I did not play the original Gravity Rush, rather I played Gravity Rush Remastered, by all accounts a far superior version of the game released for the PS4. It was a game with myriad problems. Some of them were due to the technical limitations of its original release platform. Other were just strange choices that caused issues in the core design of the game. But despite all of this, I found enough charm in its unique characters and world, and enough novelty in its systems that I finished it, and even looked forward to the next entry. Gravity Rush 2, I thought, would benefit from being native to the PS4’s superior hardware and from the experience gained from mistakes in the first entry to knock it out of the park! But I set my hopes a bit too high. While a definite improvement, old habits die hard and Gravity Rush 2 falls on same echelon of “enjoyable despite faults” that its predecessor did.
Gravity Rush 2 does greatly benefit from being a PlayStation 4 game from it inception. It runs better than its predecessor, with a steady frame rate that did not suffer any of the slow downs and frame drops that first game had. The draw distance is much better. The game is far more colorful, and it controls a lot better with the PS4 controller. Maybe its because I finished Gravity Rush Remastered months before the release of the sequel, but I found the controls of the game easy to naturally jump into. I bring up the fact that I played the original months before, because the crux of Gravity Rush that Kat, the main character, has the power to change how gravity affects her. This causes her what do something most people would call flying, but in reality what she is really doing is choosing the direction on which she falls, and when I started playing the original, this concept took a bit getting used to.
Kat has more control when falling to alter her course, making it possible to zoom by buildings and them small holes and tunnels created by the geography of the game’s floating islands. And when you do this it feels great. It fulfills a promise that makes you feel you really have these powers. But all this applies only if you are wise enough to turn off the motion controls. The motion controls in Gravity Rush 2 control the camera, and also influence the way that that Kat falls. The problem with this is that this can alter the course just based on how the player holds the controller. If its facing slightly down, the camera and Kat will do the same. It has quite a negative effect in a game that requires fast, precise maneuvering. These features are not well explained by the many tutorials the game forces upon its players, and so there is the potential for considerable confusion as a player holds the left and right stick in one direction, but Kat and the camera move in a different. I cannot help but wonder how many people did not realize this and gave up on this game. It is a shame, because if the motion controls are turned off, the game feels fantastic.
Combat has also seen improvements. While the basic combat is shallow, the introduction of two new gravity styles does a lot to give the player more tools to tackle enemies. The first of this is Lunar Style, which makes Kat far lighter to the point of near floating. This style means she does a lot less damage, but is far more mobile. This allows her to hit very fast enemies that she would otherwise have a hard time even reaching, and her stasis field (a gravity field that allows her to lift and throw just about anything, in a way that is very reminiscent of Magneto) also deals continuous damage as wells as slowing enemies down. By contrast, Jupiter Style makes Kat incredibly heavy and slow. But this also means her attacks are a far more powerful. She has a devastating charge kick that can easily clear enemies out, as well as a stasis power that makes what is best described as a massive bomb. Each style also adds a new special move, which can be used when a special gauge is filled, adding some utility to Kat’s move set. With these new moves there are also new elements. The Navi, the monsters that opposed Kat the first game, are back with a larger variety of enemies. But there are also brand new types of enemies including humans, which is interesting, as Kat can easily pick them up and just throw them over the edge. They bring with them heavy robots and artillery, rounding up the last of the enemy types.
There is great variety to be found in missions. There was a clearly an effort, especially on the side missions, to explore beyond simply the idea of float here and kill enemies. There are a lot of missions where Kat helps ordinary people that are down right charming. They include things like playing catch with a dog, distributing fliers, helping an old woman find her son, help a man come to terms with the man his daughter loves, stealing supplies for an insurgent group, impersonating a pop star, defending the poor from monster attacks, etc… Sadly some side quests are better than others, there are some that use the gravity mechanics as well as some new camera features in some really creative and fun ways. But others fall into traps that I thought developers had learned to avoid some time ago when it comes to open world games. There is a surprising number of missions that love to restrict the use of Kat’s gravity powers, or lock you into a specific style. Even that relic from the 6th generation makes a comeback; the open world unnecessary sneaking mission. Many of these missions are main missions and thus not able to be ignored. Even worse are the tutorials for the gravity styles. They are during climatic main missions, lock you into only using the style that you are learning, and they take forever. Later in the game there are trials that do this too, but the sections where they lock you out of Kat’s powers are mercifully short.
