When it comes to puzzle-platformers, Braid is deservedly still considered the best in the genre. However, thanks to its ambition, creativity and innovation, Polytron’s Fez could certainly give Jonathan Blow’s breakthrough title a run for its money.
Fez was originally released on Xbox Live in April 2012, and in December of the same year we named it as one of the five games we’d love to see on the PlayStation Network. Back then that was just wishful thinking, but earlier this week our dream came true, when the innovative platformer was finally released on PS4, PS Vita and PS3.
Gomez lives in a 2D world, where there is no such thing as a cube. However, one morning he inherits a magical fez which gives him the power to look beyond the flat surface of the landscape and see in three dimensions. But something goes wrong, and the Hexahedron – the giant, sentient cube that gives Gomez his fez – explodes into dozens of pieces. And so begins Gomez’s quest to find all 32 cubes and 32 anti-cubes, to restore the Hexahedron to its former glory.
Initially, the most impressive aspect of Fez is undoubtedly its core gameplay mechanic. Although the game is only ever played from a 2D perspective, hitting a shoulder button will instantly turn the world 90 degrees, allowing you to view the landscape from a different viewpoint, and spot things that weren’t originally visible. It’s a concept that is difficult to get your head around at first, but it’s surprising how quickly you become accustomed to it.
However, once you get over the novelty of twisting the world, you realise that the true stars of the title are its puzzles; you see, Fez is a hell of a lot smarter than the average game. Many of its challenges involve a huge amount of judiciousness on the part of the player, so if you’re not prepared to put your thinking cap on, then Fez probably isn’t for you.
Things start off simply, but the world opens up considerably after the first couple of areas, leaving you free to explore the vast, branching map at your own pace. Every doorway you come to offers a new environment that begs to be explored; particularly because you never know what kind of challenge awaits you on the other side (although you can usually catch a glimpse of your next destination in the distance).
One room might be a test of your platforming skills, while the next could present you with a code to break, or a riddle to solve; impressively, puzzles rarely (if ever) repeat themselves. The sheer variety means that, if you ever find yourself stuck on a particular challenge (and you will!), there’s always something else to do in the meantime.
Fez even has its own alphabet and number system, which you’ll need to learn in order to solve some of the game’s tougher brainteasers. Like fellow puzzle games Portal and Braid, nothing beats that eureka moment when you finally discover the trick to solving a conundrum you’ve been attempting to decipher for several hours (or maybe even days!). Of course, you could just use a guide, but what would be the fun in that? A lot of Fez’s charm is due to the joy of discovering things for yourself, which is also the reason why we haven’t mentioned any specific puzzles in this review.
Although this is essentially the same game we’ve seen on other platforms, it does make good use of a couple of PlayStation-exclusive features; for instance, the DualShock 4’s light bar dynamically changes colour throughout gameplay to match that of the sky. However, the most significant addition is that of the Cross-Save slot, which synchronises your progress between all three PlayStation platforms; it works perfectly, and is one of the best examples to date of how to handle Cross-Save functionality.
As you’d probably expect from a 2D platformer, there isn’t a huge amount of visual difference between the PS3 and PS4 versions (for example, they both run at 1080p). However, the latter does look noticeably sharper, so if you have the choice then you should definitely play on PS4. And then of course we have the PS Vita port, which looks fantastic on the 5-inch screen, and does a great job of emulating the vibrancy of the home console versions. No matter which version you play, it always sounds great, with instantly recognisable music and audio effects.
Your completion time will vary greatly depending on how quickly you take to Fez’s particular brand of brainteaser, but most gamers will probably finish their first playthrough in around 5-8 hours. However, then it’s time to tackle New Game Plus, as well as the many secrets that would be extremely difficult (or downright impossible) to discover your first time through.
For the most part, the first batch of PSN games on PS4 were considerably more expensive than their PS3 equivalents, so it was a pleasant surprise to see Fez priced at an extremely reasonable £7.99/€9.99. Add in the 20% discount for PlayStation Plus subscribers, and not forgetting Cross-Buy support (which gets you the game on PS4, PS Vita and PS3 at no extra cost), and you have what is easily one of the best deals on PSN.
PlayStation gamers have had a long wait to finally get their hands on Fez, but it’s definitely been worth it. The teams at Polytron and BlitWorks have done a superb job in porting the game to PlayStation consoles. If you’re a fan of puzzle-platformers and are yet to experience it, then Fez is quite frankly essential. However, the low price and Cross-Buy support mean that, even if you’ve already completed it on another platform, you shouldn’t regret a second purchase.