GRAVITY RUSH 2 Review
The first GRAVITY RUSH was far from perfect, but could you really fault it? The 2012 Vita game from Sony’s own Japan Studio, which was remastered last year for the PS4, somehow managed to feel bigger than most of the open worlds that we were being treated to on consoles four years after its original release. Yet as we’ve seen time and time again, bigger isn’t always better, and the floating city of Hekseville, though sprawling and imaginative, didn’t have a whole lot to do in it. GRAVITY RUSH 2, developed exclusively for the PS4 and designed to fully take advantage of that platform’s capabilities, would seem to quash those hardware limitations. The follow up is even more massive, vibrant, and full of heart than the original, which is saying a lot, but it also carries over many of the same faults as well.
GRAVITY RUSH 2 picks up with our zero-G hero Kat, the “Gravity Queen” of Hekseville, falling into a storm along with her partners, Syd and Raven. Marooned on the foreign settlement of Jirga Para Lhao, Kat and crew must find a way back home. Along the way, they befriend the impoverished miners of the city, and eventually help them overthrow the oppressive regime that has long tormented them. If GRAVITY RUSH was Kat’s superhero origin story, the sequel is about her elevating her role from crime fighter to champion of the people.
And nemesis to private property
Or at least it tries to. The truth is that, like the original, GRAVITY RUSH 2 is simply too scatter-brained to deliver a coherent narrative. We spend about half the game leading Jirga Para Lhao’s revolution, only to abruptly resolve that conflict and get whisked back to Hekseville to help with that city’s completely unrelated crisis (and then move on once more in a fake-out, post-credits chapter involving another region and another villain!) GRAVITY RUSH 2’s main story follows more developed, albeit disparate, arcs compared to the first’s episodic nature, but the move towards serialization only highlights the true strength of both games: the side quests.
Sure, there were plenty of tangential chapters making up GRAVITY RUSH’s patchwork plot, but GRAVITY RUSH 2 instead features dozens of smaller side stories separate from the main quest. While it was hard to care about the sweeping narrative, particularly because it changes focus so often, these more intimate, self-contained episodes resonate powerfully. Helping a father overcome his alcoholism, turning a thug’s life around, or searching for a worried mom’s lost son all felt far more impactful than the cliched and impersonal conspiracies the main quest peddles. The character writing in GRAVITY RUSH 2 is some of the most charming in video games, leaving a bittersweet sensation when it’s time to finally say goodbye. Both the main and supporting casts are tremendously endearing, and Kat herself is one of the most likeable player characters out there, a feat even more impressive given the decent amount of anime tripe that is also present.
Obligatory “go undercover as a schoolgirl” mission included
Kat’s bubbly personality, equal parts gutsy and klutzy, complements her unique superpower, which doesn’t see her flying so much as falling in improbable directions through the air and careening wildly into her foes. It’s clunky on paper, but much improved in execution this time around. Controls have been streamlined to the point that abilities that were too cumbersome to effectively use in the first game, such as gravity slides or throwing objects with stasis fields, are now some of the most reliable tools at your disposal. Kat can also now change the strength of the gravity around her, and the addition of human foes does wonders for the lack of variety in enemy design from the first game. Yet while massively expanded, combat still lacks the nuance to hold the player’s interest for long. There is very little incentive to change gravity styles or use the new special moves when the default gravity kick is so effective for every situation. Though they greatly expanded player options, Studio Japan hasn’t yet made the combat deep enough to merit real praise.
That being said, the real star of the show is the city of Jirga Para Lhao itself, and Kat’s freedom to explore it. As detailed in my earlier look at the demo, the world is just as colorful and fantastic as Hekseville, but even more of a thrill to explore, acting as the conceptual antithesis of the first game. Unlike Hekseville’s adjacent districts, the strict class divides in Jirga Para Lhao see the neighborhoods arranged vertically. The mansions of the elite sit above the clouds, while the poor live in slums lying in the shadow of the metropolis above them, occasionally rained on by sewer discharges. Composed of hundreds of small platforms, as opposed to Hekseville’s massive city blocks, Jirga Para Lhao is a labyrinth, an island chain of markets, docks, hotels, and suburbs that are a thrill to fall through for hours on end.
Also, can you imagine the commute?
Much like Jirga Para Lhao, GRAVITY RUSH 2 is hard to draw comparisons to aesthetically, as a Japanese take on an American genre with French visual influences isn’t something you get every day. It’s drop dead gorgeous, yes, but more significantly, the game looks like nothing else out there. It’s steampunk but modern, fantasy but sci-fi, Eastern and Western in design all at once. The game takes obvious cues from both GTA and CRACKDOWN, and yet it also somehow feels more like a Studio Ghibli production than the actual Ghibli game. The soundtrack is boisterous, fun, and varied, ranging from jazzy atmospherics to heroic anthems, and you can’t help but fall in love with Kat’s outbursts of gobbledygook Simlish. GRAVITY RUSH 2 boasts a universal look for i’s universal appeal, and it would take a special kind of curmudgeon not to get sucked in completely.
It took a while for me to realize that I was never going to find a solid through line in GRAVITY RUSH 2’s story, but it was at that same time that I understood that what the game was really about was a girl’s picaresque experience in a strange new city, a portrait of the entire population, not just the player character. Like GRAVITY RUSH, this game is not without flaws, but also like GRAVITY RUSH, these flaws only make me appreciate the game more. For all the immersive, meticulously-crafted sandboxes of DISHONORED 2 and DEUS EX: MANKIND DIVIDED, it’s GRAVITY RUSH 2’s world that I want to lose myself in the most.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4