Back in April 2012 I penned a review of Fez, that for one reason or another I never got round to publishing on the site. It’s been sat on the GLTCHD server for almost two years now, patiently waiting to see the light of day. For no real reason, I’ve decided that today is that day. So without further ado, I present my nearly-almost-two year old review of Fez!
After five years in development, Fez, has finally graced consoles with its presence. Developed by Phil Fish & Renaud Bedard aka Polytron Corp, Fez has already garnered a ton of attention on the indie circuit, first winning the ‘Excellence in Visual Art’ at IGF in 2008, before going on to scoop ‘Best in Show’ at Indiecade 2011 – high accolades for a then unreleased/unfinished game, I think you’ll agree.
For those of you who haven’t been following the highs and lows of its spotted development, Fez is a two-dimensional puzzle-platformer set in a three-dimensional world. Players assume the role of Gomez, a moomin-esque creature, who upon meeting a cube-come-deity known as the Hexahedron, has the titular fez bestowed upon him. By donning his new headgear, Gomez discovers that the flat world he inhabits is actually a three-dimensional space. Using his new found perceptive abilities he must traverse the environment in search of cube-shaped shards of the Hexahedron, before existence as he knows it is ripped apart.
Fez plays like a classic 2D platformer with a neat rather-literal twist – instead of just taking place on the traditional two dimensional plain, the entire world can be rotated to reveal additional platforms of the cubist environment, allowing Gomez to progress further on his quest. It’s a unique mechanic that’s a little tricky to explain and visualise, but once you see it in action it instantly clicks.
While throwbacks to by the 2D-era are currently in vogue on the indie scene, Fez goes some way to differentiate itself from other games of its ilk by slowing things right down. There are no enemies in the world, and even the trickiest platforming sections are really quite forgiving. Polytron aren’t concerned with punishing you for a misstep here or there – slipping from a ledge sees you instantly respawn from whence you fell. Fez is all about exploring the world at your own pace, acquiring the lost cubes in which ever order you see fit.
Due to the relaxed approach of the games design, collecting the 32 cubes doesn’t prove to be too much of a challenge. Fortunate then, that there are actually another 32 anti-cubes up for grabs. These however, are not so easily obtained, demanding a level of mental commitment from the player that wasn’t previously required. In an instant the game undergoes a metamorphosis of sorts, transforming from a cutesy platformer into an abstract and enigmatic puzzler. It’s here within this unexpected shift in focus that the real genius of Fez is found.
Obtaining all 32 anti-cubes is no easy task as Polytron have created some fiendishly clever brain-teasers that wouldn’t look amiss in the back pages of Mensa publication. What’s more, the game doesn’t hold your hand at all. It’s up to you to observe your surroundings for subtle hints and clues, slowly joining the dots together until you begin to see the big picture. A keen eye, in addition to the ever faithful, notepad and pen are essential apparatus if you aim to decipher some of the cryptic codes that lie at the heart of Fez.
Thankfully, not all of the latter puzzles require you to become an amateur cryptographer. Polytron have taken advantage of the medium in some insanely inventive ways. By utilising the hardware at hand they’ve crafted a couple of conundrums that require a real, think-outside-of-the-box approach to problem solving, the likes of which we haven’t really seen before.
Perseverance is key with Fez. It’s all about getting out what you put in. The obtuse approach of the puzzles means you’ll often feel lost, stuck banging your head against the proverbial wall. But when the pieces finally fall into place, you are rewarded with one of those euphoric eureka-like moments – the likes of which easily rival anything the almighty Portal 2 has to offer.
Visually, Fez is an absolutely gorgeous game. Rendered in a classic 16-bit aesthetic, Gomez’s world is a ultra-vibrant, highly detailed love-letter to the games of yesteryear. The choice of colour palate on offer here is simply sublime, beautifully changing to reflect the time of day and perfectly complementing the mood of the environment, making the world an absolute joy to explore. To top it off the transitions from two-dimensions to three are implemented smoothly and seamlessly giving the game additional wow factor.
The entire experience is tied together by a fantastic soundtrack by Rich ‘Disasterpeace’ Vreeland. It’s an ambient affair that acutely captures the spirit of classic videogames, while evolving them into a more sophisticated and subtle sounding composition. By blending electronic, bleeps, bloops and bit-crunches with more traditional instrumentation, Vreeland, provides a score that is happy to take the back seat, perfectly supplementing the relaxed, exploratory approach to puzzle-solving.
It’s not all pretty pixels and crazy conundrum crunching though as Fez suffers from a few issues that discolour the experience. Environments have the tendency to completely vanish now and again, while frame rate issues are a consistent problem throughout.
However, the biggest problem with Fez comes from navigating the environment. Gomez’s world is vast and labyrinthine in design. Doors lead to doors, that in turn lead to more doors. As you can imagine, it’s rather easy to get lost as you begin to journey further down the rabbit hole.
As backtracking is an essential part of the experience, it can become frustrating when you realise that you couldn’t possibly be any further from your desired destination. Here, the platforming nature of traversal begins to get in the way of the gameplay, essentially becoming a tired obstacle between you and the next puzzle that you are now incredibly eager to solve.
Problems aside, Fez is a phenomenal achievement in game design. Polytron, have crafted an insanely dense world brimming with fresh mechanics and inventive puzzles, all the while, still managing to pay homage to a beloved, bygone era. The experience is let down by a few technical hiccups and design missteps, which ultimately stem from a commitment to a retro design philosophy.
The abstract nature and old school sensibilities at play might not be for everyone. But, those who choose to take the time to really see what Fez has to offer, will ultimately find something really special here. Just don’t forget to bring a pen and paper.
Formats: Linux // OSX // PlayStation 3 // PlayStation 4 // PlayStation Vita // Windows // Xbox 360
Release Date: 13th April 2012