Time and space, themselves, could not conspire to keep the first truly great Vita game out of the hands of consumers. After several painful delays and the ever-infectious corruption of the hype machine, Gravity Rush is here, and it’s every bit as great as the handheld gaming sentinels could have hoped… mostly.
Gravity Rush revolves around the story of Kat, a girl that fell from the sky and (because this is a video game) has no memories before waking up in the floating city of Hekesville. What she has instead is a mysterious, black cat that she names Dusty and allows her to shift the fundamental force of gravity howsoever she chooses.
Now, if you can get beyond the immediately dangerous levels of cliché, you’ll begin to realize that the story, world, and characters that bind the Gravity Rush experience are unexpectedly unique and well devised.
Central to that distinctiveness is Kat herself. A strong, interesting and laconic character that manages to take her strange environment and abilities in stride, not only in spite of, but perhaps due to her ever-increasing responsibilities that connect her to the game’s cast. Even as she becomes more experienced and gains in self-confidence, she continues to feel like a very real girl with realistic problems to match her fantastical ones. Even when the scale of the story begins to tilt in favor of the surreal (and even the tragic), Kat and her supporters maintain the veneer of a ‘such is life’ attitude that makes them relatable, likable and charming.
In world where most games can barely create a believable male character, much less a female one, it’s incredibly encouraging to see such a subtle and understated character arc.
This feeling of a sort magic realism carries on throughout the game and is undeniably aided by the game’s fantastic art direction. While I’ve certainly seen both technically and aesthetically more impressive visuals, I’ve never seen anything quite like Gravity Rush’s style in a video game. If anything, I would compare the direction to the style of French animator and director Sylvain Chomet, creator of The Triplets of Belleville and The Illusionist. If you can picture a mix of baroque and art nouveau architecture with a jazzy, swing music appeal to glue them both a musky unity, you’d find yourself on the right track.
Unfortunately, the gameplay does have a tendency to jump the rails every now and again.
The majority of the game plays out as a linear sequence of missions scattered throughout an open world. When you find yourself exploring that world you can use your gravity-based powers — such as running on walls, flying and sliding at incredible speeds – to collect gems either scattered throughout the city or as rewards for completing various challenges. The whole affair is fun, addictive, and (while certainly derivative of games like Infamous and Crackdown) is executed in a way we really haven’t seen before.
All of this is helped with some quietly brilliant use of the Vita as a medium. With subtle but important usage of the Vita’s touchscreen for quick menu and map navigation as well as accelerometer support to keep yourself and the camera oriented amidst an ever-changing perspective, it’s tough to see the game working on anything but a handheld. With so many portable games feeling like they could have (or should have) been developed for consoles, Gravity Rush serves as a reminder of the strengths of the handheld space.
However, combat is mostly blasé with the standout ability definitely being the ‘gravity kick’ which allows you to lock-on and crash into enemies like a rogue meteor – over and over and over again. Fights get very repetitive as enemies don’t really feature much visual or tactical diversity and Kat’s abilities never feel as though they’re really affected that much by consistent upgrades.
What’s even worse is when Gravity Rush actually does decide to introduce some form of variety it does so by removing your abilities completely! Suddenly, those slick and interesting powers I just talked about are stripped away and you’re left with a mediocre platformer/brawler. Granted, these moments are rare and only last for a few minutes each, but they’ll tend to feel much longer as you impatiently wait for the fun to roll back around. None of which is helped by the game’s occasional, yet over-long load times which can really put a dent in any plans for short and sweet gaming on the go.
Another key issue that I have with the game is the ending. While it certainly wraps up what might be considered the ‘main plot’ involving an evil politician’s attempts at — I kid you not -gerrymandering, many and more of the various questions and sub-plots are left contained, but unaddressed. No doubt these will be considered in either a sequel or some bit of upcoming DLC but some of the issues are so huge, so central to the main character that I was left wondering if the developer had simply run out of time or resources to complete the plot.
Issues aside, Gravity Rush is absolutely the best game for the Playstation Vita yet. A surrealist, Superman story told from the female perspective with a world and characters more compelling than those in most console games, as well as unique gameplay make Gravity Rush an experience any Vita owner should investigate.
This review is based on a copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.