Reviewed by: Guest_Jim_*
Reviewed on: May 12, 2013
One of the rules we were taught in my topology class was that if you come across a barrier in a space, like a line drawn through a plane, you can get past it by adding a dimension, like jumping over the line. This rule is not lost on game developers as they will often put an impassible barrier in a game that requires some kind of 'jump,' such as stacking crates or otherwise ascending to the challenge. Some titles, including FEZ, actually revolve around the mechanic used to bypass these barriers.
First released last year for consoles, the long-awaited indie platformer, puzzle game allowed players to experience the life of Gomez. Gomez, and everyone else in his village live in what many of them believe is just a two dimensional world. One of them knows better though and decides to share the knowledge of the third dimension with Gomez and gives him a 3D fez, which allows him to change from one 2D perspective to another, allowing him to explore the world he never knew existed.
To mark its first birthday, the developers decided to revisit the well-received game and release a PC version, which is available both on Steam and Good Old Games. Having been interested in the game for some time, I decided to get a PC copy and, since I have it, why not review it? (That's a rhetorical question.)
Does FEZ add a new dimension to PC gaming or does it fall flat? Read on to find out.
Graphics & Sound:
I will start with the audio by stating that the soundtrack has a very fitting techno sound, though the pieces themselves sound like they would be appropriate for a real orchestra. Of course, some of the effects, such as sliding between flat and sharp, may not be as easily translated to brass and string. These effects are not common throughout the music though, but instead occur most often when black holes are destroying the world. Perhaps the best way to describe the overall soundtrack is as something you would expect from an old arcade, though with higher fidelity. That fidelity does disappear though when you are behind structures, as an auditory cue for your position.
The graphics are stylized to look like a relatively low resolution bitmap. Almost every pixel in the game art is actually nine (3x3) on my screen and in screenshots. This style compliments the soundtrack and even the dimension-shifting gameplay very well. Some objects, such as the cube fragments, have a higher resolution, but not the environment itself. It is a style that works well and is still able to create distinct realms for you to explore.
Something many of you may be wondering (and probably should be too) are what graphical options we have, since this game was originally created for consoles. In terms of graphics, you have only two controls: resolution and Windowed versus Fullscreen. Honestly, for this game I am not sure if any more options are needed. Perhaps some anti-aliasing would have been nice, but I could see an honest argument being made that any AA would ruin the aesthetic of the game.
The performance of the game has been very good for me, which is not terribly surprising. This is not a modern-day Crysis and is not filled with physical objects to work on; I have never experienced frame rate drops, nor do I expect any. I started up my four or five year old laptop and installed FEZ to find it runs pretty well, though not perfectly. At some points the game stuttered on the 2 GHz dual core processor with ATI HD 4200 graphics, but nothing that would make it unplayable. At worse, the stutter meant I missed a landing, but I made it on the next try. A newer laptop with more powerful graphics would likely be stutter free.
Now we get to two important issues, though one is easily more important than the other. I am not personally able to confirm this, due to a lack of hardware, but apparently Intel graphics have major compatibility issues with the game. What this means is that Intel-based laptops are essentially unable to play the game. This bug has been reported numerous times though, so the developers are aware of it and trying to fix it. One reported solution is to update the Intel graphics drivers, but people are reporting mixed success.
The other graphical issue, which is important but less major, concerns the framing of the game and is somewhat odd. As stated earlier, in the game you are able to set screen resolution and the window type (windowed or full screen). My desktop's monitor is the unusual resolution of 2048x1152, but FEZ, like many other games, listed it as an option. Unlike many other games though, while it was set to one resolution, it was rendering another. At first it was actually rendering 1920x1152, and because I do not have GPU scaling turned on, there were black bars on the right and left sides of the screen. Now, after a release-day update meant to fix this issue for other systems, it is rendering a 1920x1080 frame when set to 2048x1152, so there are black bars on every side of the screen. My laptop appears to also suffer from this bug as the 1280x800 setting (native screen resolution) appeared to only be rendering at 1280x720, with letterboxing.
The reason for this framing issue is that the game actually "only supports 720p, 1080p and 1440p" (1280x720, 1920x1080, and 2560x1440 respectively) according to one of the programmers who is responding to bug reports. This issue is not really a game breaker (I have a different one of those to mention later) but it is an issue that the developers know exists. It is possible they are unable to do anything about the issue, so live with it and chalk it up to porting.
