Gravity Rush Remastered Review
Gravity Rush remains one of the best PlayStation Vita releases to date, and I can't wait for the sequel. In the meantime, I suppose I should be satisfied with the recently released Gravity Rush Remastered for PlayStation 4, which features spruced-up graphics and a return to the highly stylized madcap action that leapt off the Vita's screen back in 2012. For those who don't own a Vita and missed out on this absorbing game nearly four years ago, here's your chance to give it a whirl; it's surprisingly unique and tons of fun to play, provided you're in sync with the rhythm of the action. I will say that in some ways, it seems clear now why the game wasn't made for PS4, as some glaring errors crop up with the bigger screen.
But it's still a damn good game. As a high-definition remaster, the visuals really shine, as the combination of bright cel-shading and slick textures makes for a veritable feast for the eyes. Plus, we get the benefit of 60 frames per second this time around, which only makes the gameplay and overall presentation that much more impressive. The only downside is that you will spot some pop-in as you progress, perhaps more than you ever would've seen on the Vita version. Furthermore, the city sections you explore are actually gigantic and their sparse decoration and detail is more evident in this iteration. Still, you'll be spending so much time battling baddies that you probably won't even notice these drawbacks.
The sound is better than ever, although I will admit I've always loved the Vita's audio. It's just such a big highlight for that little system, so I can't say the sound is any better in the PS4 version. In fact, it sounds very much the same, despite the fact that there's better definition and crispness thanks to my SteelSeries headset. There's so much going on that sometimes the effects and music can seem like a chaotic onslaught on the senses, but the balance is decent throughout. The soundtrack is definitely a subjective thing but I can say I hoped for a bit more variety; I always think developers can add some extra music to remasters. Aside from that, I doubt anyone will have an issue with the sound, as it only serves to bolster the involving and highly entertaining gameplay.
You play as Kat, an aggressive heroine who doesn't take any sh** from anyone. She awakens with no memories in a strange world where gravity has gone completely bonkers. Huge buildings crumble in the wake of this strange "gravity storm" that appears to be tearing everything to bits and to top it all off, Kat has to face odd black monsters that keep trying to end her life. They're a danger to the civilians as well, so Kat is helping out by demolishing these mysterious foes. But you have no idea why things are the way they are; you just know you have to restore the busted-up city and rescue the inhabitants. The problem is that the narrative, while somewhat interesting, doesn't actually get good until you've played for a while. A long while, actually.
Of course, this hasn't changed from the original but for some reason, I noticed it more this time around. Perhaps before I was just in awe of the action spilling out across my brilliant little Vita screen and I was more focused on the gameplay, while caring less about the characters and storyline. Anyway, the plot does pick up once you learn about the villain Alias and his cronies, so it's worth it to keep playing. As for Kat, I'm not sure you'll ever really care about her, as her personality is mostly one-dimensional. But this isn't about an in-depth narrative; it's about battling gravity and monsters to reconstruct a dying world and in that respect, the game has an original vibe, which I always appreciate. How many games let you switch gravity on the fly? Seriously?
That gravity-shifting system is as fun as ever. Once you gain the ability to walk on ceilings and fly - or rather, fall - with ease, you won't be walking anywhere and the pace of the game instantly reaches breakneck speed. The key to mastering this control scheme is to gauge distance and speed; you allow your inertia to let you travel great distances in an eye-blink, and then you reset the gravity to normal at just the right moment. This takes a little practice but it works very well once you've got the hang of it. I still don't think the camera keeps up quite well enough but it's passable. The only other caveat is that if you're at all prone to motion sickness, this one might give you fits simply due to the ceaselessly changing perspectives.
Combat is the crux of the experience and the DualShock 4 controller is perfect for this type of mechanic. You can attack and dodge with ease and because the Vita was designed with the classic Sony controller in mind, you shouldn't have any trouble adapting if you played the Vita version. This is one super-stylish brawler with tons of attitude and panache and it all comes pouring through the controller into your fingers. If you can keep the action rolling, you will never get bored. And whereas the Vita would sometimes skip and stutter when things got too hot, the PS4 version never skips a beat (at least, I couldn't make it happen). It's only when you start seeing things on a larger scale that you start to acknowledge Gravity Rush's relative emptiness.
It's really the size of the screen that's causing the problem. Rather than amping up the greatness of the movement and combat, it only magnifies the sparsely populated environments and the repetitiveness of the missions. A lot of quests have you following the direction arrow to a new destination, which can be tons of fun, but the more you do it and the more you do the same sort of mission, the more your interest starts to wane. The smaller screen of the Vita kept the experience more focused on the gameplay, while the larger screen emphasizes the negatives. This can happen with handheld titles that really weren't designed for big screens and it's unfortunately very noticeable. Even so, I don't want to dissuade those who haven't played this game; I'm just saying that you know you're playing a portable adventure.
The good news is that with 21 chapters, this particular adventure will take nearly 15 hours to complete, depending on your play speed. There are optional missions to tackle as well, and you can attempt to rise up the leaderboard if you're willing to take on certain extra challenges. I like that you can return to these challenges after you've leveled up, but don't forget that each is passable the first time you encounter it. The game also remains well-balanced and paced, so you always feel as if you've got something to do and somewhere to go. You'll always be aware of the next plot-advancing mission and exploration is rarely discouraged. Lastly, this game's obvious appeal isn't overly diminished by the larger screen showing off the unimpressive backdrops: The movement and fighting is always crazy fun.
Gravity Rush Remastered is about what you'd expect. The slicker visuals and boosted frame rate lead to an even cleaner and more satisfying experience, though its portable roots are glaringly obvious the more you play. If you've got a PS4 but not a Vita, you definitely owe it to yourself to give it a shot. If you already have the Vita and you played this game on that platform, I can't see much reason to play it again on your home console. Yeah, the technicals are better but that's about it and frankly, Gravity Rush was designed for handheld entertainment and that's where it's best enjoyed. Which isn't to say the PS4 version is necessarily "inferior," it's just not as impressive because the flaws are more pronounced. Can't wait to see and hear more about that sequel, though!
The Good: Fantastic, upgraded visuals. Control fits perfectly with the DualShock 4. Boosting to 60 frames per second really makes the gameplay shine. Nicely balanced and well-paced. Still feels surprisingly unique. Enough bang for your buck at about 15 hours.
The Bad: Pop-in can be evident at times. Not a lot of mission variety. Larger screen opens the door to previously less visible flaws, like oddly empty environments.
The Ugly: "No ‘ugly' unless you really are prone to motion sickness."
2/4/2016 Ben Dutka