After all the drama surrounding Phil Fish, before, during and after the release of Fez and the currently cancelled Fez 2, at long last I picked it up (for the PC) to check it out.
Putting aside the discussion of Phil Fish, regarding his attitude and opinions. I found Fez to be an interesting idea, but its twist feels more like smoke and mirrors than a main course.
2D or Not 2D:
Fez starts out innocently enough with the main character: Gomez living in his tiny 2D village in a world that everyone knows is 2D and will always be 2D. After being summoned by the elder he makes the discovery that the world is in fact 3D and is granted a three dimensional fez and the ability to shift the perspective of the world.
He is given that ability just in time to discover that the mythical object (who I can’t remember the exact spelling) that keeps the world together, breaks into cubes and bits and is scattered around; and by doing so left Gomez as the only person who can hopefully keep his world from falling apart.
The basic gameplay of Fez was exploring the world looking for cube and cube bits (every eight bits gives you a cube) with the first objective is to find enough cubes to unlock specific doors.
However, as you explore the world of Fez, you’ll start to find a variety of secrets and miscellaneous objects that don’t seem to do anything at the start. A key concept of Fez is the idea of twisting the perception of what’s around you as there is more to it than meets the eyes.
Going further into that would lead us into spoiler territory, however the gameplay stays constant. The player can view the world from four perspectives effectively turning the world at their whim.
Platforms leading to nowhere will suddenly line up or you can alter where ladders or climbable vines will lead offering you a new path.
Each section of the world is in of itself a puzzle: Requiring the player to find bits, cubes and other objects, or simply discovering all the exits and new areas leading from it.
Fez is a completely hands off game and outside of the tutorial instructions and messages from your traveling partner, the player is left to their own devices. There is a certain charm about wandering around and discovering what is behind each new door. However, while Fez has the trappings of what makes an engaging experience, it doesn’t quite get there.
Twist and Shout:
Fez, while a unique experience has some issues with keeping the player engaged for the long run. The game is in actuality a puzzle game in the guise of a 2D platformer.
Every section only has one solution for how to get all the items or reach all the exits. Gomez’s moveset is limited to one jump, basic interacting with objects and turning the world. Because of that, the game starts to get repetitive as every section only makes use of these actions.
In this regard, Fez is similar to Portal — Where the mechanics of the player are limited to one main system. But Valve understood that to keep the player engaged that they had to keep introducing new objectives and secondary mechanics to change how the player interacted with the world.
But in Fez, after several hours in I was still doing the same thing. Sure I was moving along different platforms but the same basic interaction was present.
There are secrets hidden in Fez, with very little indication on how to solve them and I ended up just ignoring them in the end.
It felt like there was this big secret in Fez waiting to come out, but it doesn’t provide any incentives or motivation for the player. Instead it demands that the player chase after it. Depending on your playstyle this may or may not be a big deal, but for me I could only play Fez in limited chunks of time before I got bored.
Not helping matters was the amount of backtracking involved in the game. While there were warp points set up, you’ll still have to work your way through areas again to reach your targeted area. And because of the puzzle like design, that means essentially redoing puzzles over and over again every time you want to explore that one area you missed.
Playing Fez reminds me another indie game and developer: Braid and Jonathan Blow. From playing both games you can tell that these weren’t titles aimed at being your traditional mass market appeal games.
These were games where the developers must have spent a meticulous amount of time going over every inch of the game to create their specific vision.
And while I didn’t fall in love with Fez, I can certainly respect what Phil was going for with the game. Lastly, in regards to Fez 2 being cancelled at the moment, I would love to see him take what he has and expand upon it for a sequel.
The rise of Indie developers has not only given us a variety of games, but a new generation of game designers and while not everyone can be a fan favorite, it has certainty made the game industry more exciting.