Giant Bomb Review

82 Comments

Fez Review

4
  • XBGS

The weird, wonderful world of Fez operates on multiple levels, but only the people who are willing to dig all the way down to its core will come away satisfied.

You'll find this boiler room early, but how long will it take you to figure out what it all means?

With Fez, you get as much out of it as you're willing to put in. That is, the game works on multiple layers. On the surface, it's a breezy little platformer that you should be able to cruise through without much difficulty. After all, there are no real enemies, and very few spots along the main path through the game that require actual skill with a controller to complete. As a result, you're given a flashy little ending and the ability to go back into the world and find anything you may have missed. But if you just collect 32 cubes and "finish" the game, you're barely seeing what Fez actually has to offer. And the puzzles you must solve to get everything else are occasionally inventive, often maddening, and always interesting.

Fez is short on story and long on atmosphere. You wake up as Gomez, a 2D boy in a 2D world. After being granted a fez of your own, though, you gain the ability to rotate the world by 90-degrees, letting you use perspective shifts to see the world from four different angles. Typically, this means you'll climb as high as you can, see a platform that seems to be out of reach, and rotate the world until you find an orientation that closes the gap between where you are and where you want to go. It's stylish, but there isn't really anything too tricky about navigating the world. So if you're looking at Fez in hopes of finding a perspectively-minded puzzle game along the lines of Crush, you're probably going to be disappointed. It'll probably only take a few hours to rotate the world around and collect the minimum number of cubes required to complete the game that way.

It's the rest of Fez that makes it something special. As you dig beneath the faux-retro aesthetic, Fez reveals all sorts of hidden elements. It forces you to pay attention to everything, from the paintings in a room to the scribblings left behind on classroom chalk boards. It never comes right out and says what's what, but as you explore the world and start to recognize what you're actually seeing around you, it creates a set of magical moments. On the downside, once you've made this realization (or, more likely, once you've looked up the main secrets), the game quickly devolves into using your map to figure out which areas still have secrets in them, heading there, and quickly collecting yet another anti-cube, which is the game's main hidden item. Between regular cubes and anti-cubes, you'll find 64 cubes in the world of Fez. And to open the game's final door, you'll need them all. You'll also have to finish the game once to unlock an additional ability that's absolutely necessary if you're looking for secrets. While the uncovering of keys to the game's secrets and learning how to interpret the world around you leads to some astoundingly revelatory moments, the way the game boils down to doing the same sort of task over and over again to collect most of the hidden items is disappointing.

Warp gates help you hop around the world.

Exploring the world of Fez is a wonder on its own. Despite its deliberately simple look, the world has a collection of vastly different areas to explore, and I was continually surprised by the number of different-looking areas to uncover. What starts as a collection of villages in various states, each connected by a sort of core or hub quickly expands to reveal sewer systems that glow with the monochromatic flair of an original Game Boy, an observatory, an enormous bell tower, an equally huge clock, forests, caves, and plenty of even more surprising areas that play around with deliberate glitches and other great-looking effects. There are tons of things to simply see and study in Fez. They all warrant close inspection, too, both because they're worth examining for their artistic merit and because finding the hidden secrets that lie beneath Fez's outer layer requires you to go in with sharp eyes and an even sharper mind.

At times it seems like every single piece of Fez's world is deliberately placed in order to teach you something about the world. Picking up what Fez is putting down is something that many players may completely fail to do, and those players are likely to come away from the game feeling like it's an easy, dumb adventure with zero challenge. Consider this your chance to lord superiority over those people, whether you figure it all out on your own (which seems pretty unlikely for most folks) or consult message boards and FAQs in search of pointers in the right direction.

While parts of Fez deal in cute, deliberate video game glitches, these are undercut by several very real issues. On multiple occasions, I've had the game simply quit back to the Xbox 360 dashboard without warning. Thankfully, the game auto-saves quite regularly, so I never lost much progress. It sounds like some other players are experiencing more dramatic problems, such as loops that prevent their save game from loading, and so on. Additionally, the game's frame rate often bogs down when you first load into an area, causing stuttery transitions from one zone to another as well as slowdown once you get to where you're going. Some of these problems are more crippling than others, but it all combines to make Fez feel like a product in need of some further clean-up.

