The first thing we see in Gravity Rush Remastered is an apple falling from a tree. It rolls and descends down the cobble streets of Auldnoir, the floating city wherein the game is set, until finally it drops to our unconscious heroine Kat. The most obvious connection is the common tale of Isaac Newton observing the laws of gravity after observing an apple falling from a tree. “Ah! Yes! Gravity!”
Within minutes, the game then teaches us how to break this very law.
Auldnoir is not a city that adheres to reality. To reiterate, it is a floating city in the sky. It is frequently visited upon by creatures called Nevi, beasts that seem to appear out of nowhere. There is a man that refers to himself as the “Creator”. He opens his robe to Kat as if to ask “what’chu seein’, girl?”, where what she ultimately sees is not the flashing of a hobo’s genitals but an impossible vortex into an alternate dimension.
Conventional rules do not exist in Gravity Rush. Not for protagonist Kat, at least. Any conventional means of traversal, such as walking or running, feel agonizingly slow and limited. Kicking and punching foes is perhaps the weakest form of attack. Nothing about these standard abilities are super or empowering.
Instead, it’s the ability to fall in any direction that feels swift. Kat sails through the sky at high speeds, landing upon the sides of buildings or walking along the bottom of piping as if they were floors. Kat can plant her feet to the ground and slide along the surface as if she were surfing on stone, the city and its denizens speeding past in a blur. She can lunge through the air and deliver a kick to a Nevi’s eye that shatters it like glass.
Where other open-world games allow for new and interesting ways to explore the environment, none break away from the tedium of standard navigation like Gravity Rush. Like the start of inFamous: Second Son, the player begins the game with limitations to their abilities. However, inFamous: Second Son continues to feel restrained in an effort to maintain a sense of “gameplay balance”. By contrast, the further you get in Gravity Rush Remastered the more unbound you are.
The various challenges scattered throughout the map make for an incredible metric, illustrating just how far Kat manages to climb. Tasks to “race” across town, hitting checkpoint after checkpoint at great speeds, will seem unreasonable at the game’s start. How can a course possibly be completed in a minute? How can so many foes be defeated in such short time?
Revisiting these same challenges later, however, reveals just how large the gap is from start to finish. That seemingly impossible one-minute goal is suddenly an easy fifty-five seconds, and that’s after screwing up a few times. Slaughtering so many Nevi not only becomes child’s play.
These powers and abilities aren’t mere empowerment, however. They are also freedom. After hours of gameplay and several upgrades purchased, the player needs to rely on no one in order to travel. Even if they cannot sail across the great expanse of sky in a single energy bar, the recharge is so instantaneous that actually falling holds no risk. The player can go anywhere they want and do anything they want.
It is only fitting—and no doubt intentional—that the game’s two key antagonists represent the extreme ends of freedom and law without any sense of responsibility. Kat is free, yes, but she uses her freedom in the interests of helping others. Not to say that she’s a completely altruistic character, but she uses her abilities to help out Auldnoir. Her reward is, at times, a grateful city.
Of course, given the nature of the game’s controls, environments, and optional missions, it is just as possible to be a terror of Auldnoir as it is a hero. Knocking people aside and launching them into the sky is par for the course when you’re hurriedly rushing to surf the alleyways in record time. These actions are ignored, though, due to the convenience of game design. If the player were to be penalized, then these many tasks would be impossible to complete. Not without frustration, at least.
As such, the limitations of being a PSP game first show brightly in such moments. Yet in the end, Gravity Rush: Remastered is a truly different game that, despite a smaller scale than its triple-A counterparts, feels like it earns the monniker of “open-world”. If nothing else, it is a proof of concept for its upcoming, higher-budget sequel.
I look forward to seeing what it has to say about freedom, responsibility, and dreams.