Welcome back to our Game In Progress review of Gravity Rush 2. In this second entry, Clayton Purdrom plays through the third chapter of this physics-defying adventure and comes crashing back to reality after a superlative opening. You can find every part of his review here.
In Gravity Rush 2, you’re never actually flying: You are only ever reversing the direction of gravity and then actually falling in that direction. This is a semantic point that explains some of the game’s eccentricity. The entire game is one ceaseless vertiginous plunge, a flailing descent you can only barely control. The best you can do is stop it, reposition gravity in a new direction, then start falling again. In a game designed for delightful dicking around, there is no better way to waste time than climbing to the top of a building, leaping off the edge, and watching as it lovingly animates a catastrophic collision with the ground, on-lookers scampering out of the way and furniture shattering into a million pieces.
It’s only appropriate, then, that after the vaulting accomplishment of Jirga Para Lhao, an immediate entrant to the canon of great video game cities, the game itself crashes to earth. Did I seriously think there were going to be multiple cities of such invention and scale? No, at the beginning of Chapter 3, you wake up in… Hekseville, the setting of 2012’s Gravity Rush. It’s been given a facelift, with a vaguely dystopian totalitarian regime moving in, and its cobblestone Victorian streets are drawn with more elaborate texture and detail. But it is still only Hekseville, a city that felt rich when explored through the PlayStation Vita’s 5-inch screen but feels, after the limitless sprawl and invention of Jirga Para Lhao, constrictive and retrograde here. Had the blue skies and seafood bazaars and fathomless smoggy seas of Jirga Para Lhao all been a dream? It is a separate dimension in Chapter 3, walled off and unreachable.
It’s hard not to feel like the faults of the original Gravity Rush crowd back in, too. The “gravity storm” at the sequel’s outset had seemed like an eraser to the chalkboard—a hard reset on the lame mythos and cast of characters from the original. The social hierarchies explored so clearly in Jirga Para Lhao, encouraging the player to literally leap social strata in the midst of a single mission, offered such a rich counterpart to the meaningless progression of the first game. And yet, here was the whole damn gang from the original, crowding back into frame—that magical old guy, some fortune-teller, the old soundtrack and the old city, and the same damn gems in the same damn places. They already released Gravity Rush Remastered last year; here it is, remastered again, with everything falling into beats that had seemed abandoned.
The Gravity Rush games are clearly styled to draw in anime fans, but Gravity Rush 2 staked a claim on the form’s hallucinatory side. It evokes the cinematic mindfucks of Satoshi Kon, rather than the “teenagers discussing friendship” style of anime that the original indulged. Anyone who plays video games has developed a certain intestinal fortitude for such anime bullshit, and I fancy mine robust. I will slug through dozens of hours of utter nonsense in a JRPG if the world is attractive enough; I will endure endless expository information about crystals and ancient curses if there is a good, long grind. I like the look of most anime enough to give it a shot, but I like the writing of most of it so little that I can’t stick around for more than 20 minutes. My point is not my own predilections—if you play video games, you invariably already know exactly where you fall on the anime-bullshit tolerance spectrum. My point is that Gravity Rush 2 will probe that, pulling you in with classic sci-fi imagery before slowly populating that world with Last Airbender mystics and high-pitched battle cries and no less than three pairs of scantily clad fighting women. You will unlock increasingly sexy outfits for the protagonist. Can you stomach such fetishism in order to save Jirga Para Lhao?
On the other hand, the game also features the sort of gonzo high-concept eccentricity that only Japanese cartoons and video games can deliver: a floating battle fortress, splitting in two to reveal a mile-long cannon; a sentient beast constructed of skyscrapers and city blocks; a hellish, many-headed monster, screaming in agony as you high-kick it in its many eyes. This is righteous stuff, rendered in real-time with the same architectural grace and screen-cracking scale that the game draws its cities. As in the first game, it can be a pain in the ass taking these things on. Many of the game’s fights struggle to find a sweet spot between easily spammed toy soldiers and wonky, screen-flipping exercises in trial and error. Gravity Rush 2 funnels the player from one weird activity to the next—chasing birds through the sky, delivering newspapers, sliding along building faces, going to war against these dadaist nightmares—with a clear aim to make everything feel nice. The aiming is a lot stickier, and the weird activities feel bounded and better structured. Every high kick lands with a wet pop. It’s here, in the finicky gray space between user input and subjective frustration, that the game will find critics.
And yet, laser-tight precision in these moments would be asking for something from the game that it doesn’t claim to offer. The game is not heir to Bayonetta; it is heir to Super Mario Galaxy, a platformer whose platforms have been dressed and spaced with extravagant abandon. And so, despite all of these critiques—the disappointing return to Hekseville, the increasingly indulgent anime costumes you unlock, the game’s juxtaposition between awe-inspiring scale and gated-in level design—Chapter 3 continues to work. The game isn’t meant to be mastered, it’s meant to be savored, slowly and stupidly, flailing and falling. Every time Kat crash-lands after a minutes-long descent through space, she dusts herself off, no worse for the wear. Its surplus of side missions and never-ending intergalactic mining spaces call out for a leisurely pace; its endless rows of gems, in Hekseville and Jirga Para Lhao, urge you to constantly take the long way.
That is what I plan to do. Chapter 3 ends as if the game itself has: credits rolling, happily-ever-afters decreed, comeuppances delivered. But then it shoves you into some new world where Hekseville and Jirga Para Lhao aren’t separate realities but twin cities, separated by a chasm of clouds. New side missions and mining sites pop up, as well as a final series of epilogue quests. I won’t report back until I’ve dawdled through them all. You take your time, too.