After the Review: Exploring Gravity Rush 2's Multi-Layered World

After the Review: Exploring Gravity Rush 2's Multi-Layered World

One of the finest aspects of Project Siren's latest game is its expansive, incredibly well-realized environment.

As I mentioned when I reviewed it last week, Gravity Rush 2 has been a really pleasant surprise for me. When I signed up to evaluate Project Siren's latest, I knew very little about it – or indeed its prequel. The original PlayStation Vita version of Gravity Rush slipped under my radar when it was launched in 2012, and I never found the time to play the PlayStation 4 remaster early last year. I essentially went into the game with zero expectations.

In many respects, I'm glad I did. Playing the game subsequently turned into a really enjoyable voyage of discovery. The first thing that struck me was just how visually impressive Gravity Rush 2 is – it has a very distinctive aesthetic that really took me by surprise. Sure, I'd seen screenshots, but they simply don't convey just how good the game looks when it's in motion. The beautifully-rendered and colored cel-shaded characters and backdrops work in tandem to turn the game into what often feels like a living, breathing anime feature. It's exceptionally stylish, reminiscent of a combination of very early Studio Ghibli movies like Laputa: Castles in the Sky, and French comic strips drawn by Jean “Moebius” Giraud.

The lighting is terrific too, and protagonist Kat feels really well anchored within the game's environment as she floats, flies, and falls around it. Indeed, it's Gravity Rush 2's world that I think is its finest feature, and that's what I'm focusing on in this article. Please note that because of the nature of what I'm talking about, I will dish some mild gameplay and design spoilers. It's not like I'll be revealing crucial revelations that'll ruin the game, but I will touch on the overarching plot and the structure of the game. I just wanted to make that very clear, so that if you haven't yet played Gravity Rush 2 and want to go into the game knowing as little about it as possible, you might want to avoid reading the rest of this piece.

The opening location - the mining settlement of Banga - is a pretty dreary place.

The game's opening stage is the floating village of Banga, a backwater mining base where Kat finds herself stranded without her powers. Its ramshackle buildings and walkways are constructed from what looks like scavenged planks of wood, and strengthened with ugly pieces of wrought iron. It feels very industrial and lived-in – a proper working settlement that has an almost depressing quality about it. The sun barely peeks out from behind the brown clouds, and hazy smog hangs in the air.

Kat has plenty of time to admire the detailing of this rather run-down locale as she completes a series of missions designed to introduce the player to the game's various play-mechanics, and which eventually enables her to regain her gravity-defying powers. This draws what's ostensibly an extended prologue to a close, and opens up the game proper. Turns out that Banga doesn't just float – it can actually be flown, and village boss Lisa pilots the settlement to Lei Colmosna, a vibrant, floating city.

The bustling metropolis of Lei Colmosna features some really distinct architecture.

Banga is immediately – and literally – shown in a different light as it breaks through the clouds and docks at Lei Colmosna's marketplace. The environment is light and sunny, and the air is crystal clear, giving the game a whole new atmosphere. Kat is encouraged to explore her surroundings, giving the player a chance to take in the slights and sounds of this rich locale. The architecture in and around the marketplace takes its styling cues from South America, and is a riot of color. Narrow cobbled streets wend their way through tenement buildings and shops, connecting open areas in which vendors ply their trade. Residents wander to and fro, and flying cars and trucks perambulate slowly overhead. It feels exciting; a hive of activity that's a stark contrast to the game's low-key opening environment.

Now the adventure really begins. As the game's breadcrumb trail leads Kat around the greater world of Jirga Para Lhao, she starts to make discoveries about the nature of its structure. It's comprised of a series of loosely connected floating conurbations that essentially form individual districts. However, rather than them all sharing the same plane, they actually floating quite haphazardly in a stacked fashion.

Distant locations look almost like sketches - but they are all places you can visit.

The Gravity Queen can fly from one district to another, but it's often a considerable distance. Her destination can usually be seen, but it appears in the distance almost like a sketch, thanks to the game's hand-rendered art style. As she flies towards it, details begin to take shape. Buildings appear through the haze and sharpen in focus as she draws near. It's a terrific effect, and despite some pop-in as you close towards your destination, I really liked the feeling of depth and space the game articulates.

What becomes apparent as Kat makes her way around the world is that there's a sinister social underpinning to Jirga Para Lhao that's governed by the layout of its districts. Fly up, up, and up into the clouds, and you'll reach Ley Havina, an idyllic setting where ornate mansions sit within sunny, gorgeously manicured gardens. It's clear that this is where the money is: Especially when Kat finds herself running errands for the rich and pampered citizens who live there. These are Jirga Para Lhao's upper class, and they're not pleasant people to deal with.

Ley Havina is the playground of Jirga Para Lhao's rich and powerful.

A short flight away is Avarash Au Govena – home of the central authority. I found it difficult to put my finger on exactly where this district takes its architectural styling cues, but its governmental buildings have a European flavor to them. Close by are military installations that bristle with anti-aircraft guns. Fly nearby and the air changes to a blood red, giving the feeling that the district is permanently situated in a sunset.

Dive off one of Avarash Au Govena's many flying craft docking piers, and Kat can free-fall all the way down past Lei Colmosna to the very lowest tier of Jirga Para Lhao, This is where she finds Lei Elgona, home to the houseboat fleet. Buildings are closely packed together, and the air is dark and thick. It's pretty much a Shantytown, and shelter to the poor, huddled masses. Living conditions are grim – a far cry from the bright and airy neighborhoods of Ley Havina.

As Kat becomes more familiar with its residents, the awful disparity between rich and poor becomes painfully obvious – and she steps in to take action. However, now I'm beginning to head into spoiler-land, and I don't want to go there yet – not so soon after the game's launch. I'll be discussing Gravity Rush 2 again in more detail; today was all about celebrating the game's world, which I think is a truly memorable one. And the great thing is that it continues to expand later in the game when the floating city of Hekseville is introduced, bringing with it four additional districts to fly around and explore: There's the neon-lit entertainment zone of Pleajeaune, Auldnoir, the old town where Kat finally finds her home, the dour factory district, Vendecentre, and the almost gothic downtown locale of Endestria.

Like all the other areas in the game, each has its own unique visual identity, soundtrack, and atmosphere – and feels like it's been built for a purpose. All come together to create a wonderful world that I've really enjoyed immersing myself within – and indeed am continuing to do so. Gravity Rush 2 features many different side missions that I didn't get the chance to play through when I reviewed the game, many of which reveal deeper details of the game's characters and places, giving me a further appreciation of just how well realized and conceived this amazing world is.

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