Gravity Rush Review
Author's Note: Since Gravity Rush was released in June, three packs of DLC have been made available: The Military Pack, The Spy Pack and The Maid Pack. This review has been updated to include all three.
Gravity Rush, the long anticipated PS Vita-exclusive action game, reminds me a lot of Dead to Rights: Reckoning and Rengoku,two early PSP exclusives from a few years back. On the surface, these three games share almost nothing in common, but looking a little deeper reveals their desperate similarity. Rengoku and Dead to Rights: Reckoning were among the first PSP games to hit the market post-launch, just a few months after gamers got their first taste of the PSP with launch titles like Ape Escape: On the Loose and Metal Gear Ac!d. In the painful wait for the PSP to hit its stride, many placed undue hopes on these games' quality simply because they represented something, anything, new on the burgeoning handheld. Hindsight proves neither game was very good (or in Rengoku's case, terrifyingly bad), despite the deepest wishes of early PSP adopters. Gravity Rush, the highly anticipated Level 5 action title, falls into the same trap. After the crushing disappointment of Resistance: Burning Skies, many early Vita adopters have been looking to Gravity Rush as the struggling handheld's savior, its killer app. Like with Dead to Rights: Reckoning and Rengoku, though, history probably won't smile on this interesting yet broken title. Vita gamers will have to wait a little while longer before they get that killer app, no matter how loud the fans might be screaming now. Sorry, guys.
Gravity Rush isn't all bad, and what it gets right is pretty impressive. Players control Kat, an amnesiac girl who has the power to control gravity at will. First off, amnesia? Really? A long played-out plot device that felt lame 15 years ago? Well, either way, Kat is tasked with figuring out who she is (and was), battling with other gravity-shifters and reuniting the gorgeous and interesting city of Hekesville. The story, told mostly through static comic panels, is one of the best aspects of the game, despite the whole amnesia thing. Kat is a fascinating protagonist and following her tale to the end is, for lack of a better word, a rush (so sorry). But as cool as the story is, its almost a letdown because of its length. Without doing any side missions, the entire game can be finished in about eight hours. Once you've really started to care about Kat, things abruptly end and you'll be wondering where the other half of her journey went.
Without a doubt, the title's strongest points are the gravity manipulation and exploration. Sending Kat flying from one locale to the next is actually more fun than playing through the story missions. A quick tap of the R trigger causes Kat to float in mid-air, and an on-screen reticule appears. Using the analog sticks and even the Vita's gyroscope (trust me, you'll want to use the sticks), players line up where they'd like to go next. Another tap of the R trigger sends Kat on her way, soaring above (or below) the cityscape. Another tap of R freezes Kat, allowing you to point yourself in another direction, and tapping the L trigger changes gravity back to its normal configuration. The controls for this could have been a jumbled mess, and keeping that in mind makes the ease of this system even more impressive.
Once you've got it down, you'll probably want to explore Hekesville to the fullest. Purple gems are scattered everywhere and can be used to upgrade Kat's gravity skills, attacks and health. Searching for these can come at the detriment of the actual story missions; just poking around hasn't been this much fun since Spider-Man 2 on the PS2 or original Xbox. As you do play through the story, though, more an more sections of Hekesville are added, leading to even more time just flying around and spotting gems. The exploration and side-missions, which are your basic "kill this many enemies" or "time attack races," can add a ton of time to the relatively short story, and I imagine that even after finishing everything, gamers will go back to the title often just for the freedom of movement and seeing the sites.
So what prevents Gravity Rush from being that killer app that Vita gamers have been hoping for? The combat. In fighting the Nevi, black blobs with red weak points that represent the title's antagonists, Kat will have to use her gravity powers to triumph. The problem is that you'll need to take out most enemies with a flying gravity-destroying kick, and lining this up becomes extremely frustrating. Without much of a lock-on, you can send Kat soaring toward a Nevi, only to have it move slightly from one side to the other. Guess what? You missed. Try again. Late in the game, some Nevi with difficultly-placed weak points will inspire gamer rage as you fly right by them again and again. So bad combat and fun exploration means you'll almost dread having to play the enemy-laded story missions over just flying around. Not exactly the mark of the best game ever, as some would have hoped.
In one of the wisest moves made by a Vita developer yet, Gravity Rush has been supplemented with three separate packs of DLC. The first, The Military Pack, was only available to those who preordered or downloaded the full game through the PSN Store. The Spy Pack and The Maid Pack were both made available to everyone for the very reasonable asking price of $3.99 apiece. Each pack contains two "story" missions, a new outfit for Kat and a couple of new challenges. Though the packs only add about an hour each of stuff to do, the missions are varied and fun enough to make each one worth it. Granted, the packs are basically missions you've seen before with a new coat of paint, but if you dig the game you'll want these downloaded asap.
I actually liked Gravity Rush quite a bit. An interesting concept, a great story and some super easy controls made the game a dream to play, that is until a Nevi or two (or 10) stand in your way. The awful combat drags the entire game down and makes the story missions more a chore than an offshoot of a truly fun handheld game. Like with Dead to Rights: Reckoning and Rengoku, Gravity Rush's release date makes it important, but the underlying game is a mild disappointment. This isn't the Vita game we need to save the system, but it is leaps-and-bounds better than the other anticipated exclusive, Resistance: Burning Skies. That isn't saying much, but game-starved Vita owners will probably really enjoy this one. Just because Kat can change her world, don't expect Gravity Rush to change yours.
Final Rating: 74%. Just because Kat can change her world, don't expect Gravity Rush to change yours. (With the DLC all bought and paid for, the game's score deserves a slight bump. So we go from 68% to 74%.)