Gravity Rush Review
Sony PS Vita
This was not what I was expecting. Gravity Rush is the great hope of the PS Vita in that it is brand new intellectual property, has come to the console a few months post-launch at a time when many were wondering what games there were to play on it (forgetting the multiple quality launch titles and various low-profile content to arrive regularly since!) and through all previews and word of mouth out of Japan had every chance of being fantastic. Whilst we’ll come to whether it achieved that final point later, it’s important to explain why it didn’t match expectations in those first few hours. There were a couple of reasons mainly, so let’s take one at a time and then move on, shall we?
The game is glorious visually what with the cel-shaded stylisation and holistic art ensuring a coherent and classically science-fiction feeling world which has a little bit of the neo-noir to it also. As the story progresses you control Kat, a confused and uncertain young lady not really sure how she got where she is, where here actually is and what she’s meant to be doing despite the apparent understanding of her destiny by those around her. We follow her story by playing, by watching and by reading comic strips. It’s all a bit jarring though. The localisation seems to have gone a bit loopy. The game is equally at home in the West as the East except you have a collection of Japanese sound effects and voice equivalencies (dialogue isn’t spoken but noises are made to sound like the characters saying something) allied to blocks of comic book text written by Americans in a game being played in the UK. For much of the game but always early on this just galls and feels entirely weird. If this was by design then the choice makes no sense. If by mistake or lack of forethought, it’s not as if there wasn’t plenty of time to eliminate such issues given the localisation has had at least six months since the Japanese launch.
The other wholly surprising thing was the type of game that Gravity Rush was on start-up. Sitting there, expecting a rip-roaring tale of superheroes, lost memories and magical cats structured as a thrilling third-person action-adventure narrative a la Nathan Drake it turned out to be a sandbox game of sorts with a central mission structure but one that is set in an open-world with other stuff to do, be that collectible hunting or meeting people to learn about the strange world you’re in and more. Whilst this isn’t a bad thing as lovers of Grand Theft Auto will be aware it didn’t sit well with the game for quite sometime. Eventually it becomes normal, the peculiarity meter registering less than the inherent noise and the game as designed was there to be enjoyed. As long as you can get over the utterly ridiculous early missions whereby, amongst other things, you have to sort out your new home - a sewer pipe - by finding random unwanted furniture and taking it to kit out your place. Home improvement this is. Early on. It’s little more than one of a set of missions designed to introduce you to the world, the types of challenges you’ll be faced with, the control scheme and the central mechanic - gravity; and how you control it.
The fundamental point of this game and the excitingly novel key selling point is Kat’s ability to control gravity, something she learns as you learn. Kat is able to do this because she, presumably, acts as a Higgs field, imparting mass or otherwise to herself or that around her and therefore can increase or decrease the effect of the gravitational force upon her. Whatever the mechanism by which she manages it, to you and I it’s as simple as a press of the right trigger button to defy gravity, and a second to reenact the fate of Newton’s apple. Or, wait for the gauge to empty. At first the whole thing is highly disorienting. You’re floating in a fully realised but unreal world, one in which every plane and dimension is wholly filled with things to see, do or interact with (again, lots of collectables) and it’s hard to know where you’re facing, it can be difficult to direct Kat where you particularly need to go (if you have an active objective) and as such you can be just trying to sort things out when bam, she’s falling, free falling. Now, eventually the timer / gauge gets refilled and more often than not you can stop her dying but you still then have to start anew in your attempts to find that damned objective. You do get the hang of things such that you become more adept. Of course you do, it’s the most fundamental aspect of the game used as it is to traverse large areas, kill baddies and generally do cool stuff - you spend a lot of time perfecting your execution here. Whilst in a Gravity Rush you can re-direct Kat and send her flying towards your objective or whatever flight of fancy you so desire. Use the thumbsticks or just use the Vita and move it to reposition your aim.
The real benefit of the gravity control over and above simple geographical relocation is that it instills some actual fight into Kat who otherwise would be vastly under resourced in her battles against the various invading baddies around this crazy world she’s ended up in. You can go up to them and hit and kick them yes, but using the skills at your disposal to float through the air, focus your aim on the enemy’s weak spot and then unleash a gravitationally powered kick is a far superior method of death-dealing and quite frankly is orders of magnitude better than anything else. As you progress through the game you acquire more abilities and build up Kat’s powers, which makes it even more irritating than usual when the plot machinations result in you losing all powers for a period of time just to make a specific level more interesting.
The actual main game missions, tackled at the pace of the player dependent on what other delights they occupy themselves with in the rich open world, are rather uninspiring. It’s all decent enough fare, and you do get to apply all the funky things you’ve learnt but there’s no real innovation there. Perhaps it’s too much to ask of a brand new IP on a new console with a fantastically well executed central mechanic and part touchscreen control system (you do use that in the open world map and to dodge attacks by sliding your digit of choice across the beautiful OLED) to have brilliantly original missions, but that doesn’t belie the fact that they aren’t. In fact, the vast majority of the game will be spent playing around with gravity, looking into every nook and cranny to see what delights present themselves and seeing how far you can push the gravity (or, technically pull...).
Gravity Rush is an eighty for twenty game. Eighty percent of what’s great about it comes from twenty percent of the actual game. The ability to fly through the air, land a telling blow or appreciate the world at its most sweeping is a fabulous thing to be able to do and really delights for the duration of the game; certainly once you crack how to do it the way you want, as opposed to crashing into a roof or falling through the airborne islands to the ether below whilst fumbling for some stability again despite an empty meter. The art style and created world are stark and energising and as long as you can get over the somewhat deplorable localisation attempts it’s a lovely place to spend time in. But the things you have to do, the missions you need to complete and the story sitting behind everything is all a bit been there; done that. Not bad but nothing to get excited about. As such, Gravity Rush truly is an eighty for twenty game, rather than the system seller the Vita is still looking for.