In making the jump from the handheld PlayStation Vita to the much more powerful PlayStation 4, Gravity Rush 2 ups the ante from the original considerably in terms of scale, scope and ambition.
While the first game, in some ways, felt somewhat like a proof of concept — admittedly an enormously enjoyable, playable and compelling proof of concept — it’s Gravity Rush 2 where it truly feels like the series has truly hit its stride, both in terms of mechanics and narrative.
What’s rather impressive about it more than anything else, though, is that despite releasing five years after its predecessor, it’s clear that there has been a solid plan in place from the very beginning, making this sequel not only an excellent game in its own right, but a fantastic follow-up that is immensely satisfying for fans of the original who wanted answers to its unresolved questions.
Gravity Rush 2 begins mysteriously: we’re given control of someone wearing a bulky-looking environmental suit who is apparently on some sort of mining expedition. After a bit of teasing exposition, we discover that, of course, we have been in control of Kat this whole time — though after some events that apparently occurred between the end of the first Gravity Rush and the sequel, she has become separated from her cat Dusty and consequently is presently unable to shift gravity at will.
The prologue serves to reintroduce veterans to Kat and, for those who jumped straight in with the second game, introduce her in the first place. By withholding her powers from her from the outset, we’re made to focus on her as a character rather than as a “superhero”; we see how she goes about her daily life in the floating houseboat fleet of Banga, how she interacts with others and get some hints about what happened to put her and her friend Syd into what initially appears to be a rather oppressive situation.
The idea of systemic oppression is a running theme throughout Gravity Rush 2, and through its complete narrative we see a variety of different perspectives on the topic — and how things aren’t always what they seem in this regard.
In the initial chapter, for example, we see that despite Kat and Syd apparently occupying the very lowest rung on the social ladder among the people of Banga, very few people in the settlement are particularly well off in the first place, and what you might initially interpret as “oppression” is actually simply a small society having to live by strict rules in order to ensure that everyone is treated fairly. In turn, Banga as a whole is exploited and oppressed by a tense working relationship with a merchant who screws them over at every opportunity — and in turn, said merchant is also being oppressed by a considerably greater force well beyond his power to resist. The further in the game you go, the more layers of exploitation you discover until you eventually come across the most fundamental conflicts in the game’s unusual world.
Once Kat reunites with Dusty, all bets are off, and you know things are going to change, not just for our heroine but for everyone around her. Interestingly, though, despite Kat’s obviously “superheroic” powers, she remains the rather humble young girl she was in the original, never really taking on the role of a “leader” and instead preferring to act on other people’s suggestions. While it’s ultimately her abilities that tend to turn the tide in favour of “the good guys”, she’s not one to go looking for trouble herself — nor do you ever get the impression that she thinks of herself as invincible or as a one-woman army. In particular, it’s very touching to see how much more confident she is when cooperating with her friend and recurring character Raven.
This works from both a mechanical and narrative perspective; Kat is not the “leader” type, so it would be wildly out of character for her to lead the charge and come up with strategies herself, and likewise putting the player in the role of strategically leading any sort of “revolution” against the various oppressors you encounter in the game would require considerably more mechanical flexibility than your typical open world action game is able to provide — although it would most certainly be an interesting experience, it would also be a very different game. As such, Kat does what she’s told; the player does what they’re told; everything proceeds as planned. Except when, of course, the narrative dictates that it doesn’t.
Gravity Rush 2 is split into four main chapters: a short prologue chapter that focuses entirely on the small Banga settlement, a longer chapter in the new city of Jirga Para Lhao, a return to the original game’s setting of Hekseville, and a final chapter that explores where Kat came from before bringing things to a spectacular conclusion that wraps up the complete narrative that began in the original.
Each chapter is largely self-contained, with its own overarching plot featuring a beginning, middle and end. There are connections between the chapters, however, some of which are immediately obvious while others don’t become clear until much later. The links between Banga and Jirga Para Lhao are immediately apparent, for example, when the houseboat fleet docks in the city and just becomes part of one corner of the map; once Kat returns to Hekseville, however, it’s easy to feel like you’re playing a different game for a while — until things start to wrap up and we encounter a few connections between the two.
The end of the Hekseville chapter is actually treated as an “ending” to the game, since it includes a climactic boss battle and even a credits roll after you’ve successfully completed it. However, the final chapter goes on to bring Jirga Para Lhao and Hekseville together as one big “world” before sending Kat on her way to discover the truth about the strange happenings that appear to be ramping up. The conclusion to this part of the game, meanwhile, is very definitely “final”, though it leaves just enough teasers for another sequel to be a possibility at some point in the future.
In many ways, Gravity Rush 2’s overall structure reminded me of Clover Studio’s classic action adventure Okami; this, too, was a game that featured distinct, discrete “chapters” with their own self-contained stories, and which tricked the player into thinking it was all over several times before revealing that there was, actually, quite a bit more to do.
This kind of structure can easily be frustrating if the game as a whole drags on for too long, but fortunately Gravity Rush 2 keeps things reasonably pacy, with a total of about 25 main missions to complete in the main story, everything else being completely optional.
