Gravity Rush Remastered Review
Gravity Rush originally came out for the Vita, and while I haven’t played that version, I’ve read that some of the control issues from that release were ironed out in the PS4 remaster. I can’t even begin to imagine how bad the original controls were if the clunky mess that is Gravity Rush Remastered is the better-controlling of the two, though, and awkward controls are just the first in an endless string of fun-killing problems—the mechanics are seriously rough around the edges and tend to make parts of the gameplay luck-based, the story is unremarkable trash that sets up a bunch of interesting mysteries and opts to subject the player to a bizarrely vanilla series of events instead of tying up any of those dangling plot threads, the missions are repetitive and gimmicky, and the main character is quite possibly the most shallow and self-absorbed female lead I’ve ever seen in a game (but the writing is so inconsistent that this comes and goes unpredictably).
So let’s start with the main character
Main character Kat is an amnesiac who wakes up with a magical black cat that gives her the ability to change the direction her gravity flows. This part of the story starts off decently, with her avoiding the typical angsty “wah I can’t remember” notes that could have really dragged the early writing down. She meets people, finds a place to live, helps out around town, and there are no glaring problems with any of this that I could hold against the early parts of the story. That said, there’s a section where Kat meets a strangely accurate fortune teller (who ends up being one of the more interesting recurring characters) and is told that she’s about to meet “a man who will change her destiny,” at which point nothing seems to matter to her except finding her so-called Mr. Destiny. This is just a small, inoffensive taste of the full-blown stupidity that awaits in the second part of the city, where the main quest sees Kat falling all over herself ten seconds after meeting a student who asks for her help. This mission includes flying with him through heart-shaped clusters of gems (basically the currency you use to upgrade your powers), only for things to not work out in Kat’s favor, something reflected in the quest log where she laments that she doesn’t have a chance at a boyfriend. Her writing eventually evens out a bit and largely avoids this kind of shallow, I-need-someone-else-to-validate-me stupidity, but the writing continues to suffer in other, arguably more important ways.
Leisurely playing with Kat’s powers was the only real fun I had.
Nothing is explained
I had a lot of problems with Gravity Rush, but only one left me literally slack-jawed when the credits rolled around, and that’s the writing. Or the lack of writing, to be more precise; the main story sees you meeting two people who claim to have created the world (or one created the world and another created a dream or something), and yet you end the game knowing nothing about the world, its history, its prophesies, your powers, your identity, what role a creator played/plays, what the sacred gems (a focus early in the game) actually do or why one of the bad guys wants them, what the arks are or where they came from, what anything the enigmatic Cyanea says means, who Kat sees in her dream (she sees a face and is shocked, but the player is kept in the dark), and a million other niggling little details that are brought up, only to be swept under the rug as the credits outright tell you that this game is just the beginning. The whole thing reeks of being sequel bait, refusing to actually answer any of its mysteries in order to necessitate another game rather than being fulfilling and enjoyable enough for that to make sense.
The story focuses on the boring parts
What made the credits so much more painful was that the main story was built up as something huge by the narration with phrases like “I couldn’t have imagined the role they’d play” and “the end is nigh,” but instead the main plot is basically a military guy seizing power and then Kat stopping him through one of the most contrived, unnecessary examples of deus ex machina I’ve seen since Final Fantasy XIII. The circumstances leading up to it don’t require some huge trump card, and even if they did, it’s too convenient to be remotely believable (even in a world so foreign and unexplained that we can’t possibly know the rules) and raises even more questions left unaddressed moments later when the credits roll. The game alternates between being exhaustingly formulaic and mind-numbingly stupid, and what’s sad is that this could have been worth playing for the story if it had just made an effort at actual worldbuilding or focused the story on the city’s seemingly impending doom/Kat’s powers. Instead, every genuinely interesting thing is glossed over in favor of a story you’ve probably seen a million times before.
The parts where you have no powers highlight the game’s many weaknesses, like the terrible camera and lack of control while falling.