Here's Gomez's place, complete with sick drum kit.

Fez really caught me by surprise. On my initial playthrough, the game was downright maddening because it was impossible to know if I should be paying attention to all the symbols and items around the world as I hunted around for enough cubes to finish the game. Then, as I started to figure out what it was actually asking me to do, I started dreading the idea of busting out graph paper and attempting to piece the mysteries together for myself. I ended up taking the coward's way out by visiting a message board or two to get me pointed in the right direction, but once I was over that initial hump, traversing the world and decoding the "real" world of Fez was intensely gratifying. And going to visit the puzzles that I allowed a message board to solve for me to see how the game's developers intend for you to discover this information is unlike anything you've seen in recent history. It's just the right mixture of charm and insanity. Even if you end up letting a collective of Internet sleuths guide you by the hand as you work your way through the game's cubes, anti-cubes, artifacts, and other items, Fez still somehow manages to be worth seeing, if only to marvel at how much weird work went into making what we all thought was just a retro-styled perspective-shifting puzzle game into something decidedly more mind-bending.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
82 Comments
  • 82 results
  • 1
  • 2
Posted by bko

Some of the comments are proof positive how out of hand games are today with babying players and holding their hands. God forbid a game drop you in the deep end of the pool and respect you enough to figure it out without help.

Love this game.

Posted by Baal_Sagoth

Very interesting. I was wondering where this review was going after you talked about some sort of bump you hit in your progression. Good that there seems to be value in being persistent and getting to the bottom of it all.

Online
Posted by nail1080

So after 20 plus years of gaming experience and many years of reviewing games, you just broke out a guide? Wow, sorry but that makes this review nonsense to me, it may as well have been written by some dude who watched a playthrough on youtube.

The puzzles aren't hard, they just require some patience, thought, and logic, but I guess that's too much to ask for even for experienced gamers these days. Pity.

Posted by MormonWarrior

Interesting that this game is super inventive and has an awesome bunch of things to the experience and is only $10 but Jeff gives it four stars. I'm thinking of this in comparison to Journey, a $15 game that also looks really neat and rides on its unique message and play style. Maybe Fez isn't up to that level of quality but still makes me wonder a bit since they're both short, unique gameplay experiences. I need to play some more but it seems better than four stars to me...

Posted by stoic665

@nail1080 said:

So after 20 plus years of gaming experience and many years of reviewing games, you just broke out a guide? Wow, sorry but that makes this review nonsense to me, it may as well have been written by some dude who watched a playthrough on youtube.

The puzzles aren't hard, they just require some patience, thought, and logic, but I guess that's too much to ask for even for experienced gamers these days. Pity.

To be fair to Jeff, some of the puzzles in the game are pretty damn hard. I mean, one of the puzzles in the game still remains unsolved despite the entire internet trying to solve it... But I agree that he probably shouldn't have given up quite so easily. Deciphering the language of the world is just so much more satisfying when you do it by yourself.

Posted by csl316

Dat GIF!

Posted by andyboy

@project343: I have Braid on Steam but have yet to play it. I hope to get to it this year as I want to make my backlog of games smaller before the end of the year.

Posted by bkbroiler

Totally agree with what Jeff is saying. If you get into it, there is some insane, awesome stuff in Fez. If you don't, it's a bit bland. And once you crack the code of the first really hard puzzle (which is a genuinely terrific moment) you kind of just keep doing the same thing over and over again. Still a really fun, creative game.

Posted by andyboy

@shiro11: That was a big thing for me, the crappy map. It made backtracking a frustrating experience.

Edited by Brackynews

@drowsap: @FlemmingM: Yes. All the wobbly first-person gifs Polytron released are in the image gallery. :D

@rmanthorp: That seems like a comment I'd read on a Mass Effect 3 review, not an indie darling. What interesting times we live in! ;)

@dbene: Quite correct.

Posted by wisdumcube

This needs to be on the PC.

Posted by ZeroCast

I will buy this day one if it comes to PC. I love mind puzzling games such as Braid and Limbo and this is no exception.

Posted by Slixshot

This game is amazing. I highly recommend it.

