The most recent game to receive the “remastered” treatment, Gravity Rush Remastered is Bluepoint Entertainment’s effort to remaster Project Siren’s game in a platform transition from PS Vita to PS4. I should note upfront that I never played the Vita original, so this remaster is my first taste of Gravity Rush.
The game starts with amnesiac protagonist Kat waking up in the flying city Hekseville, followed by a cosmic cat whose companionship gifts her with the powers of a “gravity shifter”, meaning she can manipulate gravity around her person to fling herself at great speed in any direction. This skill also empowers her to take on the Nevi, malevolent otherworldly creatures that plague Hekseville’s unfortunate citizens alongside freak gravity storms. Compelled to help those in need and driven to discover the circumstances of her past and the nature of this mysterious city in the sky, Kat quickly establishes herself in town and meets a colourful cast of people in her search for answers.
Kat and the host of supporting characters are wonderfully designed with an original, varied yet cohesive aesthetic that’s well realised on the PS4. Hekseville itself is a bit less interesting, with little to differentiate each area’s vibe apart from a different omnipresent colour saturation for each district. I’m also not entirely sold by the game’s eclectic, jazzy background music that plays out while you explore the city. While it initially frames the jaunty environmental and character designs quite well, it eventually plays out as cloying and repetitive. Nevertheless, the environments tend towards openness and are well laid-out to accommodate for your topsy-turvy gravity bending shenanigans.
It’s clear from the outset that the main draw of Gravity Rush lies in Kat’s gravity shifting powers, and thankfully the game excels in their realisation. The controls are fairly simple: a tap of R1 detaches her from the ground, then the right stick and/or Sixaxis aims a reticle at the point you want her to “fall” (fly) towards with a second tap of R1. You can quickly pause in space and re-angle your fall on the fly, and you’re soon tumbling through the city with ease and a certain grace. You’re encouraged to explore Hekseville to pick up ability-boosting crystals dotted around the city like the orbs from Crackdown, and it’s just as satisfying to sweep up tens to hundreds of the things on your way between main and side objectives in the open world.
Much of the combat against the Nevi revolves around finding the right angle to strike their weak points indicated in classic video game style as glowing bulbs on their bodies. On the ground you’re restricted to simple kicks and sliding attacks, but in the air you use the gravity shift-aiming reticle to pinpoint Nevi weak points for well-placed flying kicks. This leads to impressively balletic mid-air combat as you tumble, zoom and kick your way through the opposition. For the most part It’s mesmerising and involving to puzzle out the best way to exploit weaknesses in your enemies’ guard, although some frustratingly elusive foes are overused later on.
It’s also worth noting how well the Sixaxis integration works for fine-tuning the aim of your falls and kicks, especially mid-combat. The sensitivity is well-tuned and feels appropriately accurate. I injured my right thumb the day before I started the game, and I really appreciated the stress it took off my thumb as I pulled off more and more complex aerial manoeuvres. Even in absence of that very specific injury, the option to tweak your direction while your thumb is occupied with pressing the face buttons for attacks is a welcome option. This is the best version of motion control utilisation: an optional compliment to traditional button inputs.
While the game’s core mechanics are satisfying on a fundamental level, it’s the mission design in which you employ them that the game occasionally falls short. There’s a decent amount of variety in mission objectives, but it’s variety wasted on baffling decisions that don’t make the best use of the strength of Kat’s gravity shifting powers. A decent amount of missions remove your powers for a time, which only serves to point out Kat’s stilted and imprecise movement when confined to the ground by traditional gravity. There are two forced-stealth sections in the main storyline rendered nearly pointless by both the incredibly low stakes (go back twenty paces and try again if you’re spotted!) and their pitifully short duration. I’m not sure why resources were focused on what amounts to about 4 minutes of stealth gameplay in a 10 hour long game.
A lot of the missions that allow full exploitation of your powers are still plagued by bad design and repetitiveness. Two back-to-back missions heavily feature the exact same boss which takes about 10 minutes to beat. Another boss, a flying serpentine Nevi monster, turns up about three times and requires you to follow it through the air, waiting for expose its weak point for a few seconds of pounding… before going back to following it around again. Then things switch up slightly: instead of pounding its weak spot multiple times, you hit it once (variety, see!) before luring the creature towards a trap that an NPC companion has set for it. Rinse and repeat. Twice. The characters themselves sigh resignedly along with the player when they see the big idiot is still alive.
Another disappointingly repetitive mission takes place late in the game and involves a scientist asking you to place four sensors around the area. Two of the locations spawn enemies that cause you to drop the sensor you’re carrying when you get hit. So you deal with the enemies in the vicinity, and have to go back to the scientist to pick up a replacement sensor to drop off in the cleared area. I get that it’s meant as an incentive to keep you on your toes, and it’s only a 30-second detour, but it’s pointless busywork and only serves to waste your time. After you’ve placed the fourth sensor, you need to go back to the one that’s not beeping because the scientist apparently didn’t turn it on (Kat even remarks that it’s not acting like the others when she places it, but it’s ultimately redundant that she notices this because she nevertheless has to be told to activate it). Then when you return to the scientist again, you’re tasked with delivering yet another sensor that he forgot to mention. I get that the NPC is being portrayed as bumbling and forgetful, and it’s probably meant to be funny, but it does not result in engaging, worthwhile gameplay and the joke dies in the air.
Sadly, a lot of these poor objective designs- waiting for weak points to reveal themselves, awkward and insubstantial stealth sections, and item delivery busywork- come off as cheap ways to extend the game’s length and are poor vectors for the excellent core gameplay. The majority of the game is well-designed, but these offending sections take up a substantial enough portion of the game’s duration that it becomes egregious.
While the story has great potential and touches on some really interesting beats, it’s also marred with pacing issues and a prodigious amount of unfulfilled character and plot threads. A section purportedly centred around filling in Kat’s forgotten past ends with a fizzle of unfulfilled promise, and the game’s explanation of the nature of the world falls disappointingly flat on its face. At one point Kat returns to Hekseville after a brief stint away to find that a year has passed in her absence and a major regime change has shifted control of the city to a different faction under a figurehead the game seems to think it’s sufficiently built up as a recognisable character. While this character’s aspirations were mildly hinted at earlier in the story, it’s an unearned development straight out of left field. Ultimately, although Gravity Rush got me to care about its characters and world, the scope of each of the unfulfilled plot threads strike me as arrogant sequel-teasing while I’d rather the narrative be more fulfilling in this game. Maybe Project Siren were rushed along and had to radically cut back on their original vision. That would explain a lot. The game doesn’t come close to resolving many of its main threads, leaving me to feel cheated rather than eager for more.
Gravity Rush Remastered is a game with incredibly imaginative gameplay that’s essentially hampered by unimaginative design and a frustratingly incomplete story. Had Project Siren avoided common game design pitfalls and tied up the story more satisfactorily, Gravity Rush might have been something really special. However, the core mechanics are very well implemented and so satisfying that the game is nonetheless carried to create a worthwhile experience overall; it’s just a recommendation that comes with lots of unfortunate caveats. The game’s already-pretty visual design feels fresh in high definition, and the controls feel natural on the controller; you can’t argue against the fine remastering work Bluepoint Games has done in translating Project Siren’s game to PS4. Gravity Rush Remastered overall is a positive and clearly ambitious project that’s frustratingly impaired by some unfortunate issues that I hope the upcoming sequel addresses.