by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
Perspective is Everything
To hear Phil Fish tell the story, Fez was a game that could have failed. Its development was fraught with setbacks and as the years stretched on, fans began to wonder if it would ever make it to market. Yet unlike many games in similar situations, Fez not only released but was welcomed with critical acclaim and financial success on the Xbox 360. Now, just over a year later, Fez has finally made its way to the PC. But did it make the jump intact and with any extra goodies for the new platform? Read on to find out.
Fez takes place in a 2D world violently thrust into its third dimension. The game opens inauspiciously, tasking the player with jumping and climbing their way to the top of its first floating island. This behavior is one of Fez’s core paradigms: exploring the world and its characters through jumps, vine-climbs, and unlocked doors. When Gomez, the Fez-wearing main character, reaches the peak, a cosmic event changes the world as he knows it, opening up the third dimension. From then onward, the world can be rotated at will, changing perspectives, opening new paths, and radically altering how the game is played. The citizens dislike 3D and to set things right Gomez must collect hidden bricks across the game's twelve worlds. It will send him on a journey through some of the most delightful, retrospectively modern levels in recent memory.
The world of Fez is four-sided and perspective means everything. Whether you are traversing the game's many floating islands or bouncing on toadstools, pressing A or D (or the triggers on a gamepad) will rotate the world 90-degrees in either direction. Once the world has stopped moving, depth no longer matters, only perspective. What may be two disjointed platforms from one perspective could piece together a ladder in the next. Turning the world is also important for revealing hidden doors, platforms, and paths yet to be opened. Considering a game world in its second and third dimensions simultaneously is a bit mind-boggling at first. Thankfully, that feeling passes quickly and what's left is an entirely new take on a genre that seemed to be running low on new ideas.
There are no enemies in Fez and the penalty for falling is a quick respawn, so the entire focus is on exploration and puzzle solving. In this regard, the game is a bit like Alice's rabbit hole to Wonderland. Initially, the game presents you with a series of locked doors requiring cubes to unlock. Proceeding through the only open path, I soon found myself puzzle-platforming my way from door to door, passage to passage, and world to world, until I had no idea how to return. The game soon introduced warp gates for quick travel but I rarely used them unless I had somewhere specific to go. Fez places few demands on the player beyond uncovering each block and sinking into its colorful and retro-inspired territories.
The puzzles in Fez are well designed and rarely a nuisance. The game is challenging, very much so in fact, but never unfair. Instead, it feels smart and intelligently designed. There is always the sense that if you think differently and bend your mind, the answers will be revealed. That is the genius of Fez: solving its problems is satisfying in much the same way as earning a high score on a test. The game could easily be frustrating but avoids doing so by making you feel smart. In one level, that might mean leaping just as lightning illuminates a hidden platform. In another, it could mean piecing together treasure maps to uncover a hidden item.
Clever puzzle-platforming. Engrossing game world.
Poor keyboard controls.