Gravity Rush Remastered, a PlayStation 4 conversion of 2012's brilliant Gravity Rush for Vita, could have been a failure—or worse, an insult.
Really, the remastered version shouldn't need to exist. The Vita game can run almost perfectly on the PlayStation TV, but Sony won't whitelist it. One of the in-game commands is mapped to the Vita's rear-touch pad, which of course doesn't work on PSTV. Sony's post-Wii obsession with gimmicky interfaces and ongoing enthusiasm for fragmenting its portable user base is really all that stands between this port and the ability to play the original on your television at will. Said original, which can be had for dirt cheap these days and even spent a considerable amount of time as a free PlayStation Plus download, is more or less a commodity item at this point.
Gravity Rush Remastered's saving grace comes in the sheer technical excellence of the conversion. Developed by the wizards at Bluepoint, Remastered changes very little in terms of in-game content and features, but its jump from Vita resolution to 1080p makes a huge difference in playability. Gone is the Vita version's occasional stuttering, replaced by smooth, consistent framerates—an essential change in a game that involves a great deal of spinning the camera quickly through a true 360 degrees of motion in order to get your bearings. Likewise, the open world comes into much sharper focus when you can see details far in the distance with such newfound clarity.
In moving from Vita to PS4, Gravity Rush feels a bit like watching a beautiful movie on a badly-mastered DVD and then jumping over to a deluxe Blu-ray. It has always been a beautiful and impressive game, but now it can live up to its potential. I'm not one to gush about superficial technical improvements, but that's the thing: The transformation that Remastered bestows upon this game is anything but superficial. The game's scale and freedom of movement were unprecedented in a portable game, but they work better on a larger screen with higher resolution.
Admittedly, great as Gravity Rush looks in full HD, its portable origins definitely make themselves known. The environments can apear a bit sparse—though the excellent bande dessinée-inspired visuals and vivid color palette go a long way toward shoring it up—and animations look conspicuously awkward. More than that, though, certain game design choices that worked on Vita don't play quite so well on PS4. Mechanically, Gravity Rush feels like it was always meant to be a console experience; in terms of mission structure, though, it's very much a portable creation to its core.
A great many of Gravity Rush's missions, especially in the first half of the game, involve combing through city streets in search of people or objects. You can use the map to turn on waypoints for these quests, which trivializes them; or you can choose not to, which prevents the game from degenerating into following the arrow to the next destination but instead causes it to become tedious as you navigate sprawling, repetitive, and disorienting environments in search of clues. These quest objectives felt a lot more tolerable on Vita, thanks to the nature of portable games—you can more easily split your focus when performing repetitive tasks on a small screen, allowing Gravity Rush's less interesting missions to become a sort of mindless background chore. Blown up to 30, 40, even 80 inches—however large your television may be—you'll find the superficiality of many of the game's missions and quests more difficult to tolerate.
Gravity Rush would have benefitted from some minor mechanical tweaks as well. The dynamic gameplay is truly three-dimensional in nature, and SCE Japan Studio's dev team did a great job of making one of the most complex game concepts possible not only approachable but very nearly intuitive. Protagonist Kat's primary gameplay power comes from her ability to shift gravity, negating and altering the direction from which gravity pulls on her. You don't leap impossibly high into the air but rather plummet into the sky; you don't fly across the city but rather choose to fall perpendicular to the ground. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it works.
However, the side effect of this approach to navigating the third dimension is that you choose directions by swinging the camera around and pointing that way. This is fine for navigation, but in close quarters combat you'll find it difficult to avoid taking damage while you orient yourself. Kat's most powerful basic attack is a flying kick that sends her careening toward enemies, but it doesn't have much rebound. Once you zoom in close to an enemy, you experience a moment of motionlessness as you take aim at your next destination, and these instants leave you vulnerable to attack. Kat can roll-dodge out of the way like any good action heroine, but you need to invest a lot of level-up juice into that ability to make it effective... and against enemies with wide-ranging attacks or a long reach, it doesn't do much good no matter how you enhance it.