Posted by Tesla

FEZ is definitely one of those games to play entirely without help, or information of any kind, from the internet. I can't wait to buy the soundtrack too when that comes out.

Posted by Soniking
Fezalese

I totally did bust out the graph paper. Made me feel like I was playing Link's Awakening again.

Posted by ZeroCast

@Soniking said:

Fezalese

I totally did bust out the graph paper. Made me feel like I was playing Link's Awakening again.

Wait, you actually had to print those weird signs to solve a puzzle in the game?

That's just...mind blowing!

Posted by BisonHero

@rebgav said:

I really like everything about this game except actually playing it.

I just hope that The Witness delivers a more cohesive and fun gameplay experience than this particular indie puzzler.

I don't think I can imagine The Witness turning out to be a fun gameplay experience. I can certainly imagine it being a good game that delivers an interesting experience, but a lot of the preview articles I've read make it sound like Myst but with weird puzzle terminals and presumably some kind of mindbending story.

Even if you're the kind of person who is disdainful of intellectual games (personally, I hate those people), Braid at least offered the novelty of the time mechanic. The Witness sounds like it's even further towards being a pretty intellectual, methodical game, with even less key elements that are fun to mess around with.

Maybe this is an issue of semantics, but it strikes me as the sort of puzzle/adventure game that ends up being engaging and satisfying, but "fun" isn't really the word.

Posted by dvorak

This game is bizarre and beautiful, and I still think Phil Poisson is an asshole, but he made quite a game.

Posted by MEATBALL

Thought it was an awesome way to spend this past weekend.

Posted by Cirdain

@Hardtarget said:

I really wish this was coming out for PC, I'd love to play the game but I'm not sure how I feel about the bogdown during the zoom/loading and if it came out on PC there would just be no issues like this. Such a shame.

It is coming to PC. Just at a later date.

Posted by Cirdain

@Hardtarget said:

I really wish this was coming out for PC, I'd love to play the game but I'm not sure how I feel about the bogdown during the zoom/loading and if it came out on PC there would just be no issues like this. Such a shame.

@wisdumcube said:

This needs to be on the PC.

@ZeroCast said:

I will buy this day one if it comes to PC. I love mind puzzling games such as Braid and Limbo and this is no exception.

It is coming to PC. Just at a later date.

Posted by Hardtarget

@Cirdain: my understanding is that this has never been stated by phil fish and the official fez twitter said xbla only so....

Posted by Enigma_2099

Sounds like a good game, but it has that one nagging flaw that just keeps me from giving it a chance.... you remember what it was, don't you?

Posted by TheBookNerd

Hmm. Only four stars?

Perhaps Jeff was unaware... This is an INDIE GAME. Isn't that worth +1 star??

Posted by ZeroCast

@Cirdain said:

@Hardtarget said:

I really wish this was coming out for PC, I'd love to play the game but I'm not sure how I feel about the bogdown during the zoom/loading and if it came out on PC there would just be no issues like this. Such a shame.

@wisdumcube said:

This needs to be on the PC.

@ZeroCast said:

I will buy this day one if it comes to PC. I love mind puzzling games such as Braid and Limbo and this is no exception.

It is coming to PC. Just at a later date.

Not trying to disapprove you or anything but any source/link from the creator about where he said that?

Posted by ZeroSurge

Great. I might just buy this game now.

Posted by Soniking

@ZeroCast: By print, do you mean spend a long time to draw out on graph paper and study for hours until it all made sense then yeah it is totally mind blowing. Because this game is awesome.

Posted by the_red_mage

Damn you Jeff now I have to buy it :D

Posted by SuperSambo

@TheBookNerd said:

Hmm. Only four stars?

Perhaps Jeff was unaware... This is an INDIE GAME. Isn't that worth +1 star??

Who said he hasn't applied such a rule?

Posted by capfu

absolutely love the game, it's so good in some aspects, that I have to say it's exploration fun is only matched by Super Mario Bros. 3 and that's a HUGE statement, when I have to re-visit my childhood to find a game that reminds me of FEZ.

Posted by Elyk247

Game is just weird. I can appreciate the game, but I had to use a guide on youtube. Most people probably will.