Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review - Gravity Rush


It's a simple thing, yet I feel that it's something that video games have yet to really get a grasp on, to really give an appropriate sensation or feeling for.  While you're not expressly flying in Gravity Rush, it's close enough and manages, I feel, to buck the trend for the most part which is something of no small praise.  If for nothing else, if there were no other redeeming features to it, I would still recommend a play of Gravity Rush simply for that, for the absolute freedom you're instilled with when you soar through the air with the greatest of ease.  Fortunately for anyone that does play the game, however, the game shines in many many places so it's not a situation where your enjoyment will be wholly condensed in flying about.  However, if there is anything that will keep you playing the game when you're done with the story, it will be just that and I'll explain why in a bit.

First off, to elucidate the point about flying - you are not, in fact, flying when you play the game.  Contrary to the point, you're falling for the most of the game, it's just that you can control -how- you fall which is to say that you can make yourself fall directly up or fall against the side of a building so that you can stand as if you were perfectly upright.  Because you are, you see, just not perfectly upright in the comprehension of the rest of the world.  In much less confusing terms, the ability that our protagonist, Kat, is provided with is the ability to shift how gravity affects her.  That is to say when you are flying up, you're falling up because gravity in relation to her has been shifted to work that way.  It's an impossible concept to really state any easier than that, but I'm sure the spirit of it is not lost on you.  Basically, aiming your reticule on the side of a building and falling to it, then standing on it as with the opening picture means that the side of the building is the 'ground'.  It's like an M.C. Escher work in theory, but as a video game mechanic.

The mechanic is a lot less confusing if you don't think about it, of course, since it is fairly simple in practice while you're playing the game.  At most any time, you can hit the R button to suspend Kat in her own little anti-gravity bubble so that you can spin about and choose a direction in which to fall towards, hitting R once more to initiate said falling process.  The speed with which you fall is one of the short list of things you can upgrade in the game, but in my opinion it's more for the feel as the speed is really no more or less utilitarian at the start than at the end when you've gone and upgraded everything and still have 6,000 crystals in reserve.  That is how it works in its simplest form, though; press R, pick point, press R, fall, stand.  As you might imagine, you're not going to be using that a whole lot because it's never as simple as that except for in the start, and that is certainly the case with Gravity Rush, as it expects you to embrace, to master this mechanic of getting around.  And you, as the player, should want to do just this as well.

As you begin to understand the nuances of the system and implement them, that is when the real beauty of the game kicks in, since it allows you to get fancy, to zip around in impossible ways were you lacking the finesse, and to truly understand the quickest and smartest ways to get from point A to point B.  Of course, and I'm not sure if this is my own fault or not, but the system seems perfect when the situation doesn't exactly call for such precise measures as you're able to pull off.  Accuracy is not necessarily a strong point of the system which is a bit annoying when objectives call for it.  Most notably here are the side challenges that test your ability to get around in a fast, efficient way which need you to be able to turn and twist as you -want- to do, but to also land in exact spots which is a much-less achievable goal.  Too many times did I manage to land on the same general area as an objective, yet need to move the few extra steps to actually trigger it.  I'm hoping the sequel (yes, -the- sequel, not -a possible- sequel) will either re-evaluate this or tighten up the controls a bit to allow you to hit these as they desire.

Getting around is hardly the area where accuracy is against you the most, however.  That is reserved exclusively to the combat system which is a real shame from my point of view, as you all might know combat is a big component in video games to me.  The bulk of the combat in Gravity Rush is basically making use of the above, the Gravity Kick, to launch your foot of power directly against an exposed Nevi's core (Nevi being the baddies of the game, of course) from mid-air.  It utilizes the same base principle behind the basic shifting, except velocity increases the damage you do when you connect.  If you connect, however.  Basically what it means is that the further away you are (to a degree) when you initiate the kick, the more damage you do, except you're a little more likely to miss completely if the target moves a lot since you can mostly just fine-tune your direction mid-air.  It's a basic Risk/Reward approach which is not wrong in concept nor is it generally wrong in practice either.  The rub comes in when you have enemies that, whether intentional or not, are basically shielded from this attack not by requiring you to do it more (which exist as well, in the form of shelled Nevi) but by simply having, let's call it 'natural armor' that makes it rather difficult for you to connect, even at close range.

