Fez is a puzzle platformer made by Indie developer Polytron Corporation. It was originally announced in 2007 and debuted on Xbox Live Arcade in April 2012. It is available for the PC on the 1st May 2013. Phil Fish, its creator and the later stage of its development were detailed in Indie Game: The Movie.
The game at first glimpse seems to be a classic style 2D platformer, but in the introduction ‘Gomez’, whom the plot revolves around, obtains the ability to perceive the third dimension. The player can rotate the perspective on the world 90 degrees to the screen and that reveals doors, passageways and a myriad of other things. There are no bosses, enemies or conflict in the game at all, the only objective is to explore and discover.
Reasons to play it
Innovative and enthralling puzzler
Whilst Fez initially appears to be a 2D platformer it quickly becomes clear that it is actually a 3D environment. However unlike most 3D games the world can only be viewed from 4 distinct perspectives and it appears 2D from each of those perspectives. This means that depth is not a factor and that you in effect have to keep four 2D environments in mind in an innovative and enthralling way. Fez is unique in this play style and it is addictive.
A game within a game
Fez has a another game hidden underneath the 2D/3D platformer. There are a number of signs and clues hidden throughout the game (even in the soundtrack) that if you can translate them allow access to another set of areas, achievements and collectables. The game is playable without accessing these but they add an entire other layer and level of interest to the game. If you enjoy this form of puzzle solving you will be in heaven.
Room for Improvement
Fez, in particular the cryptography game is very hard indeed. Your save files display the total amount of content that you have discovered to a maximum figure of 400 and its a point of pride from the creators how few people have ever completed it. If you are a completionist this game may be a nightmare.
Note that the video has several bright flash effects and perspective changes and may be a hazard for those with light triggered conditions liked photosensitive epilepsy.
Photophobia (Light Sensitivity)
Fez contains a number of very bright flashing and strobing effects from the initial introduction to the game and unavoidably throughout the game. As such the game is not accessible for anyone who has photophobia as a result of conditions like migraine, autistic spectrum disorders, cataracts, colour blindness, dyslexia or traumatic brain injury.
If you experience motion sickness when playing, Fez is probably not the game for you. The largest part of the gameplay involves rotating your viewpoint by 90 degrees. The game does so smoothly, quickly and it appears as if you, the player, is moving. This is such an integral part of the game and happens so frequently that if you have any issue with it then the game will be near unplayable.
Low Vision and Visual Field Defects
If you have low vision then Fez is quite accessible. In most (but not all) instances there is a high level of contrast between the background and foreground and you have the ability to move your centre of focus around so that you can inspect the whole area around you. This change of focus remains where you leave it until you actively reset it.
The game has no user interface and all information shown is part of the game world. Your in-game map and inventory can be brought up with single key presses. The options and other menus use generally white capitalised text on a dark background in a blocky font. They are of a reasonable size and readable.
Colour Blindness (Colour Vision Deficiency)
There is no particular reliance on colors and hence no colorblind mode. The colors are bright and vivid in most areas and almost always high contrast.
There are only two available options in the video settings
- Resolution – Fez auto detects and recommends a particular resolution
- Screen mode – between full-screen and Windowed with full-screen being default
Subtitles & Closed captioning
Fez has no spoken dialogue – the only speech is shown as a speech bubble with a synthesized sound that is vaguely similar to a voice playing while the bubble is on screen.
Reliance on auditory cues
Fez has some reliance on audio cues. Unusually it relies more on its music than its sound effects, changing the music depending on your perspective relative to Gomez. The best example of this is when you rotate your perspective 180 to Gomez and there is a something in between you and Gomez the music sounds muffled. That sounds like quite a small thing, but it is very useful for helping you keep your orientation. The sound effects add to the atmosphere of the game and there are a few secondary audio cues which are not reproduced visually, however the Xbox controller does rumble at the same time so it its possible to play without sound.
The only audio customizability built into the game are separate volumes for the sound effects and the music.
Fez requires a relatively low reaction time, being more of puzzle game than a platformer. Once you have figured out the correct route to move and the correct perspective to move from the timing is usually fairly forgiving. There are some times where you have to rotate repeatedly but the time given is generous.