Likewise, hitting fast, maneuverable enemies can be an exercise in trial-and-error. The bird-like enemies tend to be particularly vexing, as they warp and fly around the arena every few seconds—usually right as you're homing in on them for an attack. While Kat's gravity kick comes with a built-in ability to correct itself, zippy enemies have a tendency to leave you overshooting your mark and struggling to reorient the camera. By the time you've reacquired your bearings, these monsters are already changing their orientation. Combat in Gravity Rush isn't terrible, but it's annoying enough in places that some refinement—some remastering—would have been quite welcome indeed.
Gravity Rush falls short in other areas as well. The sliding sequences are a mess and work better if you just ignore gravity and fly around on your own power. The stealth portion early on is, as is so often the case with stealth sequences early in action games, completely godawful. Still, floundering fights and middling missions can't undermine the innate brilliance that defines Gravity Rush. Its free-floating action in an open world feels like someone played Crackdown and thought, "This is good, but what's the point of having a game where you effectively play as a superhero but can't fly?" Kat may not have super strength or the ability to leap buildings in a single bound, but she can fly anywhere... and the more you level up her abilities, the more liberating it becomes.
Equally commendable is the game's enthusiasm for playing with the potential its heroine's capabilities open up. The surreal, mysterious city that serves as Gravity's Rush's primary setting floats in a void, inviting players to explore not only its towering spires but also its underbelly as well. Again, as in Crackdown, the presence of shiny orbs (which function as currency to unlock new abilities for Kat) serve to lure you into areas you might not otherwise consider exploring, and help in the early game to ease you into the idea of walking along walls and ceilings.
As you begin maxing out Kat's powers, Gravity Rush becomes truly liberating—especially once you've gained a few levels of flight duration. The ability to travel freely in all dimensions means you'll rarely want to touch the ground, and the sense of being airborne (and of being utterly disoriented as you turn sheer walls into floor and "plunge" headlong into open sky) becomes even more profound on a large screen. Despite some artifacts of its portable roots, Gravity Rush Remastered really feels like the game that we should have been given to begin with. It was a marvelous trick on Vita, a open-world game featuring gorgeous graphics and truly three-dimensional movements, but it's hard to shake the impression that the Vita benefited at the game's expense.
Gravity Rush hasn't slipped free of its innate shortcomings in its move to PlayStation 4, but this is one of those rare remasters with genuine value. It offers a deeper appeal than simply giving you a prettier way to play the game; the change in scale and the crisper visuals allow the game to come closer to realizing its true potential than it could on the Vita—and I say this as a portable gaming enthusiast and Vita apologist. While I'm disappointed to see Kat's next adventure heading exclusively to console, and to consider what that says about Sony's faith in the Vita platform, Gravity Rush Remastered makes it clear that the series belongs on the big screen. And I'm more eager than ever to see what SCE Studio Japan can achieve with a game designed around play on a console, free from the constraints and limitations of handhelds.
Gravity Rush makes the tricky task of navigating through 3D space fairly painless, but it's not without its flaws.
Beyond the fairly brief and often repetitive mission, there's not much content. But you'll probably return to the game just because it's so different.
Great music, abstract dialogue, and distinct sound effects make the game a treat to listen to.
Absolutely gorgeous—the rich colors and stylish cel-shading make up for the innate boxiness of the world and the chunky character animations.
I love the fact that Gravity Rush exists. How rare is it these days to see a major publisher produce something so wholly original, so defiantly non-commercial? The game has its shortcomings, it's true, but they're the sort of things that sequels are made to iron out. While I'd prefer this remaster have taken a crack at shoring up the game's weaknesses, the technical improvements it brings more than justify its existence. If you've never played Gravity Rush, you need to play this remake... and if you have played it, this version offers an improved enough experience to justify a second visit to Hekseville.