We take a look at the stylish, gravity-defying PlayStation Vita exclusive.
As Kat, the teenage protagonist of Gravity Rush, stands on the top of a towering chimney, looking over the edge at the perilous drop, I am reminded of a feeling I often have when crossing a bridge or walking along a cliff. Edgar Allan Poe referred to it as the ‘impulse to rushing annihilation’, whilst the Psychology Department of the Florida State University gave it the specific moniker of ‘high-place phenomenon’; I’m referring to that irrational urge to leap when in proximity to a precipice. I also attribute to this strange subversion of perfectly natural inclinations the need I have to occasionally let the glass overflow when filling it… to check that what I know to be true – however silly or undesirable – is, in fact, true.
Perched, as she is, hundreds of feet above the streets below, I know that Kat can throw herself towards that ‘rushing annihilation’ without fear of death. I know that, with or without my interference, her super-human ability to ‘gravity shift’ will see her land safely on her feet. Contrary to the surety of my own demise in such a situation, the truth I test by launching Kat from this chimney top is that she will land, cat-like, on the ground without harm. I would ask for you to excuse the obvious pun on name and adjective, but it belongs to Project Siren and Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Studio, and (moreover) it is not accurate.
Think of Naked Snake landing after his HALO jump from the MC-130E Combat Talon aircraft, Blade’s mid-air somersault to drop next to a soon-to-be-bubbling Deacon Frost or the equally stylish descent of Selene that initiated Agent Provocateur’s Red Tape to close out the Underworld trailer. In each case, the execution of such a death-defying leap is underlined by the purpose of the landing, and its feline grace. Kat’s shifting ability certainly is graceful, but the landing is far more telling. She hurtles head-first towards the ground, simultaneously colliding with it and righting herself in a frenzied series of animations that throw up a dust cloud to mark the occasion. This remains the case throughout the 15 or so hours that you’ll spend with Kat, and it is a constant reminder of who she is.
Gravity Rush starts with Kat quite literally falling out of the sky. There are faint hints at who she may be, but the character and player are essentially unburdened by whatever her past may hold. What we learn of Kat is entirely after her conspicuous arrival in Hekseville, the city that she has fallen into. When I say that Kat’s self-chosen name is an ill-fitting one, and point to the inelegance of her meeting an immovable object, it is because throughout my time with her it was her actions that defined her character. Kat faces the Nevi, an over-whelming interdimensional force, in her quest to reunite the disparate sections of Hekseville. While her companion, in the form of a cat called Dusty, gives her the power to surmount the odds stacked against her, Kat doesn’t ever feel like a purposeful hero the likes of which I mentioned above. There is a charming awkwardness to Kat, one that compliments her idealistic and plucky demeanor.
From her pining after a clearly romantically unavailable, good-looking school boy, to her indignation at the injustices she is subjected to by the game’s various antagonists, Kat’s naivety makes her easy to like. Couple this quiet, mysterious girl with Raven, her dark-haired rival Gravity Shifter, a besuited and gas-masked terrorist foe and a Creator (the gods of this game’s fiction) who hides underneath his trenchcoat a portal to another dimension and it won’t be surprising if I tell you that Gravity Rush has a cast of memorable and colourful characters. The city of Hekseville, too, is a colourful and lively place, its four districts having been separated by the gravity storm that has brung with it the oily Nevi. Each subregion has a different and distinct flavour, most striking is the vibrant pseudo-neon and jazz-infused Pleajeune – Hekseville’s entertainment centre.
I’ve talked a lot about Kat, but not much about how she is able to pull the divided districts of Hekseville back together. Running, jumping and kicking are all pedestrian inclusions in that respect, but thankfully Dusty imbues Kat with altogether more fantastical abilities. A single button press isolates Kat from gravity, and she will start to float accordingly. At this point a reticule appears and can be moved with either an analogue stick or tilt controls; another button press will send Kat hurtling in that direction. Though disorienting at first, before long Kat was flying elegantly and efficiently around the open town, and I found I had come to love the freedom signalled by not being entirely sure where the ground was.
The extent to which the combat is enjoyable will come down to how much fun you have zipping around an area by manipulating gravity. Lining up to an enemy’s weak spot and unleashing one of Kat’s attacks is something I never tired of; even when my attack was dodged I continued to enjoy the rhythm of attack-shift-turn-shift throughout. New attacks are unlocked throughout the single player, but the core combat focus remained the same. Upgrades to Kat’s abilities, health and speed are bought with purple gems. These can be collected from around the open world or rewarded in battle and for completing challenge events around Hekseville. Challenges are available to be tackled inbetween story chapters and comprise a mixture of combat and race events, each with its own constraint or stipulation. Be prepared for a stiff test of your skills with each of Kat’s abilities if you want the gold medal reward for any of the challenges.
In truth I didn’t spend too much time on challenges, preferring to shift around the map, talking to various inhabitants of Hekseville. Traversing the expanse of the city was made all the more enjoyable due to both the freedom Kat’s abilities offer and the aesthetic of Hekseville previously mentioned. When I think of Gravity Rush’s look I think of Studio Ghibli, but there’s something else in the mix too; a European flair runs through the world, most noticeable in the architecture and music. Add to this the interesting technique Project Siren use to overcome the draw distance limitations of rendering an entire (and growing) city on the Vita – the distant cityscape is quite literally pencilled in and only becomes filled with colour and detail as Kat moves closer to it – and the beauty of Gravity Rush is undeniable.
Story cutscenes in Gravity Rush, too, have their own particular style. Comic book panels are commonplace as a storytelling device in video games, but here, again, there’s something else going on. Each panel acts as a window, with the frame effectively sitting proud of the drawing held within. Both frame and panel move slightly with the Vita’s tilt control, and, as they move independently of one another, an almost 3D effect is created.
Gravity Rush is a game that takes an essentially singular central conceit, namely gravity shifting, and builds such a stylish world, populated with genuinely memorable characters, around it that any misgivings I may have over the lasting impact of the story and combat can be gladly silenced. I have never been one to bemoan the selection of games available for the PlayStation Vita, but I know many feel short-changed; if any of what you’ve just read sounds intriguing then you owe it to that gorgeous slab of black gaming gold to experience the rush of annihilation firsthand.
Gravity Rush is available on Sony PlayStation Vita on physical media or via the PSN Store. A Vita memory storage card is required to play Gravity Rush. There is also a free demo available to download on the PSN Store (size: 492MB).
Be sure to check out an exclusive CANE & RINSE interview with the creator of Gravity Rush, Keiichiro Toyama to be published later this week.