As far as game stories go, this one is somewhat basic. After you receive your power, you end up accidentally breaking a cube, which means the world is going to fall in on itself if you do not recover and reassemble the pieces. As you explore the world, you will also find ancient markings and other secrets.
That is roughly how deep the story is. Basically it is a 'Save the Princess' story that seems to exist just to give the gamer motivation. After the cube fractures you could easily play the game with only minimal encounters with the story. Since I thoroughly enjoy stories, I found this one a little disappointing; however, it is more because of the apparent number of plot holes the story has.
Before starting on your adventure to rebuild the cube, you are given a companion called Dot, which is actually a four-dimensional hypercube. Dot's existence is never really explained; it just comes to you to help you out. Later on in the game though, an NPC told me to not believe the hypercube. Considering Dot never told me anything of any significance to not believe, beyond that the cube has to be repaired, I do not understand why this NPC had that text. Perhaps the reason is not revealed until absolute completion of the game.
In a way though, that NPC exemplifies how the story felt to me; a missed or poorly executed opportunity. The game world has much to offer with your new access to it, but I never felt that it was used to its fullest potential. Although, there are those markings throughout the world from an ancient people that are also in their ancient language. If you want to read the messages, you will need to find the game's Rosetta Stone, recognize it is the Rosetta Stone, and then decipher it in order to decipher any other markings. As I have not memorized the language, I have not read these messages and thus do not know if they really do add to the story or not, but they are there.
Like I said, it is a 'Save the Princess' story. If you do not mind there being apparently little depth to the narrative, and are more interested in the gameplay, this is not an issue for you. However you should still pay attention to the story because the humor in it can be entertaining, such as the game 'crashing' and restarting, complete with a POST screen.
Now we get to the really important part of the review; the gameplay. This is a platformer, puzzle game, which means you need to think and jump a lot. Some of that thought concerns how to best utilize your ability to turn to another 2D viewing plane, such as to bring a platform near enough to jump to, or to move one out of the way. This mechanic is actually something I found myself getting use to very quickly, and I expect most other people would as well. As there are only four directions to view from, it is not very complicated. Also, time freezes as the world spins, so if that first spin is not the one you wanted, you can spin again without much of a penalty.
Speaking of penalties, this game has no real penalty for death. If you fall to your death, you simply respawn at the last solid platform you were standing on, and often at the exact spot you last stood. It may not be the hardcore 'replay the entire section' response to death, but it does help keep the gameplay moving. In fact, there even appeared to be at least one point where the developers intentionally designed the level so if you did miss a jump, you would die and respawn, almost like a checkpoint. Of course, there are also some places where you will survive the fall and have to get back to where you were.
Like graphics options, controls can be a concern for games originally released for consoles, but there is no need for concern with FEZ. Every keyboard keybinding can be changed to fit your needs and preferences. By the way, the mouse is not used in the game, as every move is made through the keyboard, at least by default.
The platforming and normal puzzle elements are quite straightforward. There are some twists from the world-spinning mechanic, but nothing too crazy. For example, some vertical block pairs will move when you step on the bottom one, in an attempt to crush you, but you can spin the world around, causing the top block to move out of the way, so the bottom block launches you in the sky. There are also platforms that spin on their own and take you with them, so you need to pay attention to make your jumps. Naturally there are also some blocks that break away after landing on them, which is a staple of platformers it seems.
For better or worse, that straightforwardness vanishes eventually. While the game is filled with cube fragments to find, there are also anti-cubes to collect, which can take the place of the regular cube pieces when it comes to unlocking areas and such. The anti-cubes are hidden in far more obtuse ways, such as requiring the interpretation of markings that indicate an input pattern. In at least one case, the markings are actually spread between rooms, and you need to realize the connection and then correctly decipher the code to complete the puzzle. Some of these puzzles are born only from a very creative mind, but their use and inclusion indicates, to me at least, either a lack of appreciation for minds that are creative in different ways, or the assumption that people will turn to the Internet and others to find the solutions. If you consider that cheating and vow to never do so, you may find yourself staring at empty rooms for hours, knowing there is a puzzle to solve, but without any idea of the solution. Even if you can find the solution without help though, you will likely want a pen and paper with you to write it down, as the world spinning can cause you to lose sight of whatever the clue was.
