Aaah, what a rush.
Developer: SIE Japan Studio, Project Siren
Released: January 20, 2017
Copy provided by publisher
My opinion of Gravity Rush improved with the move from PS Vita to PlayStation 4, Gravity Rush Remastered feeling so much more at home with a full controller as opposed to a handheld’s less comfortable input. It only makes sense that Gravity Rush 2 skipped the dying husk of the Vita altogether and has released solely as a home console title.
Kat the Gravity Shifter is back in a brand new world, having been taken from Hekseville by a gravity storm. Now stuck working for miners who scour gravitational tempests in search of valuable ore, Kat hopes to reunite with her friends while foiling the machinations of corrupt merchants, classist oppressors, and the ever-malignant creatures known as Nevi – or Scarabs, as the citizens of Banga Village call them.
Gravity Rush 2 tells a socially conscious story with curiously relevant themes. Much of the adventure is given over to Kat’s establishment as hero of the downtrodden after learning that her new home’s criminal element is almost entirely comprised of starving families skimming supplies from the disaffected wealthy.
Despite its colorful presentation and humorous tone, Gravity Rush 2 lays it on surprisingly thick to the point where I have to admit I’m quite impressed. It’s not as if the writing’s ever deep enough to go into serious sociopolitical dissection, but it’s more aware and outspoken than most politically terrified videogames.
Kat herself remains an adorable presence, one of the most lovable protagonists to emerge in recent years. Her optimism is infectious and I’m never not charmed by how emphatic she can be in her sincerity.
Gravity Rush 2 doesn’t do too much to shake up the formula, with Kat manipulating Gravity to “fall” in any direction she desires. By shifting gravity’s effect on her body, she can fly wherever she pleases, walk upside-down on surfaces, and float around to her heart’s content.
Kat’s basic array of gravity powers are unchanged from the original game, so returning players will have no trouble using Kat to float, glide and slide around Banga and its associated locales. Nevi – alongside some fresh antagonists – are once again able to be combated with basic punches and kicks, though charging into them with gravity-shifted momentum is far more effective.
The classic Gravity Kick seems less able to deal with the dodging, weaving enemies that harass her in greater numbers this time around. It’s not like physical attacks were ever particularly accurate in their targeting, but some fights make “shooting” at the opposition with precision stasis blasts practically essential.
Sucking up surrounding debris and then pelting it at foes is not only quick, it’s perhaps the most deadly trick available.
Rather than alter the basics, Sony has opted to pile more features on, adding two brand new “styles” of shifting available during the course of the campaign. Lunar style lightens Kat’s body, allowing her to perform massive leaps and warp toward enemies at the cost of movement control and offensive power.
Jupiter style is essentially the flipside of the coin, making Kat a weighty but slow hero who can smash barricades with ease and land brutal area-of-effect attacks by slamming into the ground.
These styles are interesting new takes on the general formula, and while they have their highly specialized uses I can’t say I found them all that enjoyable to use compared to the vanilla style. While Lunar’s floatiness can be amusing and Jupiter makes short work of grounded foes, the balanced playstyle of Kat’s original powers almost always gets a job done best.
That said, switching between styles takes a quick swipe of the touchpad, so it certainly doesn’t hurt to have them in reserve.
Since it follows Gravity Rush‘s blueprint so closely, any complaints one might have had about the original game can be leveled at its sequel in totality. Unfortunately nothing’s been done to really improve the fundamental gameplay between installments. This means that certain fights are still infuriating as Kat’s unwieldy attacks fail to land, and the overall premise of gravity shifting remains wasted on fairly mundane mission objectives.
Quests are relatively formulaic and side missions in particular can grow repetitive before too long. For a series about commanding gravity itself, Gravity Rush is still a series about inconsequential racing, memory games, and triangulation exercises. There’s just not much imagination or variety in the missions available, which is extra disappointing when you consider just how much potential Kat’s abilities have.
True to theme, Gravity Rush 2 works to counter these problems by adding much more. Several battles are refreshingly large in scale as Kat faces off against militant aggressors who bring guns and mechs to the table. These fights are where Gravity Rush 2 shines, bringing a sense of scale and action that suit the nature of our protagonist’s powers.
Scale is certainly where this sequel succeeds. It takes a while to appreciate how large Banga is due to its reliance on verticality. Rather than map everything out across an ostensibly even field, the regions of Kat’s new homeworld are tiered, with players needing to fly up or down to reach new locations boasting their own distinct atmospheres. Naturally, the richest and nicest islands are found way at the top, with the dour slums found by falling right to the pits.
The first time I realized that entire new landmasses could be found floating above and below the starting area was a revelation. Whatever problems Gravity Rush 2 may have, map design isn’t one of them. Locations are large but not wasteful with the space used, while landmarks are clear enough to keep the average player from getting lost.
Effort’s been taken to make the world seem more alive this time around, with increased NPC activity, destructible environments, and a vibrancy to the color palette. Despite efforts, Gravity Rush 2 still feels blatantly artificial – the way the world operates is often jarringly mechanical, as if nothing surrounding Kat has any meaning or consequence.
I appreciate Sony tried, however, and the improvements are unquestionably there.
It seems cameras are becoming an obligatory part of videogames these days, and Rush 2 is all about seizing the moment. Kat gets to unlock all sorts of costumes and props to liven up her photography, alongside emotes and filters. Many of the missions are designed to push the camera gimmick heavily, with Kat not only needing to take photos regularly but also use existing pictures to locate people and objects.
Additionally, shots can be uploaded online and subsequently found by other players in their own games. Should a picture be reviewed positively, the photographer will earn Dusty Tokens which unlock all manner of cool gear at certain milestones.
Online interactions are minimal but nicely presented, with players not only able to review each other’s snaps, but provide visual hints to the location of rare loot. At any time a player may receive a photo from a random player revealing where a treasure chest is. Should the player act upon the hint, they’ll be moved to the rough vicinity of the chest and will need to use the random player’s pic as their only clue.
It’s an intriguing spin on an old puzzle since the effectiveness of the clue is heavily reliant on how well some totally unknown player captures the area. While I found myself ignoring photo notifications more frequently the longer I played, it was a lot of fun in the first few hours, and the rewards can be worth it.
As far as content volume goes, Gravity Rush 2 is going to leave nobody starving. Aside from a campaign that’ll take at least a few hours to get through, there’s an almost overwhelming number of side missions and a whole range of gravity storms that Kat can keep visiting for ore and ability-enhancing talismans. Talismans themselves can be combined and scrapped and customized, and Kat can also spend ore to enhance a number of her innate powers.
There’s enough here to keep players going for a damn long time, though again I found myself less inclined to seek further interaction the closer I got to finishing.
Gravity Rush is a series that continues to frustrate me since I can’t love it half as much as I want to. It’s entertaining, endearing, and carries with it a genuine heart that I can’t help admiring, but it languishes in some hefty mechanical problems and despite offering so much content, a lot of it trends toward complacent filler.
Gravity Rush 2 is a bigger sequel, but not necessarily a better one. While it offers more to play with and in greater variety, the lack of improvements to core features – as well as graphics that are far from impressive – hold it back from being something truly great.
I’d still heartily recommend it despite the criticisms I’ve raised. There’s something unassumingly likable about it, reminiscent of Sega’s wackier years when they’d make any weird thing and toss it on the Dreamcast.
Even if it wasn’t a good game at its core – which it is – it’d at least get some credit for the soundtrack. I realize this is an odd note to end a review on, but I couldn’t find a natural fit for it in the rest of the text and just had to make a note of how great these bloody tunes are!