In the week leading up to the Vita’s release, I was absolutely dismayed to find out that the most original and interesting looking title of the touted launch line-up, Gravity Rush, wouldn’t make it to Western or Australian shores with the arrival of the console. The game looked pretty awesome too, with a cool anime vibe and an interesting use of gravity manipulation; it was the game I had been most looking forward to spending some time with. The need for localisation ruined all that, and it meant I’d have to wait until recently to get my hands on SCE’s clever looking open-world game.
Was it worth the wait?
The Kat who gets the cream…
Gravity Rush revolves around a young amnesiac who falls from the heavens into the city of Hekseville. She knows nothing of the city, who she is or how she came to be. Then she crosses paths with a black cat that she dubs ‘Dusty’, who bestows upon her the power to manipulate her own flow of gravity.
She quickly finds out that not all is well in Hekseville. A strange type of creature called Nevi are threatening to invade and are stealing parts of the city, while a criminal mastermind named Alias is at large and terrorising citizens. It also soon becomes apparent that she’s not the only one with Gravity Shifting powers, as she soon runs into an angry rival called Raven. To top it off, people are scared of her and her power.
Being a kind soul, she sets about helping the city in spite of this, and starts to win a few friends, including Syd; a hapless policeman who gives her the name of ‘Kat’, simply because her magical cat follows her everywhere. With no memory of her previous life, Kat continues using her powers for good, in the hope that she can solve all the problems afflicting her new home.
The game in this respect is bubbling with charm. Kat is absolutely adorable, and is probably one of the most loveable protagonists I’ve seen in quite some time. Her compulsion to help those in a world she knows nothing about is consistently endearing throughout, but she’s just one great character in a game of great and complex characters.
Syd, Raven, Gade, and all the others you meet are equally well-realised in their characterisation, and this is impressive considering that, in truth, they don’t really feature all too often over the game’s 21 missions. The fact that they leave a bigger impact than they should, will tell you about the production quality here.
Isaac Newton would be spinning in his grave…
In structure, Gravity Rush is very much an open-world superhero game, and a lot of comparisons could be drawn to the likes of Infamous or Spider-Man 2. Of course, a big draw of these types of game is in how the main character’s powers make for navigation around an impressive city, and in this regard, the game is a lot of fun with solid controls and mechanics.
In Kat’s case, she can switch the flow of gravity to enable her to travel great distances quickly, or walk on any surface. With a tap of the right shoulder button, Kat will hover in the air, and you can use the right analogue stick to take aim at a surface (using the Vita’s gyroscope to fine-tune), and tap again to make that surface your new floor, and Kat will fall towards it. Should you want to change direction mid-fall, you can tap the right shoulder button again to make her stop, allowing you to aim somewhere else and then fall in that direction. With this, she never flies across the city in a traditional superhero sense; rather she’s actually always falling.
As you progress you’ll learn new powers, such as the Stasis Field, which allows you to pick up objects (or people!) and fling them into enemies. Then there’s the Gravity Slide; a quick way to travel across surfaces by placing both thumbs on the screen and steering using the gyroscope. Although sensitive, it works really well once you get the hang of it.
All of Kat’s abilities come at a cost, however. When using her gravity skills, a blue circle in the corner depletes, and you’ll either need to land and let it recharge before taking flight again, or collect one of the blue gems floating around the area to replenish the meter. Initially, Kat’s threshold for the use of her powers is incredibly low and limiting, but as you upgrade her abilities over time, you’ll soon be able to fly across the entire city in a single move.
To upgrade Kat’s abilities, you’ll need to collect the purple gems littered and hidden all over the city. Let me state now that they are every bit as addictive to collect as Crackdown’s orbs, and absolutely necessary if you want the best advantage against what you’re going to face throughout. Once you’ve collected a decent number, you can spend them on upgrading Kat’s general gravity powers, combat skills and special abilities, and it really does make a world of difference to how the game plays.
Combat is extremely basic, but on the whole it’s enjoyable; although, you’ll probably find it starting to outstay its welcome come the end. The Nevi are pretty much of the same ilk as the creatures found in Alice: Madness Returns; black tar creatures with visible weak points that you must shatter to down them.
On the ground, you only have to tap the square button to see Kat wail endlessly on an enemy, but after the first couple of missions you’ll not often have to resort to this again, as most of the combat takes place in the air. With this, when Kat is floating, you can aim at an enemy’s weak point and perform a flying kick with a tap of the square button. In both types of combat, you can dodge with a quick swipe of the touchscreen.
