'Gravity Rush 2' Is Guided By a Singular, Bright Vision

The telltale touch of Keiichirō Toyama is all over this second game, setting it apart from less-singular “action-adventures”.

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Jan 10 2017, 9:00pm

I'm about three hours into Gravity Rush 2, so I'm not about to make a definitive statement on its complete qualities, on whether or not you should part with your hard-earned cash for a copy—but the reviews are pleasingly positive. And it's nice to have something new to play, isn't it?

What hasn't yet grabbed me—just as it never quite did in the original game, which I dabbled with on Vita and in its PS4 remaster—is the character of Kat, the protagonist. She's does as she's told by her boss Lisa, and is pretty quick to wind her neck in—at least, so far in this sequel. She's actually sort of annoying, and doesn't really stamp her presence on the production like she might, hamstrung as she is by a drawn-out tutorial. I'm still being told how to use her most elementary powers, in the fourth chapter. The handholding is starting to cramp.

But there's a long way to go yet, and I could come away from the experience with a totally different opinion. I mean, I've only just been introduced, vaguely, to the photo-sharing "Treasure Hunt" function, which Eurogamer's review of the game highlights as one of its purest delights. A long way to go, yet.

Header and all Gravity Rush 2 screenshots courtesy of Sony

But what I am smitten by this time around, as before, is how the game looks, sounds and feels. It's tt once familiar—with its curious combination of American and Japanese comic-book looks, architecture that's somewhere between 18th century Europe and classical fantasy constructions—and completely alien, with misshaped purple-orbed meanies and that singularly brilliant gravity-control mechanic, a trick that just clicks, whoosh, and becomes entirely second nature when navigating both games' free-roam hubs and linear missions alike. 

Even if you never played Gravity Rush, you probably saw a picture of it in a magazine, or a video online, or an advert in a store. Kat's strange outfit, the cat with a galaxy inside it, the buildings all standing to attention in the wrong direction: a collage of such unusual sights couldn't fail to leave an impression. So when you see imagery from the sequel, the connection is made, with no uncertainty: this is another Gravity Rush, and nothing else.

Many great shooters came out in 2016, but, visually speaking, most weren't wildly distinctive. I don't know if many outside of gaming circles would easily identify Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare from Titanfall 2.

Future-world settings, big guns, bigger robots: it'd be easy for someone like, say, my dad, or even my wife to check out a screenshot from each and assume them to be the same game. They're two of the most-played games in the world, but from a distance even I can mix up Dota 2 and League of Legends. (And I wrote a whole book focused on the latter.)

Gravity Rush 2

But Gravity Rush didn't look like any other 3D platformer, like any other "action-adventure" game. Nobody would mistake it for an Uncharted, or a Legend of Zelda, or a Tomb Raider. Its sequel only obviously bears the design influences of its predecessor, expanding upon them, going further down the rabbit hole of one person's imagination. And it's this individualism of form and function that I think comprises the most pertinent character of the game, early doors anyway, beyond its cast and their various quests.

Keiichirō Toyama is said designer, and if that name rings a bell, it's because he wrote and directed Silent Hill for Konami back in 1999. Running on original PlayStation hardware, the foggy, snowy visuals of that game were unmistakably, iconically its own. Combined with the sound design, crawling over your skin like bugs, it had an atmosphere of pressing dread that set it apart from the more jump-scary Resident Evil series.

Both Gravity Rush games see Toyama carving out a distinct aesthetic space for himself, in the middle of the very crowded "action-adventure" marketplace. These first three hours of Gravity Rush 2 have seen Kat go from floating airships and cloud-nestling settlements in the sky to shattered ruins and the oversized vegetation of "The Forbidden Lands", which stirs in the mind thoughts of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, albeit carpeted in this case by a thick, poisonous fog.

Gravity Rush 2

At no point, however, does any of it look incoherent, disconnected from the location before it. Everything is bound by the same logic: platform placement, distance between action and interaction points, visuals consistently resplendent in their almost-hand-drawn style. As Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton puts it, the game's "aesthetic beauty is so bounteous". I cannot disagree with that—and judging by that same write-up, the sights are only going to get more spectacular.

The more games that stack up around me, asking to be played, but so often only explored to a cursory depth, the more I am drawn deeper to those from an identifiable place of expression. I think we all find ourselves in that position from time to time: pulled towards experiences that we feel have been ostensibly tailored more by hand than directed by a gaggle of suits shouting at each other to meet delivery dates. Which isn't to knock the Big Guns—but even the best of them get deafening after a while.

Having finished Hotel Dusk: Room 215 over Christmas, I've moved onto Capcom's Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective for the DS. Four or five hours into it, I can honestly say I've never played a game quite like it. It doesn't control like another game I can think of—you have to switch between the land of the living and the ghost world in order to manipulate objects around your glowing soul—and it looks stunning, the fluid and personality-rich animations of each character reminiscent of the original Flashback, only with the production values cranked up to Hollywood levels.

Gravity Rush 2

Ghost Trick is one of only two directorial credits for Shu Takumi that isn't an Ace Attorney title—the other is, brilliantly, Dino Crisis 2—and there's definitely a little Phoenix Wright to how the game pops with bright, cartoon-like figures and sharp audio cues when there's a twist in the tale.

Which is to say: it bears its maker's brushstrokes. The same can be said of The Last Guardian, in relation to its director Fumito Ueda and the Team Ico games that preceded it; and anyone else whose authorship is evident on screen.

Gravity Rush 2 bears its maker's brushstrokes. And that's important. It's a game that reminds us: some one made this. Many people did, of course; but at the very center of things there is a spark of vision, and that's the product of a single mind. Toyama mightn't use the same palette that he began with in the late 1990s, but his touch remains unique: the only work with which to draw any kind of worthwhile parallel, when assessing this latest release, is his own. And that, in and of itself, is quite the fascinating characteristic.

Gravity Rush 2 is released for the PlayStation 4 on January 20th.

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