Welcome back to our Game In Progress review of Gravity Rush 2. In this entry, Clayton Purdom finishes up all the little things that are left to do after the credits roll on this physics-defying adventure. You can find every part of his review here.
Almost all video games tell some sort of story, whether it’s a mechanical one, told through escalating complexity and difficulty, an aesthetic one, told through a gradual introduction of colors and shapes, or a narrative one, with the sorts of twists, turns, and denouements we expect. Gravity Rush 2 sort of does all of those at once, and sort of does none of them. After the gonzo climax of chapter 3, in which you soar around a gigantic fleshy monstrosity high-kicking it in its eyes, the game opens up with a final string of missions and a fully open world for completionists to pick their way through. Except, not really: Once you start that final string of missions, you are locked into a stretch of batshit design decisions and narrative left turns that underline the virtues of the game’s beginning, if only by point of contrast.
The great vaulting cityscapes and crush of weird, character-filled missions are hemmed into a single path—quite literally, in the case of the chapter in which you spend walking at a snail’s pace through some weird snow capital, seemingly in flashback. (Don’t ask.) Such pacing and geographical constraints have been used to great end in games before—remember the endless ladder in Metal Gear Solid 3, or Travis Touchdown’s long, lonely walks in No More Heroes? But in Gravity Rush 2, your imprisonment in a snowy castle leads not to a rush of outré freedom but to… a series of block puzzles, for which the game’s bright, floaty control scheme is woefully ill-equipped. They are not particularly good puzzles, and there are not many of them. They seem born out of a sense of exhaustion with the rest of the game’s missions, which typically feature the same types of errands (pick something up and throw it; rush to a place; fight a thing) with different degrees of narrative intensity.
This points toward an interesting question for the series. Gravity Rush 2’s legacy will likely be similar to that of its predecessor. It contains a singular science-fiction city, but struggles to figure out what to do with it. None of its missions can match the caterwauling joy of soaring willy-nilly through that space, rooting out beguiling cul-de-sacs and collecting gems that serve the exclusive purpose of making the missions slightly easier and thus more bearable. And if there is a third Gravity Rush game, it would (like this one) be essential, even if it only served to introduce another lovingly rendered city pulled from its designers’ wildest imaginings. But, given the sense of exhausted free-for-all in this game’s final stretch, it may also be worth re-envisioning some of the game’s core conceits. What do you do in this game? How do you progress? And why? Over the course of hundreds of hours, role-playing games often find meaning in performing the same actions over and over. How many times did you use your Witcher sense as Geralt, sniffing a trail of wine or blood up steps and through swamps? And yet each time you eagerly did so, because the game created a context and sense of delight in what might be lying in wait. How might Gravity Rush make use of its biggest asset—its world?
The series has produced two of the greatest worlds in video games, but it has failed to populate them with interesting people or, worse, give you a purposeful action to perform within them. There’s no doubt that Gravity Rush 2 is better than its predecessor in this regard, but it still traffics in (yes) anime bullshit, and its missions still seem to be activities to fill your time rather than purposeful explorations of this world. There is also, just, good lord, a lot of bad stealth in this game. Why create a game built around breathtaking freedom of movement and then lock the player in place? Why restrict its glorious chaos? While clearing out the map of things to do, I kept running into the same damn stealth missions, and so decided, bittersweetly, that I had better things to do. I told my cats to bid adieu to the game; life is short, and there was a sale on XCOM 2. My time in Jirga Para Lhao had come to an end.
Later that night, though, a friend came over, and while we drank some beer and toyed around with a couple games, I threw Gravity Rush 2 back on to show him the scale of what the designers had accomplished. I soared up high to the warship of the Central Authority, its stone walls baking in endless burnt-orange sunset, and then I ran and leaped off the edge. As I fell through the mansions of Lei Havina, I could see the vague shadows of Lei Colmosna’s floating skyscrapers loom up out of the clouds, gaining details—windows, then birds and smog and individual words on their signs. Minutes passed, falling like this, and I turned to see the central spire of Hekseville rising far off out of a green gloom. I shifted a little that way, seeing its city begin to take shape and then continue up past me as I fell farther, into the maundering houseboats of Lei Elgona. I crash-landed on a thatched roof, then brushed myself off and dove down to the bottom of the slum, the lowest building in the game, a squat little split-level in a sea of disconnected shanties. It bore no marker—I earned no reward—but it too was beautiful.