Later on in the game, you start to encounter bigger and badder Nevi that are shaped as actual -things- rather than the walking little blobs towards the beginning that can waddle up to you and smack you if you're not paying attention.  Without getting too detailed, the ones that gave me the most grief are Nevi that are shaped, more or less, in a rather Dragon-esque form.  They have three sets of wings, an elongated body and a head and fire off a plentiful amount of projectiles that have limited homing and can stop you mid-air if they hit you.  They are not inherently deadly if you're even decent at the game, of course, but the trouble comes in actually defeating them.  Their cores are located on the back and the head, three for the wings specifically, and they are nearly impossible to reach at range because the wings pull all the way back over them as it flies.  If you hit them, or any part of a Nevi's 'body', you bounce harmlessly off or are shoved off in a different direction.  As I've alluded, I'm not entirely sure if that's intentional or not, but it's there regardless and it means that I spent quite a lot of time throwing Gravity Kick after Gravity Kick at these specific foes and not hitting them at all because my timing wasn't precise.

Those of you with sense are probably shouting at the screen "This is what the special attacks are for!" and you very well may be right as there are a few Special Attacks you can gain in the game and they prove to be very very useful when you actually use them.  To my own fault, I underutilized the special attacks in the game purely because I always wanted to keep them back 'for an emergency' or the like.  You know what I'm talking about - those Megalixers or equivalent that sit in your inventory during a JRPG through the boss fight, through the optional super hard boss fight(s), they're there 'just in case' and you never use them and it just makes things difficult for you.  I could surmise that it's the limited cool-down that the abilities require that deterred me from using them (particularly because I couldn't pin down an indicator that suggests how long it would be), lending to the 'just in case' mentality, but the point I'm trying to make is that the Gravity Kick is obviously expected to be your main tool, and enemies that have unnatural protection from it is a worthy grumbling point.  Though in the scheme of things, they were mercifully uncommon, so I can't strike too hard against them.

Your other methods of bringing the ruckus are basically just the ground combo of punches and kicks which you likely won't use quite as much as I would prefer, and utilizing the stasis field to launch things that are not yourself at foes.  Special attacks aside, the Stasis Field, an ability that allows you to project a small field that grabs up items around you to be flung at enemies, is your only real method of using projectiles which....kind of seems like a wasted opportunity to me, personally.  But at the same time, being an origins story, I can understand that Kat can only control herself and have a minimal effect on the environment, as it were.  Regardless, the Stasis Field was also something that I completely under-used which is a strike against my playing ability as well, as well as my ability to comprehend things.  Such as leveling up the Stasis Field allows you to pick up more things if you hold the button longer.  Part of my under-use of the ability was my failure to get that which lead me to get frustrated when I was still only picking up two people at a time from a group of them in challenges that required you to grab people and take them to points of safety.  So I made specific mention of it here in case it was not merely a fault of me being dumb and it'd help someone else.

Almost as important as the ability to craft a system as free and fluid as Gravity Rush's shifting, is the care and detail shown in the process of making the world with which you use it.  In that department, the game is no slouch either, as the world is rather lovely to look at and not only for the very distinct art style that the game uses throughout.  More to the point, it's -cohesive- or at least as cohesive as a city semi-supended in air from being built around an endless pillar can be.  Each district of the city has its own distinct style that makes it more or less appealing to be hanging around in, depending on your preferences and the game offers fairly fun ways of getting between them if you don't have enough gravity juice, as it were, to just get there that way.  (By the end of the game you will)  Between riding on the tops of trains and sky taxis and such to get around, you're offered a lot of chances to just take in the scenery which can be just wonderful as you see above and it's those moments that really just let you appreciate it all.

