In the sea of indie game development, Fez has been the long awaited tent post for what indie games even mean. Since it's announcement in '07 and the eventual delay from 2010 to 2012. It's been easy to wonder what the hell is going on. The story about the creation of the game is as interesting as the game itself and thankfully has been covered by Indie Game: The Movie and all over gaming press. But does the game itself live up to the hype?
Fez features a congenial little blob of white stuff that apparently has eyes and a few wobbly appendages, his name is Gomez and he totes around a very special Fez. Gomez exist in a 2D world and as far as he knows there is no such thing as a physical third dimension. But once he acquires the 9 pixels that make up his Fez you'll be able to change his perspective to 3D. The problem is that Gomez is still a 2D creature and while he can change his perspective he can still only travel through his environment like a 2D side scroller. The game deals in several dimensions, even your guide is a floating tesseract (a cube in the 4th physical dimension) and the science behind everything just kind of blew my mind. I could try and explain this more to those who have no idea what I mean but I'll leave it to Carl Sagan below. It's about 7 min. and just keep reading after the video.
Thanks Carl! Now that we all have an understanding of what is going on. Does the game succeed? With an overwhelming yes! The core mechanic of exploring a 3D world in 2D is so engaging that I couldn't put it down. I completed the game (the first time) in one sitting. As soon as that occurred I took a break, made a sandwich and came back to play it again to collect everything. Normally a specific mechanic like that gets boring after a few stages but thanks to the varied places and unique ways to use it for just about every puzzle it constantly remains fun. Even after beating the game I'm in the middle of figuring out several puzzles. You won't really complete this game that fast but the conclusion to the story can be achieved pretty quickly (a good 6 hours or so).
The game never holds your hand through the entire process. After talking to the few characters in the initial village of white blobish things you leave the only world you've ever known to explore the vast expanse that will change Gomez forever and leave an impact in possibly even you. This game succeeds especially with it's atmosphere. From thundering woods and expansive skies to gritty city blocks and dark sewers you will get to explore this world literally from top to bottom. Just watch out for the map, it's about as useful at finding your way around as a geocentric model of the universe. The music (if there is any) is always perfectly matched with the place you happen to to inhabit. It has a chiptune charm that adds to the pixel aesthetic of the game.
Once you get passed how pretty the game is, there is still stuff to get done. You've got 32 cubes to find and while some come whole, most of them come in 8 parts that are scattered everywhere. Then there are also 32 anti-cubes which thankfully go towards beating the game. To sum it up there are 64 cubes and it takes 32 cubes to beat the game. After that you can collect artifacts and a few other secrets that I still don't yet understand. There is just a lot to find and some of the ways to find things are amazing. At one point I had to download a QR reader on my phone just to solve a couple of the puzzles. Many times I had to get a notepad and pen and write down a code and I still have yet to figure out a few puzzles. The telescope, the clock and the bell? Still making my head hurt a bit and I'm so sure it's a simple answer or if I just need to wait longer.
It's not all pixelated rainbows though, there are some problems and it can get annoying dealing with them. The most occurring issue is probably hardware more than anything but if you've been playing the game a while the transitions from place to place no longer remains smooth and a loading screen will pop up. The frame rate drops dramatically in these instances and it just feels like it could use a little more polish to handle that. When you die, you're not usually punished because you just appear at the last place you were at but say if you died from a bad liquid and a black hole at the same time, the game will freeze. You don't die but you're stuck in that position and you need to restart the entire game. Even though you can pause the game and exit it'll only allow you to exit to the dashboard. Usually I would find this to be a plus but given the few times I've needed to actually just go to the menu and reload the game it was a bit annoying. Thankfully each time that happened the previously mentioned problem would go away. Other users are experiencing all kinds of weird problems and to be honest since the game was made by two guys, one doing design the other programming, I'm surprised this game works as well as it does. But it still could use a few patches.
I never really paid attention to Fez until the past couple of months so I can't say the game lived up to the hype. I wasn't exactly that hyped up about it, maybe that helped with expectations. But as soon as I turned the game on, I could not put it down. The last game that did that to me was the original Portal back when this game was announced. Phil Fish and Polytron have done an amazing complex job that most game developers just wouldn't have the balls to attempt much less get so much right. Fez is an amazing feat in game design and feels like something new but nostalgic all at the same time. It scratches every itch. I can't wait to finish writing this so I can go play the game some more and I'm going to hate it when I beat everything.