Like the previous game, Challenge Missions make a comeback, providing gameplay-centric, narrative-free opportunities to test your skill with Kat’s various abilities — and, as we’ll discuss in a moment, Kat has a much larger arsenal of actions to master this time around — while side missions act as their own independent “short stories” that help to flesh out the world as a whole.
Unlike the first Gravity Rush, whose few side missions were short, self-contained story arcs that primarily acted as an excuse to put Kat in a variety of different cute costumes, in Gravity Rush 2 they’re spread throughout the duration of the narrative and provide a means of introducing new characters, unlocking new Challenge Missions and simply putting everything else you’re doing in context.
Alongside these two sets of activities, you also have the opportunity to visit mining sites — the equivalent of the first game’s otherworldly Rift Planes, featuring similarly fantastic landscapes — to collect precious gems to upgrade Kat’s abilities and, more importantly, acquire talismans. Kat is able to equip three talismans at once, and they provide a variety of helpful passive abilities that range from simply enhancing the power of her attacks to automatically healing her over time in exchange for energy from her special attack meter or automatically picking up physics objects using her Stasis Field ability, ready to throw them at enemies..
The talismans also tie in with one of the biggest new features in Gravity Rush 2: the addition of two new “gravity styles”. Besides her ability to “fall” in any direction from the first game, Gravity Rush 2 also adds the ability for Kat to switch into the low-gravity Lunar Style or the high-gravity Jupiter Style, and each of the three different shapes of talisman favours one of the three styles in particular.
Each style has its own unique set of abilities, benefits and drawbacks, and all are useful in various situations. The Lunar Style’s “Spring Jump” ability, for example, allows you to reach high platforms in situations where your gravity power is limited, and its teleporting “Wormhole Kick” move is especially effective against fast-moving aerial enemies, which could be a real pain to defeat in the original game. Conversely, Jupiter Style’s heavy gravity puts considerably more power behind Kat’s attacks, often adding splash damage to surrounding enemies, as well as allowing her to move more quickly through the air at the expense of manoeuvrability.
Once these abilities are unlocked through story progress, you’re free to use them as you see fit in the open world to help you get around and explore — though certain missions restrict your abilities due to various circumstances — and indeed a variety of game features encourage you to deviate from the critical path to enjoy the beautifully crafted settings. Again, these activities are completely optional, but engaging with them leads to a deeper appreciation of the excellent job the team has done with worldbuilding on this game.
One of the major optional sidequests in the game involves taking photographs of various things. Kat acquires a camera early in the story and is able to take pictures either from a first-person perspective or by placing the camera on a static “tripod” (even in mid-air!) to take selfies. To complement this feature, there are a variety of different costumes and gestures you can unlock through the game’s side missions, allowing you to take pictures of Kat pulling silly faces and performing various actions — rather pleasingly, the NPCs that wander around the game world often react to these emotes, jumping back in surprise and dropping what they’re carrying when she tries to “scare” them; clapping her when she sings; looking up to the sky when she points in the air. This can make for some excellent pictures that are full of personality.
The photography sidequest doesn’t require the use of any of these features aside from the camera; it simply tasks you with tracking down twenty specific people (ten men, ten women) based on a cryptic clue and the name of the area they’re in, followed by twenty pieces of street art in awkward locations, and finally twenty landmarks from across Jirga Para Lhao and Hekseville. It ultimately has no impact on the game whatsoever, but it’s a satisfying and enjoyable diversion from the main story, encourages exploration and provides a way to learn more about the setting in various ways.
In narrative terms, the variety of different things you’re able to do in Gravity Rush 2 is entirely in keeping with Kat’s joyful personality. She loves her home, despite the fact it does, at times, mistreat her; she’s proud to act as its protector by helping out its residents through the side missions, and excited to appreciate it fully through photography and exploration.
In a broader sense, Gravity Rush 2 is a particularly good example of a “superhero game”, in which Kat acts as a lone, powerful figure of justice with a sincere and honest desire to help the people. In a world filled with gritty reboots of our favourite comic book heroes that attempt to muddy their motivations and make them into more interesting, often tragically flawed characters, Gravity Rush 2’s interpretation of the superhero genre is refreshingly simplistic and easy to derive joy from. Kat wants to help people, so she does. She doesn’t use her power to obtain an unfair advantage in any way — she lives in the sewers, for heaven’s sake — and her motivations don’t get any more complicated than this, even once we reach the revelations of the final chapter and discover who she really is.
While Gravity Rush 2’s overall narrative is a lot darker than the first game — particularly towards the conclusion of the Hekseville chapter — it is still, at heart, a very traditional, old-school superhero story about “good” triumphing over “evil”. And it’s hard not to love it for that. It’s a game that encourages its players to derive joy from the simple act of getting around, and a game that makes you feel good about playing the role of the sometimes clumsy, sometimes careless but always absolutely earnest, honest and downright lovable figure of Kat.
It’s a brilliant game, full stop, and a fitting follow-up to the low-key charm of the original. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last we’ve seen of our gravity-shifting heroine and the peculiar world in which she lives.
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