How do you make a camera this bad?
Since Kat’s gravity-changing ability effectively gives you the power of flight, you’re having to constantly maneuver up/down/left/right in midair to adjust your trajectory, and the more of Gravity Rush I played, the more I became convinced that the camera was trying to actively sabotage me. I may not have the greatest sense of direction in the world, but I was able to avoid getting turned around in games like Prototype and Saints Row 4 where you could achieve something similar to flight, and that really came down to the camera keeping everything straight. Gravity Rush’s camera, on the other hand, is prone to getting caught up in even simple revolutions, twisting and turning to the point where you can’t tell which way is up anymore. Kat’s hair and scarf are supposed to obey normal gravity to help you in this regard, but this only works if you stop, so I found it faster and more straightforward to just cancel out of flight and see which direction Kat fell in. Of course, it doesn’t help matters any that the city architecture is built to look right-side up even when you’re standing upside down. The camera is also prone to zooming in when you begin to move quickly, and this makes the sections where you have to platform without powers that much more frustrating. All things considered, I found it remarkably easy to lose my bearings entirely because of the camera’s awkwardness, and it proved to be a liability far more often than it was asset.
Or missions this tedious?
Gravity Rush has boring missions. Everything boils down to a mixture of a few ingredients with very little variation, with most missions including fighting groups of the same types of enemies, grabbing things/people in a stasis field to bring them somewhere else, and flying to a marker. Occasionally (mostly in the sidequests) you’ll be subjected to an impromptu quiz about the area or have to do something gimmicky like sneak past a group of kids or beat a timer, but that kind of stuff is rare. There are also occasional boss fights, though they’re not really anything particularly special and they all end with you running up to the enemy and pressing the triangle button in order to play a cutscene finisher. That’s basically the game in a nutshell, and it’s exactly as boring as it probably sounds.
There are two things to note here. First, the rare timed missions have a nasty habit of not showing you where to go, leaving you to wander similar-looking areas (the city isn’t exactly filled with distinct landmarks) looking for something while the clock ticks on. I’d consider these the low point of the entire game. Second, there are a bunch of optional “challenges” breaking up the missions, and these range from huge difficulty spikes to surprisingly pleasant distractions. Most end up being wastes of time, and challenges tend to repeat a bit (though they’re still much less repetitive than the main missions), but they offer you so many gems to upgrade your abilities with that I found myself compelled to at least try them all. Since finding gems scattered around the city is the only other way to obtain them and you need a bunch to upgrade your powers, these challenges are more or less mandatory for anyone who wants to upgrade, and upgrading is a must if you want to combat the problems you’ll face later on because of the game’s terrible mechanics.
Enemies are just stupid. The closest thing to difficulty is when there’s a large group that covers the area in projectiles, and even then, only because getting away and in a position to attack is an annoying hassle thanks to awkward controls.
The mechanics here are abysmal
Pressing R1 once causes Kat to hover, and pressing it again causes her to fall forward toward whatever she’s aiming at. This is nice and simple, and the closest thing to fun I had while playing was just wandering the city, collecting gems between missions and throwing people into the abyss. The circle button creates a stasis field which can grab objects or people, and it has some problems of inconsistency that make it a bit of a hassle, but it’s pretty solid overall. Holding R2 and L2 together causes Kat to effectively skate on the ground using her powers, which helps out during races, but also tends to sometimes leave her at a 45 degree angle to the ground when you try to stop her. Pressing X while floating speeds Kat’s fall up or causes her to start falling. Pressing square on the ground causes Kat to do a normal kick. Pressing square in midair causes her to do a gravity kick, which is a homing attack on nearby enemies. Pressing R2 and a direction allows Kat to dodge, and you can follow up with a counterattack by pressing square. Provided your gravity meter has a red thing inside of it (it comes back over time), pressing triangle alone causes Kat to perform a special homing attack on everything nearby. Pressing triangle while moving the left stick up or down cause her to perform different special attacks once you’ve unlocked them.
