To our pleasant surprise, Gravity Rush 2 is a big game, in geography and run-time, with a shocking amount to pick at across its four acts. We’ll be giving it a Game In Progress review over the next two weeks, starting with this article, which covers the first two acts.
Everyone who’s anyone in Jirga Para Lhao is hanging out underneath the city. There are not many of us down here—in fact, it’s just me, taking selfies. Up top there are randy old men and toddlers and fruit carts and a frankly implausible number of women in bikinis; there are balconies and clotheslines and stained building faces and ramshackle flying trucks; above that are fountains vomiting sparkling water even farther into the sky and manicured gardens stretching to the horizon. In a city of floating islands, stacked vertically and horizontally, there is always a new horizon.
But the real shit is going down underneath the city. Anyone who played the first Gravity Rush will recognize the flying buttresses of industrial-strength steel or the enormous grates belching out exhaust. They will also recognize the endless dots of gems down here, placed to reward the curious traveler with the only currency that means anything in a video game: ability upgrades. Rusty propellers jut from the bottom of some buildings, with scattered boulders orbiting them like moons. In the richer parts of town, there are granite columns housing secret rooms and decadent, little-seen ornamentation. Few games have so richly rewarded wanderlust, or provided such preposterously propulsive means to sate it. As in the first Gravity Rush, you play as Kat, a young woman with the ability to float in mid-air and hurl herself through it, to run along walls and ceilings and wherever the hell else.
It’s a good thing, too. Jirga Para Lhao must be a pain in the ass to get around for residents. Rickety bridges connect bobbing houseboats in its lower reaches, creating a lattice of paths to get lost in; higher up, floating trucks amble along with no discernible logic. Down on the streets an endless crush of people wend through cobblestone thoroughfares that cut apologetic little paths through the tenements. Woe unto the mother whose son packs up from their modest apartment above a seafood restaurant in favor of the commercial district, in which disconnected skyscrapers rise up out of the fog like buoys in an ocean of clouds. The people of Jirga Para Lhao must rue the city’s flamboyant construction. It is, on the other hand, a joy to travel through if you possess anti-gravitational powers, hurdling headlong through the dusty clouds and catapulting between social strata. At some point, you too will land upside down beneath a gently heaving city block, and end up hoovering gems and taking selfies for no one in particular. It happens.
Daringly, the game holds all this back for the entire first act, which slowly introduces mechanics, themes, and characters over the course of several hours. The moment when the player is finally unleashed in the city, then, is astonishing, particularly early on when a waypoint appears in a seemingly impossible direction and casually unveils the game’s greatest thematic and mechanical conceit. (Let’s talk about that more once the game’s out.) That slow-moving opening may prove contentious, but it succeeds on a structural level with the easy grace of a Level-5 role-playing game, focusing on character development and broad-stroke thematics. The original game was a dopey soap opera, full of go-nowhere “lore” and manufactured conflicts, but Gravity Rush 2’s aim is much, much broader, and by the end of the second act it is clear that it now succeeds in the exact place its predecessor failed—its writing. Kat is finally the likable protagonist she was intended to be—your Twitter feed is about to be flooded with Kat selfies—but the game is also not hinging its entire narrative on her cutesy stick-to-itiveness.
And anyway, the star of the show is Jirga Para Lhao, which immediately takes its place alongside Midgar, City 17, Sigil, Yharnam, Rapture, Dunwall, and Karnaca as one of the great video game cities. These are hallowed names in games, and for good reason. Films often yearn to create a sense of physical scale, and action movies at their best create a consistent sense of distance, but games do not have to try: They are natural showcases of space. They can create dream-like nowheres, as in Silent Hill or Kentucky Route Zero, and elephantine impossibilities, like in Halo, NaissanceE, or Symphony Of The Night. They do landscape well—see that mountain in the distance?—and interior, domestic spaces, as in Gone Home or Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. The sun-dappled cities and shattered buildings of Naughty Dog games are legendary, as are the surrealist vistas of Super Mario Galaxy. Jirga Para Lhao recalls the metropolises of South America and the hyper-density of Hong Kong, all drawn in the primary watercolors of Moebius, but it is, ultimately, a place unlike any other. It’s a celebration of the primal language of games: their ability to write in three-dimensional worlds. Do not miss this one.