Originally Written On March 24, 2017
2012’s Gravity Rush wasn’t a great game, but it was a game that I liked a lot despite its many flaws. Because of this, I hate that I’m coming out of Gravity Rush 2 feeling the same way. The flaws are less pronounced, and the positives are accentuated, but it still doesn’t reach the potential that I want this franchise to have. It’s a fun game that fans of the original, like myself, will love, but it still has issues that hold it back from being truly great.
Gravity Rush was a game that I wanted to love from the first trailer I saw due purely to the visual style and music. These two standout aspects are improved upon in Gravity Rush 2. The score has a lot of holdovers from the original game as well as a bunch of great new tracks, and the world is beautiful. Jirga Para Lhao, the setting for much of the game, has a much different feel than the original game’s Hekkesville. The green haze that covered much of the first game’s city has been replaced with bright blue skies, and the relaxing piano music with something a lot more tropical. Hekkesville plays a part later in the game and is still a great city, but the developers really nailed the vibe that they were going for with Jirga Para Lhao.
However, a dark truth quite literally lies underneath this warm and inviting surface. Jirga Para Lhao is a series of islands, and some of these islands sit at different altitudes. And while there are people enjoying a life of luxury at the top of the city, there are hidden slums underneath the market area that Kat first arrives in. The impoverished people that live down here have been painted as criminals, as the government is using every excuse they can to get rid of them. Kat, always a friend to someone in need, wants to help these people, but the mining crew that she has joined can’t easily afford to do so. They’re better off than the people in the slums, but they also struggle to put food on the table sometimes. This frames one of the core personal conflicts for Kat and her friends. The social commentary in Gravity Rush 2 isn’t revelatory or profound, but it’s socially conscious in a way that a lot of games fail to be. It’s also a great way to further explore Kat’s caring personality and develop some of the side characters.
Speaking of Kat, she is just as great a protagonist as she was in the first game. What’s great about Kat is that she doesn’t feel like a specific archetype but instead acts like a real person. She experiences a full spectrum of human emotions and does so in a way that always makes you want to root for her. She also cares more about protecting the weak than she does about stopping bad guys, a nice change of pace from some recent superhero games. She’s joined by a cast of characters, both new and old, that are enjoyable in their own right and interact with Kat in fun ways. One of the new standouts is Lisa, the leader of the mining crew Kat works for. Her transformation from Kat’s hard-nosed boss to a leader of the people is one that the game gives proper attention to, and Kat is there to facilitate but not force this change.
The first half of Gravity Rush 2 contains a lot of slow character and world building. This part of the game is fun and allows you to spend time exploring the open world. However, the second half is where Gravity Rush 2 starts to shine from a plot and pacing perspective. Starting with a mind-blowing set-piece that ups the stakes, the game’s pace never lets up for next few hours and had me avoiding sidequests because I wanted to see where the story would go. This culminates in a finale that answers a lot of questions the original game asked. Recent comments from the developers imply that there won’t be another Gravity Rush for a while, and Gravity Rush 2 leaves me satisfied while still leaving the door open for further stories down the road.
Another strong aspect of the game is the core gameplay. Flying around was fun in the original Gravity Rush, but the combat got a little tired over time. In order to address this, Gravity Rush 2 adds two additional gravity styles to the gameplay, Lunar and Jupiter. These styles, which can be swapped to on the fly, change Kat’s fighting and traversal abilities. Lunar makes Kat lighter, allowing her to jump higher, move between enemies faster, and even fly for a short period of time. Jupiter is the opposite, giving her attacks more power, causing her to fall faster, and allowing her to slide through certain destructible environments. Jupiter style is introduced poorly, and sometimes the camera isn’t fast enough to keep track of Kat in Lunar style. Despite these issues, the new styles are positive additions that breathe new life into both the traversal and gameplay. Even disregarding the advantages that they each bring to the table, I sometimes found myself switching between them just to experiment and change things up. The biggest issue with the original game was its repetitive combat, and Gravity Rush 2 goes through the effort to fix this.
The other attempts to curb the monotony of the first game come through more diverse mission design. Almost every mission in the original Gravity Rush was combat focused or a fetch quest. Gravity Rush 2 offers sequences that rely heavily on Kat’s new camera, sequences where Kat can’t use her powers, more boss fights and set-pieces, and some weird one-off ideas that are typically a lot of fun. This is a great effort to add variety and mostly works, but they also decided to add a bunch of stealth missions to the game. The stealth missions aren’t fun in the slightest, mainly because the game’s mechanics weren’t built for stealth. Kat’s movements are incredibly floaty, and the game has no cover system or stealth takedowns. These are incredibly frustrating to get through and poorly checkpointed as well. There’s a lot of them too. The game has some great mechanics that these missions don’t take advantage of at all.
Both great missions and bad missions can be found in the main story and side missions, the latter of which are more prevalent in Gravity Rush 2 than they were in its predecessor. These are typically where the more experimental one-offs are, which are some of the most fun missions in the game. A lot of the funniest writing can be found in these missions, and they are worth seeking out.
Before I wrap up, I want to stress how fun it is to just exist in this world. Floating around, listening to the music, taking pictures, and doing the community-oriented treasure hunts aren’t groundbreaking ideas or mechanics, but that really doesn’t matter. There’s a warmth and joyousness that doesn’t exist in most games. Maybe this has something to do with the fact that I played this game on cold winter days in Boston, but it was something that I wanted to keep playing and even now want to go back to. There’s not much left that I have to do in the game, but I could spend an hour just practicing stunts, collecting gems, and feeling completely satisfied. Gravity Rush 2 is a game that has some glaring design flaws and mechanical imperfections, but it’s lovable characters, smart writing, vibrant world, and the ability to fly all make it a game that I love despite its issues.
Final Score: 4 Stars