One of my greatest stressors in the latter half of 2016 was in coming up with some way to discuss and critique a game in its entirety. I must have a deeper reading of what the game is trying to accomplish, right? Well, that was becoming increasingly difficult for many reasons. One was that there often wasn’t enough familiarity with the game to find that meaty theme on which I could pierce my hook upon.
Other times, it was because I found myself thinking less about the game as I played it and just fell into the chasm of escapism. Between car accidents, surgeries, bills and an unsatisfying work life, I would come home and actively stop thinking about things. The pressure would still be there, but I wanted to play games in order to ignore my reality. It’s one of the reasons I fell so hard back into Destiny. This gradually became a major contributing factor into why I was experiencing self-doubt in my games writing. I could no longer grasp what there was to say about a game, that I was failing as an aspiring critic, and that I just wasn’t as tuned in as so many other writers and YouTubers out there.
In a lot of ways, Final Fantasy XV helped me understand part of the problem. Familiarity was certainly part of it, and thus I’m feeling encouraged to go back and replay games a bit in order to latch onto what it is that works and does not.
This week, however, Gravity Rush 2 came to the rescue. After an hour of floating about the city collecting gems I began to have a sort of panic. “How will I write about this when it comes time to blog? Should I really be spending so much game time on this? Aren’t there other games I could be playing and writing about?”
I was looking at it all wrong, however. So often a standard game review is little more than consumer advice, where the consumer is some nebulous concept of a gamer that is interested in spending money on a game. In that regard, my perspective of the game must be framed as “is this game good?”
It’s way too binary a perspective, and it is one that does not apply to all games criticism. The question isn’t supposed to be “is this worth money?” but instead “why am I having a good or bad time?”
This question doesn’t always require an active probing of knowledge or mechanics to understand, either. The simple truth is I’m enjoying Gravity Rush 2 because it’s relaxing. It is chill. It is a perfectly suitable escape after a day of mentally cumbersome or exhausting work.
This isn’t a first time I’ve felt this way about a game. If you can stand the obnoxious sense of superiority I felt about myself eight years ago, I had similar feelings towards Ubisoft’s 2008 Prince of Persia title. Now, older and having obtained a +1 bonus to my Wisdom score, I better understand why I enjoy these relaxing games so much.
Gravity Rush 2 and Prince of Persia ‘08 each contain gameplay focusing on unconventional navigation through an environment in order to collect little glowing items. The collectibles are the bait or carrot, the angler fish’s luminescent dangly-wobbly that provides a constantly shifting goal. You get one, five, ten or twenty, and there before your eyes lies another set of glowy gems to snag and bag.
This simple goal is what allows the experience to be so chill and relaxing. You don’t have to think too much about your goal, and in the case of Gravity Rush 2 you have the bonus of each gem adding to your bank of currency. Collecting gems via exploration of the city is probably one of the best and fastest ways to buy upgrades to your abilities, giving mechanical context to your goal. Time spent collecting and exploring means the player is rewarded for their time by increasing Kat’s effectiveness.
This is still not really enough to encourage most players to just walk around grabbing shinies. Even the Super Mario series hides most of its gold coins behind obstacle courses and within secret paths that require gymnastics of the thumbs to obtain. Gravity Rush 2 and Prince of Persia ‘08 take similar approaches in the very navigation being unconventional. Simple, but different.
For Gravity Rush 2, however, there’s a lot more freedom in your approach involved. You can use the Gravity Slide to remain stuck to surfaces, skating the walls and ceilings along the path of glittery gems. You can reorient yourself as you rush through the air, falling sideways or upwards. You can orient yourself against the surface and simply run and jump along the trail of gems until Kat begins falling towards her new gravitational center.
In the case of both games, there is no real risk of failure. There shouldn’t be. Gravity Rush 2 is, in a lot of ways, a game about freedom. Kat’s greatest strength is her ability to unshackle herself from the one common law that everyone must obey: the law of gravity. This creates a very specific kind of sand box that is less about doing what you want in the world and more about seeing the world from whatever direction or angle you wish.
This freedom by nature changes the way in which the player interacts with the game, and this interaction is why Gravity Rush 2 can be so perfect to come home and relax to. While games are typically a good kind of stress, it’s wonderful to have a game that puts no real demands on me. Despite this lack of demands, it gives me enough that I’m still thinking a bit when I play.
To put it another way, exploring Gravity Rush 2’s city is a lot like putting your laptop’s battery on low. You’re consuming a lot less energy by focusing on simple tasks without repercussion, a concept that could easily result in dull and boring games. The success of Gravity Rush 2 is in piecing together a world with many nooks and crannies to find with a navigational method that still requires some degree of thought process from the player.
There is certainly value in a game such as that.