Gravity Rush 2 Review: Flawed, Creative, Brilliant

Sequel to Vita darling Gravity Rush, or Gravity Daze in Japan, Gravity Rush 2 seeks to take the gravity manipulating super-hero esque gameplay and take it up a notch with the power of the Playstation 4 hardware. In large part, this game delivers on this console experience, it’s a bigger, prettier, and more ambitious game, one that fans of the original will be pleased with, and one which Playstation 4 owners shouldn’t pass up.

It’s important to note that Gravity Rush 2 leaps right back in, where the original left off, so we’re offering fair warning that this review and the game itself may offer spoilers for the original game. The original is essential viewing if you wish to understand the events of Gravity Rush 2, especially in the closing half of the game, so if you haven’t caught up yet I would recommend doing that now – it’s fun and Gravity Rush 2 is worth it.

In similar fashion to the original instalment, our gravity shifting protagonist, Kat, finds herself stranded in yet another unknown, and mysterious world in Gravity Rush 2. The game starts at quite a slow pace as Kat is required to work for a travelling mining company that rescued her, yet gradually opens up in due time, giving you the freedom to explore an entirely new environment, the cities of Jirga Para Lhao.

Unlike the original’s relatively monotone artstyle where each city was designated with a particular colour tone and architecture, Jirga Para Lhao’s districts are incredibly vibrant and packed with a wide array of colour. These colourful environments feel less surreal and more believable than the environments of the original Gravity Rush, bustling with npcs going about their daily lives.

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As you begin working for the travelling mining company, the game takes off to a relatively slow start. Restricted environmental freedom and an almost heavy-handed narrative are prominent during these early segments of the game, yet the dialogue is worthwhile. Kat and company are all entertaining, weaving a diverse array of both shorter and longer story arcs through both primary and secondary quests.

Falling that feels like flying

The main objective of the games’ opening hours appears to be ensuring that you’re familiar with the games’ controls and in particular, shifting gravity. Starting our relatively simplistic, the game tasks you to complete a variety of missions that only require you to move from place to place, speaking to npcs and occasionally engaging in light combat. Controlling Gravity is a satisfying feeling, and commanding Gravity to cause you to fall in different directions can quite quickly feel like flying. It’s an empowering yet satisfying traversal mechanic that provides you with full environmental freedom, yet still requiring you to think about how you’re going to use your powers to reach your destination.

Throwing Kat up, by orientating Gravity into the sky, then dropping it back down to its normal state is a satisfying feeling that causes Kat to come crashing down to the ground. Redirecting Gravity in this way is an enjoyable mechanic, and one that doesn’t just stop at falling through the air. Kat can also walk, or slide on the side, or underside of structures, allowing for unconventional traversal and exploration. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the environment from all manner of perspectives that I wouldn’t even consider in a traditional open world game.

This unique navigation system is the games’ crucial highlight, and single-handedly makes Gravity Rush feel like nothing else you’ve ever played. Those that take the time will find a wonderfully unique experience in Gravity Rush 2’s core gameplay systems, and coupled with the games delightful art direction, I found using Kat’s powers to navigate and explore, to be an absolute joy.

Of course, the bulk of the game is narrative driven, featuring an abundance of primary and secondary missions. The core narrative can be a little unfocused at times, as the games’ three primary story arcs feel as though they exist only to provide spectacular conclusive boss fights for you to engage with, and the game really only begins to answer the questions of its predecessor, and Kat’s back story during its final act. Despite this each major arc is entertaining thanks to wacky and humorous dialogue between Kat and other npcs and provided you can stomach the cheerful anime-tone, should manage to engage you throughout.

This time around Gravity Rush 2 presents a vast array of supporting characters, each of which feeling much more involved with the plot than the first game, and Kat’s caring nature often sees her fighting to help these people, as well as the people of each region. It’s interesting to explore each characters story and discover how they often intertwine with the fate of each region featured in the game, though it’s a shame that many of these missions only offer a narrative reward.

To explain, the game is packed with around 50 side missions, all featuring unique dialogue, yet it doesn’t feel that Kat benefits significantly from completing these. Being the kindhearted soul that she is, the narrative often see’s her being manipulated by npcs to complete various, trivial errands that they appear too lazy to pursue themselves, and aside the amusing and sometimes interesting, character developing dialogue, it can be difficult to be engaged by this structure.

It’s odd that these missions didn’t offer additional rewards, or feed into Kat’s upgrade system. Gravity gems used for Kat’s upgrades are instead scattered all around the world, and collecting these gradually allows you to unlock additional abilities. The upgrade system isn’t essential, but instead offers minor to moderate enhancements of Kat’s existing abilities. Still, I found it entertaining to explore the games’ cities from all angles in search of these precious gems, and certain challenge missions also feed into this upgrade system.

