Published on June 18th, 2012 | by Steven Hansen2
[dcs_small_block color="#FFFFFF" border="true" align="center" bcolor="#DDDDDD" bgcolor="#737373" fheight="14" fsize="11"]Platforms: PS Vita | Released: June 12, 2012
Developer: SCE Japan Studio | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment[/dcs_small_block]
Falling with style. That is, I suppose, Gravity Rush’s central conceit. It makes for a mechanic often not dissimilar to pure flight, but one that is worlds better for deftly careening through thick cityscapes, avoiding the pitfalls of unwieldy flight. Hit a building? Well, you’ve fallen sideways. That is now your floor. Run around on it, or be off again. It’s such an innately empowering mechanic that I’ve rarely found myself exploring a game world so thoroughly; in great part, mind you, because the game world is so masterfully composed, but also because the joy of falling through the air in every which direction is so deliciously dizzying. Laws of nature be damned.
Since Gravity Rush, I’ve found myself looking at things with a strange perspective. Vertical lines have been bending. Assuming this is not indicative of life-threatening equilibrium issues, it’s quite a fascinating experience. Gravity Rush, similarly, is quite a fascinating game. The first two acts carry on sprightly with charm, but the third delves into an underexplored surreal realm refreshing in its ambiguity. The existential touch to it all is right up my alley.
Amnesiac Kat wakes up falling down, crashing down from the sky into an abandoned atrium in the floating town of Hekseville. Here she stumbles upon Dusty, a nebulous, black, starry entity in the shape of a cat. Screams wrest the two into action and they begin to make their way up from the deep slum. They make their way up into a world that was more brilliant than I had anticipated; a wholly open world that grows and grows as the game progresses, each area as jaw dropping as the last.
Gravity Rush might be the best looking game ever made. I struggle to find any competition in the running, anyways. The cel-shaded blend of anime and Western comics is gorgeous. The influence of famed French comic artist Moebius, in particular, is not lost. Gravity Rush, which is voiced in French, owes fairly heavily to French influence, in the aesthetics, the wonderful score and much of underlying philosophy of the game.
The level of detail and manner in which everything coalesces is nothing short of an artistic and stylistic triumph. There are far more areas in the game than I was expecting, yet everything in the world is so distinct that it’s rare to lose your bearings, which is important in a game that has you falling about the world at a quick clip. Small storefronts have their own colorful signs, the architecture is a thrill to examine, even up close, and the huge expanse has handled draw distances in the best way ever imagined. Areas hundreds of yards away and otherwise out of sight are rendered in their most base outlines; deft, pointed pen strokes glowing against gorgeous green and red lighting. From a pure aesthetic sense, the game is a work of art unrivaled in the medium.
The narrative in this open world develops linearly — and there are some fascinating, mind-bending developments worthy of their own unique examination — but the world is littered with challenge missions. Repairing bits of the city, which costs a miniscule handful of the gems that cover Hekseville, unlocks side missions. Though they ultimately boil down to around six different types of missions, I never tired of them, even when going for gold medals. The diverse environments keep the missions interesting, particularly the impressively designed races, of which there are three varying iterations.
Because of Kat’s unique ability, combat can be quite fun. Staying grounded and using the kick and evade is an adequate means of fighting, but the gravity kick was undoubtedly my favorite move. It’s basically a flying homing kick and it’s so satisfying to use to take out enemy after enemy. Kat also unlocks some neat special moves throughout the course of the game, and has a slide kick as well. Unfortunately, aerial combat is limited to the gravity kick and special moves. With some of the larger enemies, jumping and kicking their weak spots doesn’t really work.
Speaking of the enemies, they’re called Nevi. Thankfully, these creatures, which are inexplicably invading Hekseville have a lot of diversity among their ranks. Going back to this game’s lovely visual flair, the enemy design almost felt like the evolution of old school Tim Burton design; basically, what he might have been able to come up with if he never fell in love with Johnny Depp and stopped making good movies.
Earlier, I described the gravity shifting as a conceit, not a mechanic. Because it goes beyond mechanics. The city of Hekseville is floating tenuously around a thick pillar in the center of the world. On the outskirts of town, gravity storms are destroying portions of town; in some instances, ripping whole quarters of the town away, citizens and all, never to be seen again. The game handles topics ranging from grim in their reality — political upheaval , fascist militarization, and more — to existential in their metaphysicality; do we exist and in what capacity, for example.
Exploring this profundity isn’t necessary to enjoying the game, of course. Simply exploring Gravity Rush’s meticulously crafted world is enough to captivate. I found myself collecting lavish purple precious gems long after I had any use for them. Literally. I had fully upgraded Kat, rendering them useless, yet I continued to alter my course to collect them. They’re arrestingly pretty, though I think my behavior again stems back to the sheer pleasure I feel manipulating gravity and falling about; and, again, because of how much of a joy it is to explore every nook and cranny of the game. While I’ve not had to yet, I struggle to conceive how I’ll be able to play any open 3D games in the future without Kat’s locomotive capabilities.
Gravity Rush has immediately become one of my personal favorite games. Falling never loses its novelty or invigorating whimsy, the musical score is brilliantly done (the entertainment district, Pleajeune, features my favorite single track in years, “Pleasure Quarter”), and the game is an unrivaled, staggering work of art that stuns on the Vita’s screen. The main narrative is occasionally manic, with one particularly interesting character feeling underutilized, yet it’s forgivable given the surreal, fascinating third act, though people who want a neat and tidy wrap up should be weary. I’d been anticipating Gravity Rush for some time. My expectations were blown away.