That’s a lot of stuff to juggle during the chaotic moments in the game, and there are so many irritating little problems with each that I don’t even know where to start. I suppose the most obvious problem is that tying your special weapon selection to one of the movement sticks makes it frustratingly easy to use the wrong special attack. Then you have the stasis field, which has all kinds of weird quirks. For one, people picked up with it can be dropped by pressing circle again, but boxes and other inanimate objects are thrown instead. You can carry one person to another, drop them, and then press circle again to carry both of them at once (a real time-saver), but if you pick up boxes and want to pick up more than the one that your stasis field initially grabbed? Too bad, because pressing circle throws it away. Another weird quirk is that objects that are disturbed can’t be picked up, so if you fly into a water tank you need and move it slightly, it’ll disappear and you’ll have to find another one. Yet another quirk is that getting hit by an enemy once causes you to drop anything you’re carrying, which the game loves to use to make certain “carry X thing to Y place” missions even more annoying. Then there are kicks. Normal kicks are useless in most cases because of how weak they are (even when fully upgraded), so most of the time you’ll be relying on gravity kicks, and those only lock on to enemies to a limited degree. If the enemy moves like they tend to do, you’ll miss, and if the dark part of their body is blocking their glowing weak point, you’ll bounce off. Combat’s only real challenge comes in the form of tons of projectiles you need to dodge and trying to actually hit fast enemies, both of which are more tedious than difficult. There are also automatic kicks when you’re skating around near an enemy. Think about that for a moment: there are races with enemies in them, and they thought it’d be a great idea to implement an auto-attack that wastes chunks of precious time simply because an enemy got in your way.
Dodging is basically useless and I found it it much more effective to actively fly out of the way. The homing special attack has a gift for autoaiming at the ground and getting stuck on the invincible part of enemies. Throwing objects autoaims them, sometimes away from what you’re actually aiming at (see the video below for several examples of this that end up screwing me over in what amounts to a timed mission). Sometimes objects in your stasis field float in front of the camera and effectively blind you. Getting hit when skating around upside-down tends to knock you into a float for some reason that I’ve yet to figure out. The list of problems like these is endless, and it makes succeeding feel based on luck rather than skill.
This is an optional sidequest, but highlights almost all of the terrible mechanics.
The save situation is decent
When the game first started and I couldn’t figure out how to save, I noticed an autosave notification and dreaded the possibility that I’d be stuck relying on an autosave for the entire game. Fortunately, one of the few things the game does right is to give you the option to save manually between missions once you’ve finished episode 3. Some missions, at least. There are a few that play out back-to-back without a manual save opportunity between them, which makes me wonder why they even bothered to break up the content into distinct episodes in the first place if they weren’t going to actually use them to denote single pieces of gameplay. The save situation is far more controllable than many other games I can think of, though, so it’s still one of the few points in Gravity Rush’s favor.
The music and graphics are decent-to-good
Obviously this is a remaster of a Vita game and expecting a lot out of the graphics would be a mistake. Still, the cel-shading and black lines around characters and buildings occasionally went awry, and some scenes were plagued by an incredibly ugly blurring effect. I also wasn’t a fan of the opening part of the city having an orange sky because of how claustrophobic it made everything feel (made worse by Kat’s cat teleporting her back to the city when I strayed too far while exploring), but later chunks of the city were far more appealing from a visual standpoint and it’s never a good idea to put too much emphasis on graphics anyway. The comic panels and conversations are where most of the story stuff happens (or doesn’t, I suppose), and the 2D representations of characters you see in these are the graphical high point of the game. They ooze style, capturing the same kind of “drawn with thin lines” vibe that exists in Valkyria Chronicles. The music is also of a fairly high quality, and while its more upbeat orchestral stuff didn’t really resonate with me personally, the softer stuff struck me as being especially memorable. In fact, my favorite track was probably the softest one in the entire game.