Few games were more deserving of a sequel than Gravity Rush (or Gravity Daze by its far cooler Japanese title). That’s not because the Vita launch title was a blistering masterpiece, or that its story ended on a gripping cliffhanger. Gravity Rush 2 is welcomed because the original was a deeply flawed gem, a game with a wonderful sense of fun and experimentation that made frustrating mechanical missteps a sequel could rectify. Gravity Rush had a wonderful sense of place and of magic realism, an open world adventure set in cities floating in the sky, where people reacted to being hoisted into the air by the gravity shifting heroine with mild irritation, as if it was an every day inconvenience.

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Its inventive setting was joined with glorious presentation. Architecture and characters exuded a Miyazaki like charm, and while animation was stilted, giving way to immersion breaking comic book style cutscenes to convey key story points, it was all forgivable given the limitations of its host platform. The real annoyances were in gameplay; while it felt great to soar through the sky and leap from surface to surface, precise navigation was fiddly. The camera struggled to frame everything and without even a loose lock on in combat, it was all too easy to miss a crucial flying kick by miles and soar into the distance. Combat itself meanwhile, hindered by technical constraints on animation perhaps, lacked impact, flimsy and one note on the ground, and in the air a matter of just picking spots until special attacks charged up, hitting a button and waiting for a glorified cutscene.

All it would take to make Gravity Rush 2 an instant success would be to address relatively minor issues and double down on the charming and light hearted romping that made the first so likable. It’s bizarre then, that Project Siren should endeavour to do the opposite.

Much is made of Kat teaming up with friend and former nemesis Raven, but she only distracts in fights. By default, she'll attack where you're looking, often taking out a target while you're in mid flight toward it.

Much is made of Kat teaming up with friend and former nemesis Raven, but she only distracts in fights. By default, she’ll attack where you’re looking, often taking out a target while you’re in mid flight toward it.

GR2 opens with Kat working  as a miner in a small and poor community, cast far from her home by the gravity storm that happened at the end of the first game. Remember that? At the end of the first game? Good, because there is zero explanation of the backstory here, and from a plot standpoint, GR2 not only expects you have finished the first game (I had) but that you have done so yesterday (I hadn’t).

It’s odd that such foreknowledge is expected of you when mechanics are painstakingly explained through awful menial tutorial tasks. There is none of the vive, energy or bombast of the original. Bleak missions have you relearn controls in fights that are just as lacking in substance and animated fluidity as the original; it feels even weaker here without the dual excuses of being a handheld launch game.

Persist. A dismal opening gives way to new locales that are a true delight. Here in your new cloud based setting, the upper classes live high in the stratosphere, the middle in a bright and bustling metropolis, and the harder off in favelas lower down. Why do the game’s struggling underclasses live in areas practically bursting with the ‘precious gems’ used as currency to level you up, just sitting there for the taking? You’re asking too many questions.

You’ll be righting social wrongs and generally being nice for much of the campaign here, but more than the quests, it’s genuinely nice to just be in GR2. Playing to that strength are some asynchronous online features, including some innovative use of an in-game photo feature that is so often a throwaway piece of fluff. Treasure hunt events give you an in game snap taken by another player which gives you a hint to the location of a nearby chest. Discover and open the chest and you can take a picture of your own, filter and pose it however you like, and send it to the ether for another player to try and interpret. This in game geo-caching was something I really didn’t expect to be so involved in, but it captures the essence of what makes GR fun; no pressure, no fights, just fly around, explore and enjoy your surroundings.

As with the first game, you'll occasionally be summoned to surreal realms to perform a series of challenges. These are somewhat rote and rarely feel like more than padding.

As with the first game, you’ll occasionally be summoned to surreal realms to perform a series of challenges. These are somewhat rote and rarely feel like more than padding.

It’s good to have these distractions because return to the tasks the main game sets you up with, and it all gets fairly putrid. Exhaustive fetch quests? They’re here. Stealth sequences that end when one character sees you? Yep. Stalking enemies as they enter secret hideouts? Oh yeah.

All the things that you’ve done before, all the tasks you’ve gotten sick of in open world games are regurgitated, and not dressed up particularly effectively. In fact, especially when sneaking, Kat is denied her gravity shifting powers because she’d stick out instantly flying around. As a result entire sections of the game are dedicated to stripping out what makes it enjoyable.

Gravity Rush 2 creates a wonderful, bright open world. It populates that world well, with vibrant characters, and a genuine sense of life. Unfortunately, it then makes you perform tasks within it that are at best mundane and worst purely infuriating.

New combat styles, an addition to the sequel’s formula seems to recognize some of the issues with the first game by being more lenient with lock on and allowing for better long distance work or close up crowd control. Each, though, doesn’t solve wacky cameras and ineffective feeling strikes, and at any rate have their unlocks separated by hours of busywork.

Meanwhile that busywork commits the cardinal sin of reaching through the fourth wall to remind you of its mundanity. Kat whines in cutscene at having to perform the latest in a chain of fetch quests, separated by huge distances. Worse is that fast travel is available, but not while completing a mission, meaning there’s no way out of its back and forth. At least that journey gives you time to fly and feel free before being brought back to the reality of the situation.

Ultimately, Gravity Rush 2 offers more of Gravity Rush. It has the exact same flaws of the first game, and its charms, while evident, are hampered without the benefit of novelty. Hopes were in the clouds for this one, but the game itself sent them crashing back to earth.

KAIJU VERDICT

2/4 Pops: Decent. There might be problems that mount up and prevent it from being a top tier game, or it might not do enough to quite make it stand out, but a 2 can still be an enjoyable experience that the curious should try.

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