These moments only come as you contend with the story, of course as in the case with most sandbox games.  The world is not fully open to you to start with and only opens up more and more as you get further and further along and that's fine with me as it doesn't feel quite as superfluous or forced as other games handle it.  Though, the story is not without its own flaws as it sort of requires you to ignore a few very obvious things (obvious to us as observers, that is, people who kind of have seen many types of song-and-dances before) which lead to "well, duh" moments that don't quite have an impact on us as much as they do the characters.  Similarly, the story seems to forget a lot of its own points here and there until it all of a sudden remembers them and thrusts them back in, insisting they're relevant when they really aren't.  Without spoiling anything, and saying this in a way that will likely only make sense to people who've played it, one thing in particular is pretty important for the start of the story, disappears completely, and then only pops up a couple more times to screw with the perceptions of not only Kat, but the player as well.  I'm waffling between whether or not I actually like this or not because it is nothing if not effective, but I'm not sure if it was as intended.

Things sort of begin to feel very general in terms of whether it's 'important' or 'important right now' when new plot points come up and it's more or less appropriate for an Origins story, but can leave the player sort of unsure of what to hinge on.  What I mean by this is that in most games, you have a very clear end-goal and a very obvious way of getting there and it's just usually a matter of the journey in between.  With Gravity Rush, there is sort of an end-goal that arcs over everything else, but it generally gets pushed into the background and is not resolved in the game at all.  Then as plot points pop up, they're generally swiftly resolved which just leads you into bringing up new ones so you can put them down as well.  To say any more would be spoiling matters, but suffice to say that I'm not throwing it down as an utter negative, nor am I saying the game is unfocused or anything like that.  But personally, while playing it, I found that my motivation never got honed to a fine point, since I never felt as if I was really in for the long haul against something.

At the same time, the ending does offer a satisfying bit of closure while still leaving the door open for the inevitable sequel in a fairly subtle way which is appreciated.  I mean, I know that the goal is to have another game in the series, but at least it didn't end with a "To Be Continued..." or a scene with one of the main characters turning out to be working with a big bad all along or anything so undesirable as that.  And I have to say that the very last bits of the game, the penultimate and final boss sections were possibly one of the more enjoyable segments in the game for me.  The penultimate boss because it absolutely nailed how the game should have felt all throughout because it was face-paced and allowed for the sort of finesse that you've gained by that point but aren't really expected to use.  It's hard to quantify it in words, but even though I spent the fight using the basically same tactic as any other boss battle which is more or less "Gravity Kick a lot", it -felt- like there was more to it than that because of the pacing and the openness of the battlefield itself.  It was glorious.  The final boss fight was the standard fare of the others, however the framing of it in terms of the story put it up there as something much more than that pretty easily.

When the story ends, however....that's about it which is quite unfortunate.  Side-content in sandbox games is often a double-edged sword as we all enjoy the opportunity to have other things to do in a game besides the main story, but there's a very fine line where there is too much of that and I don't think anybody quite knows where that line is.  Either they go far too much across it, or don't even come close to it, with nobody really having a good, happy medium spot and that's certainly the case with Gravity Rush.  In a game where pretty much all I want is more incentive to fly around and do stuff, there is little to be found beyond my own personal enjoyment.  Give me some sort of validation for finding it ever so fun to get around in your game because simply flying about because it's fun is fun, but we all have to move on eventually and I would like if it wasn't so easy to move on from a game I enjoy so thoroughly.

To this end, you only really have two options with the first being the Challenge Missions scattered about.  There is a surprisingly good amount of them, which by that I mean there are not too many nor too few, and they offer, unsurprisingly, a good challenge to be had which sometimes threaten to steal goodly amounts of time from your life to fine-tune your movements and to teach you the true finesse in the game.  It's not uncommon that you'll come in really really closely, but they're all very beatable with a little effort which is a very good area to be in.  The main flavors of these challenges are racing in nature, but specifically some task you with racing to checkpoints while making careful use of precious little energy, some have you fight as many Nevi as you can in a time frame and then you have the dreaded sliding races which make use of checkpoints and the Gravity Slide technique which is near-universally despised since...well, it's not very good.  Sliding takes the accuracy issues of the game and exemplify them, almost putting them under a lens because you very nearly have no control if you're not moving directly ahead.  It has its uses, but they are not ever-present given the limited scope the technique offers.

