Perhaps Fez’s greatest achievement is the marvelous soundtrack by Disasterpeace. Not to overstate things, but simply put, it is the greatest use of music in service to gameplay I’ve encountered since the Mass Effect series. And as an added bonus, the soundtrack isn’t just brilliant in how it enhances and enriches gameplay, it is astonishingly beautiful music in its own right.
In game, the score lends a haunting, yet kind of joyful undertone to every moment of play, evoking vast expanses, secluded grottos, and a sense of both the loneliness and excitement of exploration. And the game’s environments and puzzles even affect how you experience the soundtrack. As you tap to change perspective, you’ll often find Gomez blocked by an obstacle like a wall or cliff, no longer visible to the player except by his silhouette. In these moments, the soundtrack becomes muffled (‘wet’, actually) and the pitch adjusted slightly, further reinforcing the idea that Gomez’ perspective is the basis on which this universe functions; the farther you get from gomez, the more unhinged from that universe you become. More subtly, sound effects like the collection of cubes are musical cues written in tune with the soundtrack, with the collection of each cube in a level signaled by a cue one note higher on the scale, still in tune.
I mentioned the Mass Effect series for good reason; that score, expanded upon and developed over the course of three games, was complex and powerful, with original lietmotifs for several pivotal characters, and perfect scene setting music that often enhanced and even worked symbiotically with actual gameplay elements. Think the reaper BWWAAAAAAAAAAAAA noise added to the score of Mass Effect 3 and you know what I mean. If Fez is remembered for nothing else, it should be for having bested Mass Effect at that task, and for doing so in a single game.
But it isn’t just as a soundtrack, but as music for its own sake, that the score shines. Often with brilliant game (or film) scores, one needs to have experienced a critical moment associated with that music in order to get why it’s so powerful. This is why Academy Voters must watch film scenes that use the Best Original Song nominees in order to vote for them. Even something as powerful as the Uncharted main theme must really be experienced in play – otherwise it just kind of sounds like Jerry Goldsmith meets John Williams. The Fez soundtrack manages the difficult trick of perfectly fitting the game for which it was composed, but being fully enjoyable by itself. (Rest assured, my podmixes and mashups will be stuffed with it for months to come.)
And the production is wonderful too, crisp and clean sounding, yet warm and thick in a way that recalls 1970s Wendy Carlos, Brian Eno, or Giorgio Moroder (sans disco, natch). I literally found myself getting distracted during gameplay because of it. Original melodies, deep, thick chords, haunting harmonies and a mixture of composition and production create what would, simply put, be an electronic masterpiece even without a game to go along with it. The soundtrack is available for preorder now, and will be released April 20.
Yes, There Are Slight Problems
So yes, the game is brilliant, the graphics charming, and gameplay a beautiful mixture of complexity and simplicity. And the score is a joy to hear. But all is not exactly perfect. It’s a huge (for an indie) game, with lots of places to explore. But as you do so, you’ll notice there are a couple of main hubs through which you access other explorable worlds. And there is a limited transporter system and some shortcuts, but they’re positioned in a way that makes for a lot of annoying backtracking. In addition, the game has a lot of rather inscrutable puzzles. For the most part, the tools are provided to solve them, but you might rely more on walkthroughs than you’d prefer in some of the later levels.
All this praise might seem a bit hyperbolic for a game that seems to split the difference between Super Paper Mario and Echochrome and will take you maybe 7 or 8 hours to play through, but it’s the truth. No, Fez isn’t perfect; constant backtracking, somewhat inscrutable maps and a resource system that takes a bit to long to figure out are problems that need to be fixed. But if you aren’t dropping everything to play Fez when it drops this Friday, you’re denying yourself a chance to experience one of the few original play experiences you’re likely to get in 2012. And you’re probably a jerk too.
*Inventive, original play mechanics
*Perfect combination of nostalgia and innovation
*Lots of backtracking
*players might get frustrated with certain puzzles.
Final Score: 98/100
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