‘Gravity Rush 2’ gets the basics right, but little else

Gravity Rush 2 is a sequel that tries to do too much.

How did this happen after the original’s promising start? The 2012 PlayStation Vita game seemed like a natural fit for a PlayStation 4 sequel. A console release could make the gravity-shifting exploration and combat even more exciting. Right?

It does do that much, at least. Flinging yourself through the open spaces of Gravity Rush 2‘s network of floating islands and airships is a heady pleasure that really has no equal in gaming. 

That you do it against the backdrop of a fantastical anime cityscape worthy of a Miyazaki film makes the whole thing even more compelling. Seeing Gravity Rush 2 in motion is enough to make you want to play.

So where’s the problem? It’s not the world. The game has more sprawl than its predecessor, and in surprising ways. Gravity Rush 2‘s network of floating islands extends out in all directions, even up and down.

Narratively speaking, this turns into a neat visualization of the city’s social order. The poorest people live at the lowest elevation, then the middle class, then the wealthy, and finally, the military. 

There’s this thrilling moment early on when you descend into the low-income neighborhood for the first time — after spending the opening hours hanging with middle class folks exclusively — and you start to realize how the city is physically organized. It’s great. 

Image: Sony

Functionally, however, there’s not enough to help you fine-tune your sense of direction. A later side mission asks you to return to a particular gang’s hideout, nestled deep in the alleyway of the poorest neighborhood. 

You visited that location once, many hours in the past, but the game simply expects you to find it again without the aid of a checkpoint marker. An indicator appears when you get close enough, but “close enough” in this case should be defined as “when you reach the neighborhood” and not “when you’re flying past the one island — out of many — where the hideout was.”

There’s an excellent game buried in here somewhere. The story — which picks up after the original and, by the end, reframes the way you look at both games — is often surprising and filled with memorable characters. 

There’s an excellent game buried in here somewhere. 

Kat — the protagonist and so-called “Gravity Queen” — is still a lovable innocent, but the story brings important revelations about who she was before the events of both games. Returning players like Raven and Syd — along with newcomers like Lisa and Cecie — feel less fleshed out initially, but take on added dimension as the story grows more serious. 

The story plays out similar to the way it did before, with Kat flitting around the world as she participates in the lives of those around her. Some of the best character development comes from side missions, though the additional narrative texture comes at a cost.

This is where the larger issues start creeping in. Gravity Rush was a smartly conceived game, but Japan Studio fails to build on its previously proven concepts. Instead, the developer invests much of the sequel’s growth in ideas that didn’t work before — and still don’t — or needlessly wastes the player’s time with busywork.

Image: Sony

Take the now-abundant stealth sequences. It didn’t work in Gravity Rush and it’s no better here. There’s nothing mechanically built into the sequel that supports your sneakery. No vision cones or minimap, no checkpoint markers, and only minimal environmental storytelling to gently push you toward the right path.

The game says you’re not supposed to get spotted, but it doesn’t give you the means to do so in an engaging way. Stealth in Gravity Rush 2 comes down to trial-and-error experimentation as you look for whatever specific path the game wants you to take.

It’s dull, though still far more entertaining than the moments when Kat starts acting like a private investigator. One of the major recurring elements in story and side missions both is a process of sleuthing out some piece of information. But instead of doing detective work, you’re just mindlessly pressing buttons and hoping it ends quickly.

During these investigation sequences, you wander around some designated area and talk to everyone you see. Most of them can’t help you — and they say as much — so you’re looking for the ones that can. But just like the stealth moments, your tools are lacking.

It’s not clear where the boundaries of an investigation area are until your “Talk” or “Show Picture” prompt disappears. It’s not even clear how these moments work, really. You might talk to two people, or 12, or more than 20 before someone has useful info to share. There’s not even an indicator to let you know who you have and haven’t spoken to.

It’s just aimless wandering, on foot and in a small area. There’s no sense of challenge, nothing to tax you mentally. 

That’s just bad design. It artificially pads the game with an aimless activity that serves neither the story nor the ineffable “fun” factor. It just kills the clock, because … reasons?

That feeling of aimlessness also applies to exploration in general. With no on-screen minimap and a minimalistic approach to directional indicators, it’s often difficult to tell where you are or where you’re going.

This wasn’t so much an issue in the original game, where the technical limitations of the Vita kept the city manageable. But the intense sprawl of Gravity Rush 2‘s floating city is frequently disorienting.

Image: sony

It’s not all bad news. The gravity-shifting aerial combat remains as thrilling and unique as it was in 2012. Targeting can be tricky — especially later on as the screen floods with different degrees of threats for you to prioritize — but the basic act of flying around and kicking stuff is still satisfying.

The addition of new “styles” — Lunar and Jupiter, for light/fast and heavy/slow attacks, respectively — infuses that combat with even more depth. You switch on the fly by swiping up and down on the DualShock 4’s touchpad, rearranging your moveset in an instant. 

A bit of foresight is required to manage the uncooperative camera, since control of it is completely manual. You’ve got to anticipate where you’re going to turn or aim next. But once you master it, your level of control over the beatdowns you dish out opens the way to some exciting moments.

There are also some sharp, new ideas in addition to the deeper combat and traversal abilities. A series of block-shifting puzzles toward the end of the game pops up out of nowhere and could have used more attention. And an inventive series of recurring Treasure Hunt missions — all driven by hint photos snapped by other players — gives some purpose to exploration, in the form of useful rewards.

Ultimately, Gravity Rush 2‘s biggest problem may be explained away as an ungainly leap from handheld game to console game. Instead of creating larger and more elaborate challenges around the game’s wonderful core mechanics, Japan Studio stuffed this sequel full of undercooked odds and ends.