Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gravity Rush - Shift This Game To Your Vita

As I had only received a Vita this last Christmas, I have missed out on giving reviews of certain games upon their proper release. However, since I'm a PlayStation Plus member, I was able to download a number of games for free on the system (have to be careful with space though, since I only have a 4GB memory card for now and Vita cards are expensive). Since one of them happened to be Gravity Rush, a game released in June 2012 that I had heard some good things about, I decided to give it a try while waiting for a replacement copy of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Since completing it, I think I can now consider myself a fan of this game, despite some burning questions I have left.

Gravity Rush follows a mysterious young woman who has woken up in the cloud city of Hekesville with a case of amnesia. She sees a strange cat and decides to follow it, only to have to rescue someone. In desperation, the woman gains the ability to shift gravity from the cat and saves a boy, at the cost of losing his house. The woman then runs into an officer named Syd, who gives her the nickname Kat because of her cat, who she decides to name Dusty. She then learns of a woman named Raven, who has similar abilities thanks to a crow. As Kat goes around Hekesville, she comes to realize that there are many mysteries surrounding the town, but has yet to realize that she is a part of something much bigger than herself.

I enjoyed the story, which has plenty of twists and turns that have some sort of emotional impact. Mysteries are introduced at moments that make you wonder what will happen next, essentially driving you forward to try and learn the answers. It presents itself through initiated dialogue and cutscenes, which come in the CG and paneled varieties. The latter is in an interactive comic book style, where turning the Vita will change the viewpoint, albeit in a limited fashion, and swiping the screen provides one way to advance the scene. Naturally each panel contains a hand drawn representation of the events, complete with written sound effects, and they look fantastic. Presenting the next mission this way is more expressive and I'm glad that they decided to go this route, especially since I can easily read the speech balloons.

As I said in the last paragraph, the story presents mystery after mystery to keep the player going. While this is an effective narrative device, I came to a realization as the credits rolled that I don't think a lot of these got answered. Some of my burning questions are: "Who exactly is Alias?"; "What are the Nevi and where did they come from?"; "Who or what exactly is Kat?"; "What did she see in her vision and what is in the photo the man is looking at at the end?"; "Where did these animals come from and why can they bestow gravity shifting abilities?"; and "Is there a larger significance to the Creators?" All of these and more will likely be brought up in a sequel if that ever gets made, or hopefully (yet doubtfully) in the available DLC. I sometimes enjoy complexity in a story, but I also like it when these plots wrap themselves up in the same span of time or even save one of their bigger mysteries for a sequel hook. This doesn't mean I don't care about the plot in Gravity Rush, but it does mean that I would have liked to have more closure on the events.

The various story missions are designed very well for the most part. While the objectives vary, they usually involve going to a specific location in the area to interact with something, defeat enemies or carry someone somewhere. There is always a marker telling you where to go in space, which is actually extremely helpful due to the gravity shifting mechanic potentially occupying all 360 degrees. The main mechanic of the game is extremely easy to handle and brings a large element of satisfaction from its use. Gravity Shifting is triggered with a single press of the R button, with access to related abilities depending on what you press next, such as using another press of R to "fall" in an intended direction or Circle (O) to pick things up in a small circular field. The length of time you can do this for is represented by a blue gauge, which can be increased through upgrades. Pressing L will reset Kat to normal gravity, which has an added advantage of letting the gauge recharge. Sometimes while flying somewhere I would juggle between usage of both buttons to keep the gauge full for my purposes and it worked out really well.

By using the Vita's gyroscope functionality or the right analog stick, you can aim Kat in midair to determine where you'd like to fall. This also allows you to aim a Gravity Kick, which is an alternative to holding X to fall quicker as well as a move to use in combat. It is also essential to use the gyroscope to aim when performing a Gravity Slide, which requires pressing opposite ends of the touchscreen to activate; taking a thumb off the screen while doing this will allow Kat to slowly drift in one direction. While it takes some getting used to for the Gravity Slide to be any fun, the initial curve when figuring out can put you off using it for a bit and stick to your regular gravity powers.

Combat in Gravity Rush is also a little hit and miss. Aside from Kat's main move of kicking, just about every gravity power has some application to fight against Nevi, a species of indeterminable origin. I had a bit of fun with this, especially when I used certain special moves to get rid of them quicker, but in the later missions I started to get a little annoyed with it. Eventually the Nevi decide to spawn in increasingly larger numbers to drag the encounters out as long as they can, getting bigger and stronger each time; this isn't something to complain about too much, but that also means more points to try and hit on the Nevi each time, which becomes a little frustrating when you consider that they mostly have an odd geometry that requires you to constantly aim in different places while a bunch of red orbs are being fired at you. What also didn't help was that the enemy variety eventually sort of stopped outside of bosses. New Nevi are introduced at a pretty good interval, but then at the end the stronger ones are introduced as brand new enemies except now they have some kind of bone armor of sorts protecting one of their weak points. It felt a little uncreative and just made fighting them a little more tedious. Sometimes the special attacks didn't do what I wanted either, with the Spinning Claw, the one I leaned on the most, sometimes spiraling away from the action when it clearly hit once rather than continue to another weak point. Basically, the hit detection seemed a little off at times, but overall the combat system isn't broken and is tolerable to some degree.

Gravity Rush also has some RPG elements, at least in the form of leveling up your skills. You do this by collecting Precious Gems and purchasing upgrades at will. Precious Gems can be found either in the game world or by completing unlockable challenges. These challenges are unlocked by using some of the gems you have collected to repair some function of Hekesville, which can even serve as a means to get to parts that are much further away. I enjoyed this aspect and actually used the upgrade screen whenever possible to get more competent in combat. I'd even go around Hekesville just to see if I could find even more gems that I had missed by exploring even the underside of the city.

In terms of appearances, Gravity Rush is a very beautiful game. The art style is fantastic and really gives the game its own identity, down to the environments. I like the way the characters Kat and Raven are designed, straying away from stereotypical anime female designs and actually letting them be attractive while still wearing clothes that seem appropriate for the world. The cat Dusty was also designed in a way that it looked cute to me, even with the star pattern composing its body. Other characters that are important to the plot also have memorable designs without feeling out of place; everyone seemed to naturally fit in. I also liked the score and minimal voice acting, which actually felt like an interesting combination to keep the player fully involved in the setting.

Gravity Rush is a very strong title for the Vita. Its story is very engaging despite the lack of complete closure, the characters and setting are unique and interesting and it takes advantage of the system's capabilities very well without getting in the way of enjoying the experience. Combat may not be the best, but its actually quite fun and even a little tense when the setup is right. Although I downloaded it for free off PSN, I would still actually buy the game since I feel it really is worth the money. If you own a Vita and want a good start, make it Gravity Rush. Its setting will really draw you in and I can almost certainly guarantee that you'll have a good time.

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