Gravity Rush 2 has a handful of new social mechanics that have been clearly designed to take advantage of the PS4’s social features. The first of this is the ability to take pictures with a camera, having Kat pose and adding props and filters. It works pretty well, and I appreciate that the camera is tied to Kat’s movement. This means that if Kat is upside down, sideways, etc… the camera will be too, which allows for creativity during the photo shoots. Adding to this is the new gesture system, similar to Dark Soul’s but more accessible, that allows Kat to pose in pictures and even has the citizens of the various towns the game takes place in react to her. Once you’ve taken a picture, you can upload it to the game’s servers. This will cause a blue ghost appear where the picture was take, which allow other players to rate the picture. The camera is also used for treasure hunts. You will periodically get notifications that treasure hunts are available, with a picture that serves as a hint as to where the treasure is located. If you find the treasure successfully, you can then take a picture to leave as a hint to other players. Finally, the challenge missions allow you to upload your score to challenge other players. For all of these activities, you are rewarded with Dusty Tokens, which are used to get additional gestures, props, and other rewards. They are a fun way to get people to interact with other players, while having the added benefit of being completely skip able.
Like its gameplay and missions, the quality of Gravity Rush’s story telling is inconsistent. The plot itself is fun and intriguing enough, though it goes at a breakneck speed. This isn’t a bad thing per se, and it is nice to see a game that doesn’t waste time in frivolities. But it feels like they tried to squeeze the plots of about four games and place it in one. At one point about two thirds through the game, the credits start playing. And I was ok with the game ending there. But after the credits there a whole chapter left to play. It feels as though the development team realized they were not going to get another game, and so they set out close things as tiddly as possible (while leaving it open for sequels, of course). As a result, it does feel rushed. When the game begins, Kat has lost her powers, and is a indentured servant to a mining cabal as she tries to figure out a way to return to Hecksville (why she’d want to return to a town where she was disrespected despite saving it several times and she was living in a sewer pipe, I can’t say). A few short story missions later, you will be conspiring to release political prisoners.
There game also has a tonal issue. Gravity Rush has been correctly compared to a Studio Ghibli movie. It is colorful, fantastical, and has a relentlessly upbeat tone. But the context does not often reflect this tone. A large part of the first third of the game is spent in a city where the rich live in floating villas in the highest part of the sky while the poor live in a shanty town so far below these villas they are literally shrouded in perpetual darkness. And there are other dark themes. Court manipulation, political betrayal, human experimentation, and even issues regarding refugees that make me wonder whether Japan Studio was inspired by current events when making their fun game about manipulating gravity and kicking monsters. Its not that its necessarily bad, as much as it is perplexing. Credit also has to be given to the game for keeping a certain innocence to the whole thing. There is a certain mission where Kat is looking for a place to sleep after getting evicted from her sewer pipe (what?) that could have gone to some really dark places but was kept just short of going there by a twist caused essentially by the protagonist’s positive and helpful personality.
As flawed as Gravity Rush 2, I still greatly enjoyed it. The characters are likable and endearing. Kat in particular is so relentlessly upbeat and honorable even in face of the most dismal situations and dire circumstances I can’t help but like her. The world itself does a lot to hold my interest. In The Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett describes the Disc World as being the result of a creator who had far more creativity than mechanical acumen. I could not help but to think about it as I played Gravity Rush 2; its world essentially makes no sense. How do people that can’t change gravity get around all these vertically floating islands in their daily lives? What do they eat? There aren’t any kind of islands with farms, or an ocean. But the world itself is unique enough and fun enough to explore that these problems felt like mere nitpicks I was glad to set aside.
In a way that is the whole experience with Gravity Rush 2. The game is flawed, but its gameplay is varied and unique enough; its missions are fun and varied enough; its characters are endearing enough; and its world interesting and novel enough that the flawed whole makes a package that is greater than the sum of its part. But despite having enjoyed it immensely, a flawed game is still a flawed game. I counsel anyone who has low tolerance for any of the issues I described above to skip it, as they are not insignificant. However, if you can see past these issues and you are looking for something unique and charming, then I recommend Gravity Rush 2 with the same enthusiasm with which Kat undertakes her missions.