Beyond that there is only one 'collectible' which comes in the form of 'Travelers' whom you speak with.  They are not the easiest people to find, as they're not available on your map at all, only denoted by their speech icon if you're close enough to be able to spot it and their locations are generally the places you're not really expecting on going.  Which sort of touches on giving you a reason to fly around and explore, but without other things to find, it can be quite discouraging and end solely in just looking up a guide because it becomes more of a nuisance looking around to no avail.  However, these two people, for reasons I'm not going to get into, have a fairly important side-story, and divulge more and more of it with every encounter, thus making it worth it to seek them out at the very least.  It's optional of course, but interesting nonetheless because of what they have to say.  However, there are only 16 encounters and when they're done, they are -gone- and that is it.

It's kind of unfortunate because I am dead serious when I say that.  Like inFamous, there are all sorts of things scattered about that you pick up to improve your powers in a completely optional way (speaking of inFamous' blast shards specifically versus the crystals in GR) but they're handed out like coins in a Mario game or rings in a Sonic game so finding a cluster of them is not even a reward so much as a thing that will occur several times in the span of a few minutes.  Just something else like that, like the Blast Shards from inFamous, a game that I've made several allusions to when speaking of Gravity Rush being both Origins stories of sorts, would have been nice if just to give you a sort of meta-reward as it were.  I don't need to find 100 of them scattered over the world in completely obtuse places as other games treat their collectibles, but I want them in there nonetheless. 

Even though there is not exactly a lot in the game beyond the story content, what -is- there is quite worthy and definitely enjoyable.  The knowledge that it will not be the last bit of it by any stretch is very welcome, however since by no means is this the last time we'll see Kat.  Which isn't counting her cameo appearances in Hot Shots Golf and Playstation All-Stars (which isn't confirmed but come on) of course, as there is definitely more story out there that I have no reason to think we won't get.  Gravity Rush is a very good, very viable IP to sell on the Vita and it won't be the last I'm sure.  When the next installment will show up, I have no real idea, but I know that it won't be soon enough for my desires since I want more Gravity Rush right this moment.  Which, if nothing else, is pretty much the point to make for the entire game, double-speak involved with that and all.

The Good
  • Impressive Art Style makes it very distinct all throughout and wonderful to play for it
  • Kat is a very likeable protagonist, having enough personality to establish herself quite early and build on through the rest of the game
  • The Controls offer a very real possibility to do some impressive things for the pure joy of it
  • To further that point, 'flying' feels and works fantastically making it just a pleasure to play
  • The actual setting of the game is whimsical and lovely, with the people milling about keeping it from feeling 'empty' as most sandbox games struggle with
  • The story does several things correctly throughout for a proper Origins story
  • The story also comes to a proper conclusion if not a 'complete' one
  • The penultimate boss fight of the game is honestly like the perfect moment of the game
  • There's a very real amount of charm that permeates through the entire game which elevates it overall
The Bad
  • The game's challenges want a higher level of accuracy than players can comfortably give
  • Gravity Sliding sections.  'Nuff said
  • The story, by virtue of being an Origins story, brings up a lot to think about and to work with later
  • Combat system isn't too varied, the Gravity Kick is pretty much your go-to move
  • Some enemies have a sort of unnatural defense against the Gravity Kick, meaning battles go on far too long because of it (unless you use a special attack, probably)
  • There's a real lack of side content
  • The side content that's there (The Travelers) is a nuisance to get to because it's in no other company
Mogs Says
I really like Gravity Rush because, quite simply, it is a very likeable game.  It is a very good game and a strong contender for being the game (of the year) for some folks and this is all for very good reason.  The control of movement that the game really offers is staggering if you think about it and when you wrap your head around it, the controls with which to make it wonderful come naturally.  This, combined with the other efforts of the game itself make it really and truly enjoyable to play and experience.  If you have a Vita, then you likely have this game, possibly because of this game.  However, if by some strange reason you don't, this is definitely something you should get because this, more than anything else I've played so far, exemplifies the Vita itself with the subtle uses of the complete range of its features and gives an experience that you couldn't find anywhere else.

No comments:

Post a Comment