Game Review: Gravity Rush [PSVita]
The PlayStation Vita, despite being an extraordinary piece of Hardware, has yet to get a software line-up behind it to sell it. If you’re like me you’ll have bought the system for Uncharted and stayed for the mediocre selection of further games. If this is the case then Gravity Rush is something you should have already picked up, because not only is it a perfect example of what the Vita is capable of, but it’s also a bloody great game in and of itself. For everyone that doesn’t own a Vita, however, is it a system seller?
Long story short, no, but couple it with something else like Uncharted Golden Abyss and the PS Vita is suddenly a system worth owning, especially with the promise of exclusive entries in the Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty franchises on the horizon. But I digress, back to the long story of Gravity Rush.
Gravity Rush at its basis it a superhero origin story, but while that may elicit a groan from a few of you it isn’t your typical origin story. For one this isn’t an established hero we’ve already had prequels and reboots and remakes of, and is told as more of a mystery than a coming of age story. The originally unnamed protagonist, who later gets named Kat for reason that may be obvious, wakes up with the heroes traditional amnesia, and while this again may cause a groan it isn’t used as a story hook, at least not yet (more on that later), but as a reason for the mechanics and history of the world to be explored in a simple explanatory way for the player.
Rather than focus on who she is, or why she has a magic cat who can shift gravity, Kat instead sets out to help the people of Heskeville. Despite the occasional hint at the forgotten past or foreshadowing of future events in this game and beyond, the story is mostly just a character piece that follow Kat from amnesiac-person to still amnesiac-super-person. Every event that takes place is about helping the people, the consequences, both good and bad of doing so. Being super powered isn’t exactly easy it would seem, at least not at first, but over time you start to see the people of Heskeville warm to Kat’s presence and even start to admire her. It’s an origin story that focuses on the origin of the super person, rather than the lead up involving the normal person.
That isn’t to say that the hints of past events that are seeded throughout aren’t important or interesting though, but what they seem to be is optional. Outside of a couple of late game events and cutscenes, the majority of the history of the world is told by talking to the residents of Heskeville, including a very interesting couple who are referred to as “travellers”, who not only tell a tragic tale about themselves, but set up boundaries within the universe, all the while teasing at the possibilities of what has happened and what still has yet to happen. This being an origin story the seeds are thoroughly planted for more entries in the series, and many little plot points are teased but never fully revealed, chief among which are hints about Kat’s forgotten past. Rather than feel unfulfilled and frustrated, these teases actually help with the overall story, showing that this is in fact a universe with history, but never take focus away from the main story of this game, Kat’s rise to hero status.
It’s all told very well, as well. The cutscenes are presented as comic panels, with still images that can be manipulated with the gyroscopic controls. Even motion based cutscenes are presented as another panel in the comic, lending a stylistic continuity to proceedings. Voice acting is minimal, and what little there is is in the native language of Heskeville, so be prepared to read, though not quite as much as old Final Fantasy games, which is good for those looking to take their handheld portable.
If you are intending to go portable, however, be warned – gyro controls play a heavy part in the gameplay, so if you’re someone who doesn’t want to stand out as “that guy” on the bus it may not be a travel title for you. While movement is generally controlled on the left stick and the camera with the right, fine tuning the aim of your gravity shift through all three dimensions of the game world is most easily and accurately achieved with the gyro controls, much like the aiming in Uncharted Golden Abyss. While this may seem clunky and unnecessary on paper, especially when you will often be required to use all three dimensions to manoeuvre, it adds a layer of depth and manoeuvrability that the analogue sticks just wouldn’t be able to match.
Shifting gravity isn’t Kat’s only power, though. By placing your thumbs in the bottom corners of the touch screen you can initiate a Gravity Slide, a technique that allows Kat to traverse whichever surface she’s on (and instantly change gravity to accommodate a sudden surface change) at high speed by effectively falling across the floor. Turning is achieved by tilting the Vita in the desired direction.
Both of these powers mange to hit that perfect sweet spot of open world traversal, a feat that few super hero games seem to manage. Falling around by shifting gravity or sliding across any surface at high speeds is always fun and exhilarating, which makes the time trial traversal challenges a satisfying aside to the main hero-ing of the storyline.
Other side quests, such as the time trialled combat are also great diversions, though some, such as the throwing or transporting challenges requiring the use of the stasis field often fiddly and overly complex (at least until you start upgrading your stasis power and realise you can hold the button to collect more objects in a single go, a fact the game forgets to mention…), but all reward the player with precious gems, the currency of Gravity Rush, which are used to fix parts of the time increasing your reputation and unlocking more challenge missions.
Reputation is important in Gravity Rush as not only is it a nice representation of progression from feared to worshipped, but the higher your reputation is the higher level you can upgrade your powers to (also done through the spending of gems). Oftentimes I found myself just falling around the open world searching for more crystals in a nostalgic bout of “MUST COLLECT EVERYTHING” left over from the golden age of Rare games. By the game’s close you will feel like a superhero with most, if not all, of the upgrades tucked away under your belt, but you never feel overpowered, the game can always remain a challenge and with that always retain its fun.
Combating enemies in Gravity Rush is more about positioning yourself for an attack rather than just assaulting all out, with their damage spots appearing as glowing cores distributed all across their body. These can often only be attacked from a certain direction, such as from above or from behind, so skilful use of gravity shifting is required to get an angle, before satisfyingly hurtling towards the weak spot with a gravity kick (fall really fast with your leg outstretched). While most of the battles throughout the game follow this simple pattern of angle, kick, repeat, they never really start to grow boring, which is a testament to just how fun the shifting mechanic is, even in the relatively close confines of a skirmish.
Bosses often require a little more though of how to get them to show their weak spot, and often require heavy use of the dodge skill, activated by swiping the required direction on the touch screen, which while sometimes awkward at least does work how you want it to. When a boss is whittled down to minimal health, a special attack can be performed by tapping the weak spot ending them in a cutscene where Kat rips the core right out of them. While this does take control away from the player for the final move beyond activating it, it is only used for the few bosses in the game and can be nice to watch.
Graphically the game is beautiful, with the power of the Vita being used to create a artistic stylish world that doesn’t try to be realistic but rather present a subtle cell-shaded view that is reminiscent of a comic book. The world itself is nicely designed to give it an olden day feel mixed with almost steampunk like technology, and each area of Heskeville has its own distinct feel, colour and musical style, some of which are fantastic themes that just make you feel happy. Throughout the story Kat will also visit places other than Heskeville, and each presents a whole new style as well, oftentimes even bringing with it new dangers to avoid, though to elaborate further would spoil the adventure.
The enemies are a little on the bland side, design wise, however, with only a few separate types repeating throughout the game. Sometimes a new creature will appear to mix things up a little bit but overall they tend to feel overly similar, with the above explained combat style being applicable to all. Granted, as I already said this combat always feels satisfying, but it would have been nice to be forced to change it up once in a while.
Overall Gravity Rush is a fantastic game, but it isn’t quite a system seller. If you already own a Vita then you absolutely must check this game out, but for those without a system it isn’t going to cause you to run out and pick one up for this game alone. But either way, someday you have to enjoy this game, because it’s quite possibly the best superhero game since Spiderman 2, and is one of the best games for the Vita, period.