brain whenever the rhythm surged in time with a magnificent environmental set piece coming into view. Now, for as euphoric as I'm making it sound, I don't think Area X alone justifies a $400 / £350 expense; like most of the other Area stages, it clocks in at around 15 minutes, and though it's well worth revisiting for the sake of Trophies, that first trip is always the most special. But to play through Area X on a flat TV screen feels like you'd be depriving yourself of a transcendent experience you'd be enjoying even more. It'd be like watching Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time in an IMAX theater versus on your phone - you're more or less consuming the same content, but the panoramic presentation is astronomically superior.
The perks of playing Rez Infinite in PS VR aren't limited to Area X. As someone who's loved Rez ever since discovering it on a PS2 demo disc, the sense of place that VR infuses into the five original levels makes me appreciate these familiar spaces in entirely new ways. Swiveling your head to look in any direction emphasizes the vastness of Rez's virtual space, and glancing at the decorative environments (which are cleverly themed around ancient civilizations) as you zoom through their twisting pathways really amps up the sense of momentum. The wider perspective also highlights all the ingenious little touches, like the ever-scrolling feed of programming command lines in the HUD, which enhances the conceit of hacking your way through a hazardous VR maze. And even after revisiting Rez many times throughout the years, I had somehow missed all the delightful, rhythmically bouncing Egyptian sarcophagi in Area 1 that PS VR's added depth brought to my attention.
As with any game, Rez Infinite isn't perfect. The relatively short time it takes to plow through all the Areas - around two hours - will be a stumbling block for some, though there's plenty of bonus content like boss rushes and extra levels to tackle once you're done. It's also strange that, while you're encouraged to replay Areas to set new high scores, the online leaderboards from Rez HD (and their baked-in replays which could help teach the best methods for maximizing points) are seemingly absent in Infinite. But these are minor gripes when you consider just how resonant an experience it is playing Rez Infinite in PS VR. If you ever plan on owning Sony's VR headset, Rez Infinite is a must-buy. Whether you're playing this invigorating rhythm shooter for the first time, or revisiting its wonders while preparing your mind and body for Area X, Rez is and always will be a game unlike any other.