Polytron‘s long awaited perspective shifting puzzler has arrived in the form of Fez. Can it shift opinions as easily as it shifts perspectives?
Fez is a game that finds itself in a strange place. A five year development cycle, three redesigns and plethora of changes to fix the slightest problem have ensured that Polytron‘s enigmatic puzzler has received a lot of attention. This isn’t helped by the fact that Fez was winning awards BEFORE it was released and was half of a documentary about indie games development. The hype has been huge.
But the more that was revealed about Fez the more questions that arose. The most common and the most difficult to answer has been: what is Fez exactly? At its core, Fez is a fiendishly difficult puzzler that asks players to shift their perspectives both in game and in reality. But with no enemies, time limits or punishments for failure, can Fez be considered a game? It’s a difficult question to answer but it’s one that slowly begins to make sense as the world of Fez unfolds.
The premise of Fez is simple. You play as Gomez, an inhabitant of a floating village that receives the titular hat and discovers that there is a lot more to his world than he thought. After a short cut-scene, that sees a giant cube break apart and the fabric of Gomez’s world change dramatically, Gomez is tasked with restoring an ancient cube to its former glory and prevent the universe from folding in on itself. But that’s all the story you get, unless you learn to speak the language of Fez that is.
At the core of Fez is the perspective shifting mechanic. Players explore the various worlds that make up Fez’s universe and traverse them by rotating the perspective by 90 degrees. Imagine the world like a four-sided column. Each pull of the trigger rotates the column 90 degrees shifting the landscape and giving the player different objects to interact with. It’s this simple device that allows players to discover where Gomez can go and how he can get there. If there is no way getting higher, simply rotate the world until you find a ladder or other object that will help Gomez to get there.
These are the basics though. Fez quickly finds ways to make the player think. The ability to twist the world to the players will allows them to bring together seemingly disconnected objects to create pathways to reach previously out of reach areas. It’s this need for lateral and spatial thinking that sets Fez apart from other puzzle titles and shows that there is still space for intelligent, and often very difficult, gaming.
It’s the level design, though, that ensures the perspective shifting mechanic at the core of Fez works so brilliantly. Each portion of Gomez’s universe is intelligently designed and cleverly laid out. New areas are always within the players reach , and altering the perspective gives players plenty of opportunity to explore. You can always get to the next area, find that next secret, even if you don’t quite know what to expect when you get there.
This sense of intrigue and wonderment that go alongside the exploration are enhanced to no end thanks to the outstanding visuals and stunning soundtrack that have been developed for Fez. The individually painted pixels, old-school art style and vibrant music of the ever changing scenery bring an already brilliantly realised world to life. You will find yourself attaching the same significance to enjoying the sights and sounds as to finding the next cube piece or solving a puzzle.
For all of its imagination and excellent mechanics, Fez isn’t without fault. The most obvious being the lack of direction. Whilst the unhindered feeling of exploration is one of Fez’s great strengths, it often proves a real flaw. Players will often find themselves treading the same paths over and over in search of a secret room or pathway that never seems to show itself. Being able to go anywhere at any time is great but the overall experience of Fez would have been greatly enhanced if Polytron had added a way for players to reach every nook and cranny without having to resort to walkthroughs.
Where the lack of direction won’t be an issue for all players, the buggy nature of a portion of Fez’s universe will be. As Gomez explores and further opens the universe, the strain on the in-house Trixel engine becomes clear. Slowdown, missing platforms and the occasional crash spoil the unfettered feeling of exploration and the moments of epiphany it allows for.
Fez is bold, unambiguous and (despite drawing inspiration from any number of past titles) incredibly unique. It is an experience like no other. The simplicity of the mechanics mean that players can explore easily without feeling overwhelmed while the cute, colourful universe they allow you to explore hides a darker subtext that gives Fez an extra layer to wade through.
Put simply, Fez is a masterpiece that consistently defies superlatives. It seems that Polytron have found the recipe for XBLA success: mix equal parts Mario, Zelda, Ico and Myst with just a dash of Braid, rotate three times and serve.