In addition there is no limit or penalty for dying or failing a puzzle and you are restored to your last solid point immediately, meaning that when more careful timing is needed you can get through on trial and error.
Precision (Manual Dexterity)
A reasonable level of precision is needed to play, but as with reaction time, if you have your perspective and route correct then the game is somewhat accessible for anyone who lacks precise muscular control as a result of partial paralysis, tremors, spasms or involuntary movement. There are a couple of instances where three button presses (Jump, Left/Right and a perspective change) are required but these are rare.
Fez’s accessibility is very good from an endurance point of view. The game has an excellent autosave (3 selectable slots) that kicks in extremely regularly and Fez can be paused (or even just left) at any point. Even when actively playing you will find that you spend more time working out your path of travel and the cryptographic puzzles rather than clicking as fast as you can.
Complexity of Controls
Fez has two sets of possible controls which operate independently. This means that both are available at any point and that the player can switch back and forth as they are comfortable. The mouse is available to use in the menu system but not in-game.
First is the Xbox controller; this is what the game is designed to use and it works well. The control scheme is well laid out and the in-game prompts (and menu prompts) are clear as to which keys to use and when. In the menus there is a clear picture of the layout (reproduced below). The keys are not remappable and it would be very difficult to remap using Glovepie or a similar tool.
The second control system is the keyboard. This has a reasonable set of default keys and is remappable to whatever choices the player makes. It would be possible to play Fez with keypad like the Razer Nostromo and with a lot of work, using Glovepie, it would be possible to play with a multi-button MMO mouse. The downside of using the keyboard is that the prompts, which are the only tutorial, only give the information for the Xbox controller, not the keyboard. This means that it is very easy to get confused which keys carry out which actions. The game is playable even with this, but it makes the learning curve much steeper.
- Key mapping – available for the keyboard but not Xbox controller.
- Windowed mode – available, providing access to on-screen keyboards and dwell clickers
- Pause Options – available any time.
- Save options – autosave which triggers very regularly. There are three separate sets of autosaves which are user selectable so more than one person can keep a save game at once
Language use in the game is generally fairly simple and whilst the storyline makes the game significantly richer the player does not really need to know more information than “Explore, find the cubes”.
The use of the symbol letters adds another level to the game which does require a good level of language skills to understand, but it is possible to play the game without this and most people will do so. The clues are based on English so even though the game has modes for other languages (French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean) you will need a good understanding of English to be able to progress with these.
A good memory is needed to play Fez to keep track of your location within individual instances as the ingame map only shows how the instances link together. If you want to get serious about solving the ingame symbol puzzles then you will need to break out a pencil and paper – it is simply too complex a problem to keep track of otherwise.
Calculations and Currency
Fez has no currency or statistics and is very accessible if you have problems with numbers.
Complexity and Support
As a 3d platformer Fez requires excellent spacial awareness to play well and the player needs to grasp the fact that it is not a true 3D environment, but multiple layers of 2D stitched together. As you are only able to ever view it in 2D, platforms can appear across the screen from the character from one perspective and are a step away from another.
The symbol cryptography adds another layer to the game allowing Gomez to find Anti-cubes as well as the regular cubes and this part of the game is incredibly complex, to the degree that completion is almost impossible. When the Xbox version was released it took the community working together entering random codes to decode the final puzzle.
There is little social interaction in the game. Your character, Gomez, talks to an NPC at the beginning of the game and has an ‘assistant’ who pops up with advice occasionally but overall interaction is minimum.
Fez is as game with many layers and complexities. It looks like a classic 2D platformer then it morphs into a 3D puzzle platformer that turns out to be a series of intertwined 2D puzzles rather than traditional 3D world. It has another cryptographic game buried inside that few will attempt and fewer will complete. The game is a must play for anyone who enjoyed platformers of the past, spacial puzzles or just a healthy challenge. It is very inaccessible to those who have issues with flash or motion sickness and its complexity will rule others out, but its bells and whistles, intricacy and complexity will provide hours of entertainment for those who relish a mental challenge. Fez is something special everyone should try. Horrendously complicated but amazingly fun.
[stars rating=”4″ type=”Game”]