There has been much praise and criticism thrown in the direction of Fez since its release in 2012, both for the quality of the game itself and also to reprimand and counteract the behavior of its PR disaster of a creator, Phil Fish. I have no doubt that there are already dozens of reviews more (or less) verbose, or critical, or exultant than mine if you're looking for something to exactly echo your crystallized and inexorable opinion of a game that came out over a year ago. Reservoirs of digital ink have long been drained on this topic. If you're sick of Fez reviews, I'd probably skip this one.
But certainly, Fez is just one of those games that is irresistible to discuss when given a new chance to do so. If you'll kindly excuse yet another Fez review, I'll take my turn at saying a few things, for I love this game unconditionally.
The genre of artsy indie platformers has become defined by several hits from the recent (and ongoing) indie game boom. Fez falls in line with the other standouts of the genre by providing satisfying platforming, a distinct visual design, and an exploration of some high-flying literary theme. Now I don't fault people who rail against the critical praise afforded these titles; after all, the desire for pure gameplay is a real one and these games tend to deliver on feel more often than complexity. I know I'm not changing the minds of these gamers. Fez is a leisurely collectathon with solid platforming and one core mechanic that works just right but only provides just enough. A decent game, if you like its particular blend of familiarity and novelty, but only that.
However, for those of you who like your games as gameplay plus x – for those of you who like a world that can hold you with its beauty, and for those who understand wanderlust and long for adventure and movement for their own sake – Fez is that.
Each node of Fez's game map is a little world unto itself. Each contains a secret or two that gets you closer to your end goal, but there exists a curious joy in the universe's "non-functional" elements. Infinite bookshelves encase a planetarium. A frightening mechanical tower hides within an unassuming lighthouse. Neon signs surround a floating bus stop that was surely once part of an ancient transportation hub. Seagulls squawk and waves break with a digital timbre. Ambient synth lines become synonymous with the environment over which they sometimes float and at other times cascade. Sometimes, deadly patches of glitch will manifest as crackling areas of starry space framed by RGB static. Magnificent sights and sounds surround you at every turn as both obstacles and gifts, giving you a wonderful sense of exploration into a beautiful unknown.
Even the game's more obtuse secrets arguably offer their own meta-appeal. Upon searching the Internet for ciphers to translate the game's fictional languages and passwords, I found that I had stumbled upon a community of virtual archaeologists. Scholars who had faced the same questions and decided to leave behind guides for inevitable explorers to come. I probably think too much of these sorts of things, but there is something special about a small game getting big. There's a charm to imagining a million identical, parallel universes of Fez being explored and solved in tandem. It was an unexpected group experience nested within a singleplayer one.
Fez: a game considered by many to be overrated – and I've done that perception no favors. I will admit that I might just be the right kind of pretentious to discover and enjoy accidental meaning where there isn't any. Still, the potency of my experiences stands. Fez is charming, whimsical, simple. However, the great mass of language devoted to it might exist because it is also magic, despite whatever anyone else might say. To those of you who romanticize adventure, Fez might just be the love letter you've been waiting for.
Posted: November 27th, 2013