Virtual reality offers up plenty of potential for completely new kinds of experiences. Games where you can use your hands instead of a controller to interact with the world, and where the added immersion of VR can make you feel like you’re truly somewhere else. But one of the things it’s best at is immersing you in a place — and that turns out to be a great fit for games that induce a zen-like state of mind.
Today’s launch of PlayStation VR includes a number of new games, ranging from intense action experiences to whimsical adventures. But the best launch games for PSVR are titles that help put you in that almost trance-like state through a combination of music, trippy visuals, and rhythmic action. That includes games like the entrancing rhythm game Thumper and the beautifully retro puzzler SuperHyperCube. But the best one of all might be a title that was originally released 15 years ago: Rez.
Rez is a seemingly simple rail shooter that first launched on the Sega Dreamcast and PlayStation 2 back in 2001. Since then it’s seen an HD remake for the Xbox 360, and today it’s launching on PS4 in the form of Rez Infinite. It’s a game that pushes you down a path, and forces you to shoot enemies as they pass. Rez uses a fairly unique lock-on system that has you targeting multiple enemies at once by holding X, and then releasing it to fire at them all simultaneously. It’s especially satisfying when you’re attacked by swarms of robotic flying creatures, or when you can hit multiple points on a transforming boss in one go.
What has made Rez such an enduring success is its sense of style. Playing Rez feels like exploring some kind of musical operating system from the 1970s. The abstract vector art gives the game a truly cyberpunk vibe, and the thumping electronic soundtrack is amplified by the action: when you shoot a bad guy, it erupts in a musical tone.
All of those same elements that made Rez a cult hit also make it a great fit for PSVR. The on-rails nature of the game means that Rez Infinite is an incredibly comfortable game to play; outside of a few rapid camera shifts during one of the boss battles, I didn’t experience any nausea while playing. Similarly the game’s low-fi visuals actually work well with the relatively underpowered PSVR headset. While Sony’s VR platform has a hard time rendering more realistic worlds, which can often come off as blurry or jagged, in a game like Rez you don’t even notice.
When all of these elements combine, Rez almost alters your state of mind. You get into a zone where you don’t think, you just shoot. That’s part of what makes it work so well in VR: with a headset on and some headphones in, you’re completely immersed in this trippy computer simulation. There’s nothing to distract you, making it easier to get into that zen state. (At times it can be almost too soothing of an experience; I found myself nodding off while playing the game late at night.)
Rez Infinite features all five of the original game’s stages — you have the option to play them outside of VR as well — but also introduces a new section called “Area X” built explicitly with virtual reality in mind. “Area X” is theoretically the same as the rest of Rez, with the same lock-on shooting system, but it changes things significantly by taking the experience off-rails and letting you control your movement.
It can be overwhelming at first, especially if you’re used to Rez’s more restrictive levels, but once you get the hang of it “Area X” starts to feel remarkably like, well, Rez. Once you get into the right state, you’ll discover a flow that ties together your movement and shooting, and it’s incredibly satisfying when it all clicks. Eventually flying your Lawnmower Man-style character around feels completely natural, something you don’t need to think about.
Games like Rez, Thumper, and SuperHyperCube all show a different side of VR. Virtual reality has the potential to transport you just about anywhere so you can do just about anything, and to date developers have used that to let you climb Mount Everest or swim with realistic sharks. But VR is also really good at making you feel like you’ve transcended space altogether.