You are able to know when an area has an unsolved puzzle by viewing the map. The map will actually tell you everything that is in the area too, whether it be cube fragments, larger cube pieces, chests, secrets, or warp gates. This feature is somewhat useful for a completionist. Beyond that though, I find the map somewhat unhelpful. It does indicate what areas connect where, but within an area you still do not know which door to take. Only when you are in front of a door will you get a bubble indicating what lies beyond, though sometimes you can also spot an area off in the distance; however, these distant areas are not always plainly visible. Altogether, this style makes it very easy to get lost in the game, which is not horrible when you are exploring, but it can be frustrating when you are trying to get to a specific area. Warp gates do help, to a degree.
Small warp gates send you to the nearest large warp gate, and the full size devices are able to send you to others across the map. The problem is identifying to which one you are going. Spinning the world changes which side you are going to step through and which gate you are going to come out of, but actually recognizing the destination can be difficult. It only shows you the background of the destination, which in two cases is quite distinct. In the other cases though, it may be blue or purple. The problem with the color changes is the blue-sky areas experience a day night cycle, so some of the time that area is purple. Basically this means you need to memorize what the colors mean, instead of just being able to look and intuitively know. If it utilized the same bubble-view as doors, it would be much easier to manipulate.
Thanks to the anti-cubes being able to stand in for regular cubes, you are able to achieve more than 100% completion in the game by collecting them. Once you reach the needed 32 cubes though, you are able to travel to the end. After that event, you will be given the option to start a new game in the save slot, or a New Game+ (NG+). The NG+ in FEZ is like other games as it lets you replay the game with everything you already found, with a new ability. In this case that ability is to enter a first-person view mode. This has little purpose but to find puzzle clues hidden in the world and to just view the world differently. While viewing the world like this though, you are not able to move or spin the world.
After 5:07, according to the game, I had collected enough to reach the end and start an NG+. Before I did so though, I decided to use the save management options to copy my finished game to another slot. Do not use this function! It actually wiped my save, resetting it to 0% completed. I attempted to restore a local backup made by the game, but this attempt failed. Fortunately, I had the sense to block Internet communication when I spotted the problem, which meant that the 0% saves could not be uploaded to the Steam Cloud. As the local saves were no good, I deleted them, causing Steam to download them both and one of them was the correct 107% completed, 5:07 save. (Oddly it was not the save for the original save slot, but the slot I copied to.) I have reported this issue so hopefully it will be found and fixed soon.
As horrible a loss as that could be to a player, I would not let this be an excuse to avoid the game. The reason for that is the backing up of the save, within the game, is not really needed, so this bug is avoidable assuming the bug was caused by the copying of the save and not some other process. So be aware, but not afraid of this issue, unless it happens to you.
Another issue I came across appears to have been reported already, or at least something similar has. Occasionally I lost specific controls with the game, such as the ability to jump. Only by restarting the game was I able to regain control. The game remembers the room you were in when you quit, so this is not going to set you back very far. Also, it may be linked to the use of the Steam Overlay, but I am not certain.
Additional Game Images:
FEZ is a curious game to review as it has already been out for a year on consoles, which means reviews of it have also been out for a year. Though I have not read these, it is hard not to see the scores on the Steam store page, which give it the highest possible rating, or close to it, from multiple places. My practice is not to give games ratings because, truly, no gameplay experience can be quantified, so any metric is going to be relative and arbitrary. However, I will say that I disagree with the perfect scores FEZ has already received. It is still a good game, and I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy playing it very much, but it is not perfect. I can and do recommend buying it if you are interested in platformer, puzzle games, but it does not represent some greatly innovative and impressive experience that is deserving of a perfect recommendation.
When playing the game just to finish it, you will have a good time trying to find everything and going everywhere like you would in any well-designed game world. Getting lost does not matter because you can just keep going through doors, ending up where ever you may, with more items to collect. Once you start trying to complete it and find every single collectible, the experience becomes more irritating and tedious with confusing puzzles and a poorly designed map for getting from one area to another.
The basic gameplay is quite good but left me unimpressed, though perhaps that is a good thing, because the world-spinning mechanic was so well implemented that it never stood out to me. The advanced gameplay that follows does not appear to be designed for the average gamer, but even if you can only solve a few anti-cube puzzles without help, you will enjoy doing so.