Review: Fez (PC) – Speechless, But Not In a Good Way

Damon reviews the PC release of the critically-acclaimed indie title.

Fez logo

When Fez first came out on Xbox, back in April 2012, I did my best to avoid spoilers, screenshots, videos – basically anything relating to the game. I didn’t do it because I had some sort of irrational hate for the game – far from it, in fact – but because I held on to (at the time) a vain hope that Fez would eventually release on PC.

I kept that up for a year. When it was announced that Fez would be coming to the PC, despite Polytron developer Phil Fish earlier loudly proclaiming otherwise, I was pretty pleased, and allowed myself to slowly get hyped up for the game. Beautiful art? Check. Interesting gameplay mechanics? Check. Pretty colours? Checkity check check. In the days leading up to the release, I even allowed myself to ever-so-coyly peek at the release date timer on Steam. I hadn’t played it yet, though… so was it to be love at first sight – or, rather, first playthrough?

Upon installing and starting the game, I immediately hit a glitch where the entire screen was frozen and had looping sound. Fortunately, I was able to easily get past it through the age-old method of hitting random keys, and toggling the pause menu (which, for some reason, is bound to the Enter key…?) solved my problem. Not the best way to start a playthrough, since first impressions are occasionally everything, but it was easily fixed, and I got through the intro level without any further hassle… until I reached the end, and the brilliant visuals were accompanied by a crash-to-desktop which, incidentally, also wiped my save. Great.

Fez screenshot

This was just the first in a series of little incidents which annoyed me – the consequences of what I feel are a lazy port to the PC. In fact, that’s one of the major sticking points which stops me from liking Fez: that the game could have been a great port, satisfying fans’ (and my) expectations and giving the same experience that so many of its Xbox version’s players enjoyed.

Here, I’ll give an example. Fez has a world map which links together all of the game’s levels in a 3D space. However, its navigation is clearly designed for a controller, and Polytron didn’t even bother reworking the control scheme for PC. Instead, the default control scheme (and sensitivity) makes navigating through the map feel like trying to herd cats on an ice rink… without ice skates. Plus, even when it does work, level tiles will overlap each other. It’s plain irritating, to say the least.

Unfortunately, Fez‘s case of Lazy PC Port Syndrome isn’t just limited to the world map. With numerous crash-to-desktop bugs, including that one where simply looking at the scoreboard crashes the game, it’s hard for me to even consider holding a high opinion of a title that I was really looking forward to.

In the lead-up to Fez‘s release, much was made of Phil Fish’s statements on the Internet, and his general behaviour: many described him as “pretentious” or “douchey”, and some even called him both. I noted but didn’t participate in the mud-slinging- after all, I was hyped for Fez, not Phil Fish’s Twitter rants. However, I was afraid that his online attitudes could carry over into the game’s general feel, and after playing it, I’m disappointed to note that they certainly have. This is perhaps the most off-putting part of the game for me, in fact. The entire experience, from the blatantly-Zelda-inspired chest-opening sequences to player character Gomez’s fez-splosions to his vapid grin, just smacks of pretentiousness, of having too high an opinion of itself – like the kid in fifth grade with all the dodgy counterfeit Yu-Gi-Oh! cards. He desperately wants to be your friend, but at the same time, he thinks he’s the coolest kid around.

Fez screenshot, part deux

This sort of thought popped up again when I was traversing a retro-themed section (well, more retro than the rest of the game), and I had to wonder: was the game seriously trying to emphasize how indie/retro it is? Did I honestly have to be reminded of it? Instead of seeing a retro homage, all I saw was self-indulgence to the highest level – and that, perhaps, was the most disappointing moment of my playthrough. Hell, I don’t even know if I could call it a full playthrough, since I ended up finishing my play session at a cool 55% completion, helped, ironically, by the scoreboard’s crash-to-desktop glitch.

I don’t know what to say about Fez. How can I convey my hopes and eventual disappointment in an effective manner? All I can say, I suppose, is this: I really wanted to love Fez. Really. I started playing with expectations based off of an avalanche of 10/10 reviews, but all I got was a game that took itself more seriously than it deserved to. The only redeeming factor is the solid platforming – and there’s nothing new to be said about that, so why bother?

Final Verdict

Fez (PC): 6/10