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Gravity Rush Review
Let’s have an honest and frank discussion about the Playstation Vita for a second. In the wake of 2012’s E3, Sony’s handheld seems to have hit an all-time low. Almost nothing was shown off for the handheld at the electronics giant’s press conference, and with an anemic lineup on the floor featuring little other than ports of existing PS3 games, the Vita’s future seems nebulous at best. The system had an incredibly strong launch lineup, but with the lousy Resistance: Burning Skies being one of the few recent original games, many people are probably grasping at straws for something great to play on the Vita. It’s the perfect time for a triple-A title to come and sweep the gaming public off of their feet, moving thousands of Vita systems in the process.
Cue the release of Gravity Rush. Slipping out shortly after E3’s curtain closed, this gem of a game will certainly sweep many Vita owners off of their feet, both literally and figuratively. Only time will tell if the game is capable of actually moving units of the Vita, but those who have already made the investment should absolutely try their hand at shifting gravity.
For the uninitiated, Gravity Rush is an open-world action/adventure title starring the amnesiac Kat, so named because of the magical feline that follows her around the environment. As you will quickly find, the mysterious cat is a sort of spirit animal that grants Kat the ability to mold and shift gravity to her liking. You, and the several others who posses similar animal companions, are essentially superheroes in the mystical world of Hekseville. Like a hero in a proper origin story, Kat will take time to become accustomed to her new powers and the repercussions of those powers on the world around her. You will begin, of course, by saving a stranded civilian from what is called a “Gravity Storm.” Like a black hole, the Gravity Storm will open up in the sky and begin to suck everything in the environment into it. Entire buildings are uprooted as Kat stumbles her way between bits of floating wreckage to rescue the poor sap.
This thrilling scenario serves as a tutorial to teach players the basics of manipulating gravity. It’s definitely a mind-bending idea, being able to make right up and up down at the click of a button, but Gravity Rush handles it in a way that is both intelligent and intuitive. For the first ten minutes you’ll be stumbling about the walls and flailing through the skies, but soon after you will be changing gravity to essentially fly around the small open world. It’s ingenious in that your progression with the game’s controls mirrors Kat’s own progression with learning the extent of her power.
The crux of the controls revolves around the R button on the Vita’s shoulder. By hitting the button once, you can render all gravity null. Kat will lazily float off into the sky and a reticule will appear in the center of the screen. By aiming the reticule at different objects in the environment, you can effectively guide where Kat will fly next. Hitting the R button one more time will switch gravity in whichever direction you are currently aiming, sending Kat hurtling off towards the reticule at a breakneck pace. You can only manipulate gravity for a limited time, dictated by an onscreen meter that will constantly drain as long as you float, fly, or run along the wall. Of course, there are collectibles that will restore your meter, so skillful collection of these items will allow you to stay airborne for a longer period of time. Skilled players can turn the entire city upside down and literally walk on the bottom of the world, which sits floating high up in the clouds. By flipping around and finding hard-to-reach areas, you can find gems, which will serve as a sort of currency when upgrading Kat and her abilities. Collecting these gems has the same sort of addictive quality as nabbing Agility Orbs in the Crackdown games, and it rewards skillful and adventurous players for taking more risks with their gravity shifting.
It’s a liberating feeling, being able to free yourself from the shackles of gravity and go hurtling carelessly off into the sky. And luckily, it’s one that never manages to feel stale. Gravity Rush is a decently lengthy game, running between ten and fifteen hours depending on how much exploration and how many side quests the player does. For the duration of the game, I felt nothing but unbridled joy each time I sent the world flipping around. Flying is great on its own, but when you begin to manipulate other objects such as benches or people things really take off. You can chuck people or toss objects around, or even just keep them rotating around you with your own little gravitational pull for a while.
Gravity manipulation is an absolute joy, but unfortunately it’s not the only central mechanic in Gravity Rush. Melee combat also features heavily in the game, and it’s decidedly the weaker of the game’s two pillars. Kat’s kicks and swings have poor range, and there’s no effective lock-on to ensure that your attacks hit the tiny weak points on the enemy’s bodies. It gets worse when flying and shielded enemies are introduced. It can be quite annoying to take multiple swings at the enemy’s glowing weak spot, but never actually land a solid hit. Combat would be a lot more fun if Kat had more sweeping attacks in the vein of Kratos’ Blades of Chaos in the God of War series, or at the least if she was able to lock on to specific points of the enemy’s body. Dodging feels similarly unintuitive, as there is no button mapped to the function. Instead, you will have to swipe the screen and push on the analog stick in order to dodge roll. For as intuitive and fun as the gravity controls are, the combat is almost equally inept and boring.
Numerous side quests dot the game’s landscape, and they split between navigation-based stuff like races and collect-a-thons and combat arenas pretty nicely. If you ever tire of whittling away the story’s numerous missions, you can certainly find something to pique your interest in the side quests. That said, neither the story missions nor the side missions ever advance to the point where they are truly challenging. They always revolve around pretty basic collection, sneaking, or combat objectives for the most part, with a few interesting exceptions showing more potential than the game ever really executes on. That said, the story has a lot of great and mysterious hooks planted in it to guarantee that you will want to keep playing. Kat is a great and relatable character, and her plight makes for a highly intriguing origin story.
Even the most boring of missions is at least framed by some absolutely gorgeous graphics. Both in-game and in the portrait-based cutscenes, the characters have a great, comic book vibe to their appearances. The cel-shaded graphics have a great flow to them, with fabric and hair flowing freely and naturally as gravity flip-flops around everywhere. In the end, the visual presentation is all about the little touches. Even in the motion-comic-styled cutscenes, you can move the Vita around in real time to shift the camera within the cutscenes to reveal new angles on the action. It’s careful touches like this that make the game such a fantastic visual package.
The real joy of Gravity Rush comes in navigating its world. The combat lacks teeth and the mission variety is, at times, a little lacking. That said, the gravity powers are absolutely brilliantly executed upon, the story is intriguing and moves forward at a great pace, and Kat is an interesting and relatable character. Even when the missions drag on, the open world provides plenty of opportunities to goof off and mess with the world using your gravity powers. And in the end, it’s in this player-driven open world that the game’s powers and mechanics are at their most satisfying.