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The Gravity Rush 2’s menus, where these upgrades are activated, match the charm of the games’ overall aesthetic. Characterised by vibrant stylisation, the games’ menu’s fit the overall tone perfectly and it made me smile to observe the lengths the developers have gone to to infuse the game with it’s cheerful sense of character. The map for instance is set to a decorated backdrop of what looks like the night’s sky, alongside a silhouetted version of Kat dancing behind. It’s neat and reminiscent of the commitment to stylisation often seen in games like Persona, yet at the same time, doesn’t get in the way of the functionality of these menus.

The upgrades that these menu’s facilitate, largely feed into Kat’s combat abilities, allowing her to deal more damage, string larger combos, or giving her attacks special properties. While many of these are useful, allowing you to dispatch your enemies faster, or using different techniques, these don’t feel essential and if you wished to, you could beat the entire game with the default Gravity Kick and Stasis. Despite this, combat does manage to feel satisfying and enjoyable, regardless of the playstyle you chose to take and expanding Kat’s abilities is an enticing motivation to continue collecting gems.

In terms of combat itself, the majority of enemies enemies attack stricktly from either the ground or sky, sticking with one or the other and therefore allowing you to adapt the use of your skill set according to the specific enemies you face. Flying enemies for instance are often best killed with Stasis – where Kat draws nearby into her gravitational field and hurls them at her enemies – whereas larger, more stationary and especially grounded foes can be pummelled with Kat’s aerial Gravity Kicks. These deal massive damage but are at risk of missing on faster, and particularly flying foes.

Combat is about creativity instead of challenge

Of course, there’s more to it than just gravity kick and Stasis, Kat also features a wide array of melee abilities and a total of three ‘styles’, in the form of Lunar, neutral and Jupiter. The neutral style features normal gravity and Kat’s default abilities, while Lunar allows Kat to float around with reduced gravity, making large jumps and homing in on her foes with ease. Jupiter is essentially the opposite, increasing Kat’s weigh and enabling her attacks to pack a real punch. I found switching between these styles added considerable depth to the games’ combat, yet at times it was difficult to use the Jupiter mode due to the slow nature of the attacks.

Combat difficulty is an issue that presents itself too, in many cases it’s a question of how quickly you can kill your foes rather than whether you can kill them. Many enemies do not pose a meaningful threat, for instance most grounded enemies aren’t liable to hit you provided you remain in the air, and most aerial enemies aren’t liable to hit you provided you throw objects at them from the ground. Despite this, combat still feels satisfying because of the creative freedom your given to approaching each scenario. Being able to use the environment and a diverse array of both grounded and aerial abilities allows you to feel smart for defeating your foes by playing their disadvantages against them, even if it wasn’t especially challenging to do so, and as a result it still feels rewarding to come out on top. Not to mention smashing into a foe with a Gravity Kick is an inherently satisfying feeling, Kat’s attacks have a real impact to them and continually feel rewarding to utilise successfully.

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The exception to this general lack of difficulty comes in the form of the the games’ numerous boss fights. These, typically larger foes feature diverse and threatening attack patterns that will cause you to think a little harder about your approach in order to triumph. Often shifting between their attacking styles, these bosses force Kat to engage in different ways, using all of her abilities at different times. Perhaps most significantly, these fights are truly spectacular, many of which take place on tremendous scale and give you a real sense of awe as you slowly work away at the weak points on these behemoths. These fights aren’t without their issues though, at times I noticed bosses failed to provide feedback when hit, it’s annoying to see them escape damage without a clear expression¬†explaining why that happened.

A significant, and unfortunate gripe however comes from the games’ camera controls. A number of enemies and environments make it difficult to see what exactly is happening on screen, especially when Kat is forced to fight her enemies within close quarters. It’s somewhat understandable that the camera doesn’t work well in these environments, especially when Kat is being thrown around by enemy attacks. It makes you wonder why these attacks were included at all, if they obstruct the camera so severely? One of Kat’s default special abilities causes the camera to go astray on a relatively consistent basis, fortunately this is only available every few minutes and automatically aims at nearby enemies, yet it stands out as a significant blemish on an experience that’s otherwise, very satisfying to play.

Despite some issues, Gravity Rush’s 2 unique and creative attitude, coupled with a set of very enjoyable gameplay systems manages to carry the experience and entertain throughout. ¬†Merely a glance at the game reveals an universe that’s uniquely creative, and desperate for exploration. Whether it’s delving into Gravity Rush’s gameplay systems and quirky narrative or exploring the games regions from all manner of perspective, Gravity Rush 2 offers something we haven’t seen before. It’s not explicitly iterative, it’s not based on the foundations of another game – there are no towers akin to the structure of a Ubisoft-esque open world, the gameplay never feels as if you’re playing a stricktly third person shooter, or character action game. It’s not Crackdown, it’s not Bayonetta, and it’s not an open world Uncharted 4, and this is Gravity Rush 2’s greatest strength, in a time where we are swarmed with slow iterative development of existing ideas, Gravity Rush 2’s uniqueness allows you to forgive a few of its minor flaws and makes for a unique, must play experience.¬†

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Author: Jozef Kulik

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