There are a few other attacks available, but you’ll have to find them in specific missions, when Kat is tasked with bringing back three parts of the city from another dimension. One is a spiralling attack that automatically seeks out an enemy’s weak spots, the other unleashes a barrage of rock, and the third summons a black hole to pull the Nevi into. These are one-off attacks with a hefty cool down period, so you’ve got to hit the button at the right time.
The problem here is that the formula rarely changes in spite of the Nevi’s weak spots getting stronger and greater in number. No matter the type of Nevi you’re up against (and to the game’s credit, there are many), you’ll find that the best tactic is to float and simply take aim at those weak spots.
Unfortunately, the only way the game knows how to make this more challenging is to cheaply make sure that Kat’s attack animation is constantly interrupted, by increasing the amount of projectile attacks thrown at her. I don’t need to tell you that this gets frustrating. The boss fights are absolutely the best part of the combat experience, but again it’s mostly the same pattern on a larger scale, unless you’re against fellow superhuman opposition.
The game’s biggest problem, however, is that the mission structure, well… plain sucks. Nearly every mission involves arbitrarily heading from point-to-point with no reward, occasionally fighting Nevi at points interspersed; it’s just not that interesting. It wasn’t until the halfway point that it offered some deviation from this, and as fun as the gravity powers are, it gets pretty tedious following the same patterns over and over.
In between missions, you’re able to explore, talk to people (again never leading anywhere interesting except getting some optional dialogue), and fix parts of the city by sacrificing some of your purple crystals. By fixing these aspects of the city, you will increase Kat’s reputation. Each time her reputation increases, it opens up further levels of her powers to upgrade to.
It also unlocks an accompanying challenge mission, which could be one of several takes on a point-to-point race, seeing how many enemies you can beat before time runs out, or rescue missions. These are pretty fun in short blasts and they’re a great way to earn lots of purple gems quickly.
The cat’s whiskers…
The screenshots I took for this review don’t do this game justice. Gravity Rush has a gorgeous anime art style that really comes to life on the Vita’s OLED screen. The city feels alive with detail, looking beautiful but also grimy and dirty, thanks to an irregular colour palette of sickly greens, yellows and purples. It goes some way in painting a picture of a decaying city where all is not quite right. The draw distance is cleverly handled too, with far away architecture drawn in like rough sketches, matching the game’s artistic and comic book styling wonderfully.
The comic book sections of storytelling themselves are brilliantly drawn, again looking vibrant on this little screen, and are even more impressive with their moving parts. It also shows off the brilliance of character design in a game where everyone moves so fast it’s easy to miss.
There’s a lot more visually in terms of clever attention to detail that I can’t really go into here, because it would spoil some aspects entirely. Rest assured, this is a game that exudes a thoughtful and meaningful design throughout.
While there isn’t much in the way of voice acting, most will probably be surprised that there is no English dub here, only Japanese with English subtitles. If you’re one of those that hates subtitles, then you’re probably not going to get over that fact, but if you’re like me, it’s only going to add a further charm and seem all the more stylish as a result. It also means you’re kept away from the typical translation issues that occur when the West get very Japan-centric titles, and the tone is always nailed perfectly as it is.
The musical scores are fantastic also, with a lovely range of styles capturing the mood perfectly every time. Each district of Hekseville carries its own theme, with early portions in Auldnoir of the game corresponding to Kat’s sense of wonder at discovering this new world; while in comparison, in the following area, Pleajeune’s entertainment district gives off a jazzy, seedier vibe that suits the inhabitants. The backing track for Vendecentre matches its sense of grandeur; it’s really well produced.
Rush to the shops?
There really is a lot to love about Gravity Rush, with decent controls, endearing characters, beautiful art direction and lovely audio. Kat’s skillset in particular makes traversing the city of Hekseville a breathtaking experience. However, the mission structure and the fact that the combat fails to excite or evolve sadly puts a dampener on what is an otherwise beautifully crafted game. The charm offensive isn’t really enough to distract the player from that, unfortunately.
While its issues by no means derail the experience entirely, it means it falls agonisingly short of being the must-buy title I’d hoped to rave about in this review. A lovely game, for sure, one that I’m sure most who take the plunge will enjoy overall; but I’d be lying if I called it an essential purchase.