PlayStation Vita | Gravity Rush Review
Day in and day out, gravity keeps our feet firmly planted on the ground. Ceilings call down from above to be walked upon; sides of skyscrapers scream to be scaled; but gravity never sets us free to indulge these yearnings. Gravity Rush on the Vita strips you of your gravitational binds, unleashing you in an enticing open world to toy with gravity as much as your heart desires, falling up to the top of any building or safely speeding through the air. This freedom is as fantastic as you could hope for. Unfortunately, this joy is weighted down by an emphasis on mundane combat, preventing Gravity Rush from being the unfettered adventure it had the potential to be.
You play as a young woman named Kat, who wakes up in a city in the sky with no recollection of her past. She has a companion she names Dusty, a creature who takes the shape of a cat but who is clearly no ordinary feline. With Dusty by her side, Kat finds that she can manipulate gravity, falling any which way she pleases, and she uses this power to aid the citizens of Hekseville, though her reward is often being treated like an outcast for her strange abilities. Gravity Rush raises a number of compelling questions about Kat and about the nature of Hekseville over the course of the game. But the game peters out before answering most of the questions it raises, saving up its mysteries for potential sequels and making the conclusion to this adventure deeply unsatisfying.
That’s especially frustrating because of how promising it all seems in the beginning. When you first take control of Kat, her ability to manipulate gravity is a slightly disorienting delight. It’s exhilarating to fall up through the air, or run up the side of a building. Traversing Hekseville with your abilities is easy; you simply move the camera around and tap a button to make Kat’s personal gravity field pull her in that direction. It quickly begins to feel natural, and soon, you’re nimbly soaring around the city, adjusting your angle on the fly to smoothly fall toward your destination. You can collect gems scattered throughout Hekseville to increase Kat’s health, her attacks, and other abilities, and because manipulating gravity is so enjoyable, it’s a pleasure to soar out of your way to snag these goodies.
It helps, too, that the varied sections of Hekseville are so beautiful. Bustling with people and buzzing with activity in the forms of TV screens, trains, and floating transports, Hekseville is an ornate city that seems at once old-fashioned and advanced. Beneath the orange skies of Auldnoir, fountains flow and children and dogs frolic in the streets. In the pleasure district of Pleajeune, a magnificent Ferris wheel spins, and neon signs glow against the purple night. And at times, you venture to metaphysical realms that look nothing like any part of Hekseville, places where towering mushrooms loom or where the only geographical features are pristine white cubes.
As different as the areas are, there’s a consistent comic-book sensibility to the art, which carries over into the gorgeous cutscenes. These panels employ multiple layers of 2D art occasionally interspersed with 3D elements, and by tilting the Vita, you can slightly shift your perspective, creating the sense that you’re looking through a window into another world.
Unfortunately, Gravity Rush soon becomes saddled with an emphasis on lackluster combat, putting a real damper on the unencumbered joy of gravity manipulation. Hekseville is plagued by a mysterious threat called the nevi, an assortment of inky black creatures of varying shapes and sizes with glowing, vulnerable cores. Gravity manipulation leads to the occasional moment of surprise in combat. You might need to take out enemies crawling on the surface of a round tower, for instance, and use your powers to let you run up the wall. But in the heat of battle, it’s easy to forget that if you take one step too far around the tower’s circumference, the gravity that was sticking you to the tower will start to pull you away from it. The need to stay aware of just which direction the gravity is currently pulling you in gives you something to think about as you fight off the nevi.
But that’s just about the only thing there is to think about in combat. Defeating nevi is a simple matter of attacking their cores. With nevi on the ground, you can simply run up to them and dish out a few kicks. With flying nevi, you can perform an airborne gravity kick. There’s no lock-on, so if a nevi moves while you’re flying in for a strike, you need to realign yourself and try it again, which only makes the already dull combat more tedious. It starts out basic and never evolves into anything more involving.
You sometimes need to dispatch large numbers of nevi, but they’re rarely a threat, thanks to a special attack you acquire early on in the game. Pressing a button triggers Kat’s spiraling claw, a move that sends her whirling through the air, homing in on nevi cores and destroying them. If you’re in a situation where you’re fighting nevi and your health is running low, it’s easy enough to perform a spiraling claw, move to a safe distance until the move recharges, and then do it again, repeating this process until all the enemies are dealt with. Even a massive soaring serpentine creature and other fearsome-looking bosses are susceptible to this rudimentary approach.
Gravity Rush doesn’t always bog you down in combat. Early on in the game, you spend more time exploring and discovering than fighting. Hekseville is unlike anywhere else, and the sensation of taking a running leap off the edge of it and then controlling gravity to weave your way into its subterranean depths is gleefully empowering. The strange, dreamlike realms you visit sometimes work enjoyable wrinkles into Kat’s abilities. You may be able to manipulate gravity for only a short time, and need to make efficient use of your powers to travel from platform to platform. Or you may find that your power is gone entirely, and you have to navigate a puzzling assortment of gravity-shifting portals to get to your destination.
But this variety and creativity dissipate too soon, and as the game approaches its conclusion, it leans increasingly heavily on its dull combat. Even Kat seems to get tired of it after a while. On one mission, you help a scientist place a sensor; nevi attack; you place another sensor, more nevi attack; the scientist tells you he forgot to turn on a sensor; you go turn it on, more nevi attack. Kat’s frustration at being treated like an errand girl here will likely mirror your own.
The thrilling joys and intriguing mysteries of Gravity Rush’s early hours may propel you through to its conclusion, but looking back on the adventure as a whole, it’s a sense of unrealized potential that dominates. The optional checkpoint time trials and nevi battles that you can participate in outside of the main story don’t provide much reason to linger in the beautiful city of Hekseville. Although the gravity manipulation mechanic is extraordinary, Gravity Rush fails to create a game around it that’s worthy of its promise.
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