Gravity Rush 2 Review
I have a confession to make: I never played the original Gravity Rush. While the original game was an original and intriguing vision, it was exclusive to Playstation Vita, which I, like many others, didn’t own at the time. Though it never set the world on fire – mostly due to it’s home, the adventures of the Gravity Queen Kat and her feline sidekick Dusty, were deemed a cult classic and eventually found a re-release on the PS4 in 2016. The game was praised for it’s unique take on the Superhero genre, with its unique visual style and signature gravity manipulation-based gameplay, while being criticized for its camera and motion controls. Almost 5 years later we are treated to its sequel Gravity Rush 2, a game that just begs to be loved and should be destined to be a gaming classic. Instead we get a very good game that still stumbles in the same ways that plagued the original, never becoming the game it should be.
The story picks up shortly after the original and the two-part animated short, which I suggest watching beforehand for context. Kat, finds herself on the other end of a Gravity Storm that left her and her goofball pal, Syd, awash in a new world, away from fellow gravity guardian and friend Raven and her trusty cat Dusty.
Speaking of Kat, she is the heartbeat of the game and the major reason I was so connected to this world. Ever the optimist, her positivity is infectious. For those complaining that we don’t get enough kick-ass female protagonists’, Kat shines as one of the most enigmatic, spirited, and personable characters I’ve had the pleasure of playing ass, regardless of gender. Kat you rock!
Her story is presented in 27 chapters over four acts. Each of the story’s 27 chapters feels like an episode of a Saturday morning cartoon serial, while the acts themselves serve as individual seasons. The opening acts are as surprisingly topical as it they are entertaining, touching on social issues such as class structure and homeland security. It is never done heavy-handedly, but at the same time doesn’t really try to stir the pot either, which could be disappointing to those expecting it to examine these issues in depth.
The back-end acts go a little off the rails in terms of storytelling structure, with various characters, new and old, introduced at breakneck speed. This, along with multiple storylines, which tend to meander, compared to the succinct storylines of the games first half, can put a damper on the game’s pacing. They were still engaging enough if not only for the fact that the narrative as a whole is so much fun. Countless times I laughed out loud during the story whether it be due to certain character’s antics or Kat’s reaction’s to said antics. For example, it was always funny watching Syd, feigning illness to get out of chores and tasks, only to take credit for all of Kat’s hard work after she picks up his slack.
The final act, which takes place after the first set of credits, will at least tie together the story for those who played both games. Even though some of the more intricate plot points went over my head, the ending was satisfying enough for this first time player, as everybody, including the gluttony of interesting side characters you meet, gets their moment before heading out into the sunset.
One of the most appealing aspects of Gravity Rush 2 lies in its visual design, which carries over from the first game. It mixes the styles of traditional Japanese Anime with French Comics to absolutely striking results. It’s Hayao Miyazaki meets Sylvain Chomet and Herge. Castle in the Sky meets The Triplets of Belleville, with a sprinkle of Sailor Moon and Tintin for good measure. This style pervades every element of the game. From its cutscenes, which are unfolded through a series of well-animated comic book panels, to its incredible soundtrack, which infuses French Jazz with traditional Orchestral pieces, to even the menus. It all comes together beautifully and really draws you into its wholly original world made up of the surreal and weird.
Speaking of the world, it is vast. During your stay, you will make your way through close to a dozen or so wholly unique Islands that make up Gravity Rush 2’s overworld. Each of these maps are huge, intricately designed, and a lot of fun to explore. What’s impressive is that there are virtually no load times when travelling between areas. From the bustling marketplaces Jirga Para Lhao to the Parisian-influenced city of Hekesville, floating – or falling – from one island to the next without a hitch further drives home the fact that this is one interconnected world.
The only downside to this is that there is significant pop-in when travelling from one island to next, which, while not immersion breaking, is distracting nonetheless. Also, as big as the world is, there just isn’t a whole lot of interactivity with the environment and its inhabitants. They are there to mostly serve as gorgeous confectionary coloured set dressing, but like candy, it’s mostly empty calories.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Gravity Rush 2 that come from a multitude activities including main story missions, side missions, challenges, and even treasure hunts.
Main quest missions are where you will be spending most of your time. They are varied, ranging from hilarious to just plain bizarre. Some end in a climactic boss battle finished off with a super finisher, some end with Kat being caught for mistaken identity as a theatre performer as she tries to sing and act her way out of a sticky situation. While not all missions are of equal quality – poorly implemented stealth missions could’ve benefited from clearer indicators – it’s nice to know you will rarely come across the same quest type more than a couple of times.
The various side quests you come across are cool as well. They almost act as a b-story in an episode of a Magical Girl Anime – or full filler if we’re talking Dragonball – and revolve around activities such as working a food stall and trying to round up customers, to delivering newspapers to citizens in overlooking apartments via your gravity powers, to even becoming an action movie stunt double for a day. Even the most mundane side quests have some sort of context to them. Each tell their own story, adding to the history of the world or delivering amusing backstories for many of the island’s denizens.
