This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Gravity Rush.
Gravity Rush is a game first released in 2012 that at the time nobody played. “Oh, don’t be so hyperbolic, Yahtzee, you know full well it was a PlayStation Vita exclusive.” I beg your pardon! Gravity Rush is a game first released in 2012 that at the time nobody played except for some mad people. I did hear the game was all right, but I wasn’t gonna buy a fucking PS Vita to play it; that’d be like adopting an incontinent chimpanzee cause you fancy the lady who comes ‘round to change his nappies. Thankfully, a remastered version of Gravity Rush came out last week for the PS4, which I very much appreciate, because I’m sick of all this mad people privilege in modern society. They get all these exclusive games, they hog all the fun medications, and there seems to be a whole bunch of them running for President at the moment.
Anyway, Gravity Rush is a sort of Japanese take on the superhero sandbox genre, and broadly resembles what you’d get if inFamous had been directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It is also probably the only game you’ll ever play in which the central character is a flying homeless person. If not, then it’s definitely the only game about a flying homeless person who dresses like a slag.
In a weird fantasy floating city where constant magic storms and attacks by weird blobby monsters are doing catastrophic things to house prices, a strange girl wakes up with no memory and equipped with the following things: a magic cat made of Vegemite, the ability to manipulate gravity in a small area around herself, and a Renaissance fair burlesque dancer’s outfit. She sets out on an epic quest to discover the truth about herself, which she abandons almost immediately because she got distracted by a shiny object.
Seriously, the plot must have been written by the kind of person who gets bored halfway through reading a stop sign, cause it feels like the game brings up a new plot thread every ten minutes and never ties any of them up. By the end, they’re all left swaying in the breeze, like the frays of the poorly-knitted sweater the main character sorely needs to put on.
I’ll spoil right now that we never find out who the fuck the Amazing Homeless Stripper is, or where she came from. And she doesn’t seem to care! Her first priority is to set up home in a sewer tunnel, and then start hanging around in the car park of a home depot looking for odd jobs. She does some work with the police, the army, she becomes a maid at one point… is this a story, or a series of contrived excuses to put on fetish outfits? Oh, I think you know!
As I said, there’s monsters, we never figure out where they come from — wait, this one was trying to protect someone, is there more to them than meets the eye? Nope, move on! Look, there’s another homeless stripper with gravity powers, perhaps she knows who we really are. She doesn’t! Oh. Well did we both get gravity powers from the same source? Probably, who cares? Now there’s a mysterious master thief antagonizing us who seems to know something about our past— oh, he’s dead. Never mind! Oh no, the city’s been taken over by a fascist military state, what could their sinister plan be? Is it to weaponize the m— It’s to weaponize the monsters. How did you guess, other than it being the video game fascist military state’s default setting?
So the final climactic showdown is with a monster that was introduced two minutes beforehand — but wait, the deposed fascist military leader knows something about your past! Great, what is it? Hey, we’ve gotta leave something for the sequel, haven’t we?
I do find the characters and setting endearing, in a “City of Lost Children with the anime turned up to a billion” kind of way, but the story’s all setup and no payoff. It’s like trying to masturbate to the first season of Lost.
How the flying works is that you push button to shift gravity to the direction you’re looking in, so you don’t so much fly as plummet in specific directions; whatever surface your nubile young body smashes into at terminal velocity becomes your new floor, which can get slightly annoying if you hit a lamppost or something and end up tightrope walking over the abyss that is Main Street — though frankly, if you do hit a wall, you’re doing it wrong. Despite the main title image being the heroine standing on a wall, there’s not a whole lot of tactical usage to standing on walls, unless you’re trying to teach the third-person camera the essentials of ballroom dancing. It’s a lot more expedient to keep switching gravity before you hit things and stay in the air.
But having said that, the gravity switching controls could be more efficient; in fact, they could be precisely one hundred percent more efficient, because you have to press the button twice to change the direction of gravity where I feel once would have done. The first press cancels your gravity and puts you into hover mode; the second picks the new gravity. It’s like having to stop the car and put it in neutral before you can change gear, and your car dresses like a whore.
The combat is… well, it’s certainly there. Monsters appear, usually for flimsy reasons, and you have to hit them in the traditional obvious glowing weak spot — again, remaining on whatever currently passes for the ground is a mug’s game because hitting the weak spots calls for accuracy that is found wanting in standard kicks and jump-kicks. I just stayed in the air and used the gravity-shifting divekick, speeding towards targeted weak points, missing, and disappearing over the horizon as if only just now realizing that I didn’t put my trousers on this morning.
The combat works when it becomes this sort of aerial ballet, about finding the right angle of attack, but fails to develop from there. None of the bosses are particularly hard once you have the divekick down. There’s a couple of superpowered attacks that range from “more damaging version of divekick” to “complete waste of energy that would have been better spent flicking bogeys at the enemy.”
On that note, you can also throw physics objects, which is the most pointless and awkward-to-use ability of them all, don’t even bother. There are some challenges based around it, which are like asking a butcher to challenge himself for five minutes by replacing his knife with a drinking straw.
What’s worth noting about the combat is that monsters never show up in free-roam, only at pre-determined points in missions. It’s almost like the combat doesn’t integrate terribly well as a core mechanic, and is being thrown in as an arbitrary challenge whenever we remember we’re supposed to be a video game.
At the end of the day, Gravity Rush can’t boast great design, nor much of a sandbox given the shortage of missions and that you can drive around the whole world in ten minutes (and that includes the break for sandwiches), and even then there are entire sections of the world the game will do maybe one thing with and forget about — possibly because the game had to keep cutting its arms and legs off until it could squeeze into a handheld.
But there’s a certain charm to it — the story element feels like a basket of individual kittens loosely tied in place with string. But the highlight of the game is a mission that starts with in innocuous fetch-quest and turns into a years-long odyssey to the end of the universe, and a game with tighter control of itself probably couldn’t have done that. It’s like Willy Wonka fucking nails the childlike wonder thing, but you wouldn’t put him in charge of the company sports day.
- Head in the Clouds: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Still I can see the logic of the flying girl who changes gravity all over the place not wanting to wear a skirt
- Someone should get around to patenting dive kicks