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15 Reviews

Fez

We take our hats off to it

We'll confess to being slightly intimidated by Fez when we first fired it up. Even after studying the pre-release trailers with a borderline-obsessive fascination, we weren't sure the lump of brain matter between our ears would ever be entirely comfortable with the concept of a 2D platformer with a secret third dimension.

The human brain simply isn't built for that kind of spatial processing - Portal seems the only comparable challenge on Xbox 360, but even that only bends the laws of physics rather than snapping them over its knee.

It's fortunate then, that Fez is such a gentle ride. Unless you're some kind of savant, you're unlikely to know exactly what you'll be presented with when you yank a trigger and rotate the world by 90-degrees, but for the most part the game gives you the time and space to feel your way through.

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There aren't any enemies, fatal obstacles are almost always static and, even then, death is a momentary inconvenience. Accidentally murder adorable hero Gomez and the game plops you right back onto the last stable platform you were standing on. You could hand the pad to your granny, confident that a mistimed jump isn't going to cause her pacemaker to explode out of her cardie.

It's not just the approach to the platforming, either. The objectives themselves seem designed to lull you into a state of zen-like calm. As a result it's not the rollercoaster of frustration and elation that, say, Braid is - instead it's the consistent pleasure of exploration and discovering new branches on the expansive map screen that carries you through the game.

Fez's world is deceptively massive; deceptive because a single inconspicuous door can hide another vast hub area. The game unfolds in whichever direction you choose to venture and while grabbing the cubes that will unlock the larger gates initially appears to be the bulk of the challenge, it becomes as much about finding all the areas that have been squirreled away.

Those areas are stunning as well. There are several themes, varying in colour and all of them taking advantage of the pixel-art style. More conventional platforming environments - grass, rocks and trees - give way to haunting abandoned monuments, clockwork contraptions and gloomy sewers. That you're able to then twist and manipulate those scenes and see how they're constructed using 2D platformer logic makes for a renewed sense of wonder with every new environment. It's astonishing that such intentionally simplistic visuals can be so evocative.

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Complementing the retro aesthetic beautifully, Fez also boasts a truly exceptional chip-tune inspired score that's a vital part of the experience. If you're playing the game with the sound turned down, you're missing a fundamental element of the dreamlike world that Polytron has lovingly crafted. It's not all minimalist bleeping either, there are moments where the music swells and the hairs on the back of your neck do a miniature Mexican wave.

You'll quickly discover that the complement of liberally scattered golden cubes is only half the story. For every one that's snagged just by running around and stumbling across new areas, there's a secret collectible that requires some more advanced puzzling to uncover. We don't want to spoil any of them, but there are some pleasingly experimental problems to solve. You'll see the 'endgame' after only a few hours - no doubt with at least a couple of the more esoteric challenges complete - but it's those remaining secrets that will keep you poking around Fez even after you've earned the 'Kill Screen' Achievement.

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