Then there are treasure hunts and challenges. The former revolves around finding hidden treasure boxes scattered around world, while the later focus on time and score based trials. These become incredibly appealing when approached in conjunction with the game’s surprisingly well-developed online social elements. Early on in the game, you gain a camera and it’s used in interesting ways. Not only can you capture the beautiful landscapes and have Kat pose in amusing ways, but additionally, if you find any of these afformentioned treasures, you can take a photo of their location and challenge other players to find them based off your clue – or vice-versa. You can even challenge players to beat your time in one of the game’s 20 trials. This online ecosystem makes treasure hunts and challenges all the more fun and incentivizes them with Dusty Tokens, which can be exchanged for rewards not found elsewhere in the game. They also help you familiarize yourself with the city layouts and landmarks, so they shouldn’t be glossed over.
On that note, I suggest keeping up with side quests, challenges and treasure hunts as much as possible, if not only for the fact that they are worth it for the variety of rewards you receive. These include costumes, emotes and Talismans, unique items which when equipped imbue Kat with a variety of skill enhancements. Talismans can be mined and synthesized into better versions and reward the player with a variety of unique abilities which can be tailored to your preferred play style.
Whenever you get bored with one style of play, there is always something else you can focus your time on and they each reward you for your efforts in different ways. It’s a game that keeps on giving. I completed the main game and a handful of side missions and treasure hunts in just over 20 hours and wasn’t even 50 percent through completion. You can conceivably double that time if you want to complete everything.
This would all be a waste of course if the gameplay itself was not fun, and in this respect Gravity Rush 2 both delivers and disappoints.
Controlling Kat is easy enough. You press R1 to activate her gravity powers and press it again to have her move in a direction of your choosing, either by analog stick or motion controls or a combination of both. Flying is most satisfying in the open world and makes travel quick and easy as you make you way through skies, airboats and bikes whizzing by. Just the sheer act of flying through the various cityscapes was one of the most enjoyable gameplay experiences I’ve had in a while and since they are littered with gems which can be used to upgrade Kat’s abilities, it becomes beneficial and addictive to scour every nook and cranny to find them all.
The camera works fine for the most part in these open areas, but as soon as you move into the cramped confines of towns it becomes a bigger problem. Landing on a surface in gravity mode will cause Kat to flip right side up regardless of what direction you are coming in from (ie: you can land on the underside of a building but be facing upwards). During these moments, the camera at times can become unruly and disorienting, even to the point where repositioning the camera with R3 won’t help much.
I also wish there was a little more finesse to moves such as the gravity slide, which allows Kat to move quickly by ground. Instead of it being the go-to way to travel by land, it’s feels too loose and often cumbersome, especially during timed challenges or traversing the battlefield in one of the game’s numerous fights.
Speaking of fights, combat is the least satisfying element in this game. It is at its best when on the ground where it’s easy to switch between attacking and dodging while throwing in a gravity throw, which control surprisingly well and are forgiving when it comes to locking on to targets. Overall, it’s simple enough if not particularly enthralling.
Taking the fight to the skies on the other hand is a whole different feather. This is where the camera becomes particularly devilish. It’s more forgivable when only battling a few enemies but when the screen gets cluttered, the whole thing becomes a huge mess, with the reticle jumping between foes quicker than you can hit the attack button. Consistently missing gravity kicks on enemies, large and small, is frustrating, especially in those moments where you need just one more hit on an enemy and instead run out of energy, succumbing to the laws of gravity again. This begs the question, why did the developers not add a hard lock on function? It threatens to ruin an otherwise wonderful experience, and in what is essentially a game in the superhero genre, it sure goes out of its way to make you feel not so super.
The game at least tries to change things up as you progress by introducing two new combat styles: Lunar style and Jupiter style. Lunar style decreases gravity making Kat lighter allowing her to jump farther and catch up to quicker enemies at the expense of power. Jupiter style, on the other hand, increases gravity and slows Kat down, but ups her strength considerably and is great for taking out groups of enemies in one fell swoop with her surge kick, which sends a powerful shockwave hurtling down at enemies. Each style adds new strategic elements to fights, which are appreciated, but with them bring a host of new camera issues.
It’s a shame taking on the various enemies and bosses, that are so interesting from an artistic perspective, to only be let down by the fact that a good majority of them are not only frustrating, they are sheer vertigo inducing. Don’t get me started on the final boss in Act 3, which is a culmination of everything that is right and wrong with Gravity Rush 2: Excellent visual design and impressive sense of scope mixed with controller-throwing inducing air combat and an oppressive camera. At its best, combat feels serviceable; at its worst, it’s a painful chore.
3.75 out of 5
I really love Gravity Rush 2. It has one of the most endearing protagonists and its world, story, sense of humor and style are second to none. At the same time we have to be critical of the things we love, and as much as I would love to give this game perfect marks, its blemishes – notably in its uninspired and frustrating combat – are all too significant to go unmentioned. Even with its shortcomings, it’s telling that after 25 plus hours in this magical world, I can’t wait to go back for more. More side quests, treasure hunts and adventures with Kat and her friends. It’s a special achievement when a world, regardless of medium, can absorb you as much as Gravity Rush 2’s did for me. Anyone who complains there aren’t enough unique experiences left in videogames, need to do themselves a favor and give this destined cult classic sequel to a cult classic a shot. Let’s just forget I ever mentioned combat.