Developed by the same team behind survival horror series Siren, PS Vita launch title Gravity stars a female protagonist who - according to the official press materials - must “uncover her past to protect her future…” While that cut-and-paste tagline seems to have fallen right off the generic action-adventure assembly line, Gravity is unlike anything we’ve seen. A far cry from the fright-filled franchise the developer’s known for, Gravity was one of the more promising titles being demoed at a recent Sony press day.
Players assume the role of Kat, a young heroine who wakes in a strange city with no memory of how she got there. Upon exploring a bit of the fictional town of Hexaville, she encounters a black cat (yes, Kat meets a cat), who quickly grants her the ability to control gravity - well, not all of it, just the gravity in her immediate vicinity. Following a brief exchange with the gift-giving feline, a quick tutorial takes players through the paces of their newly acquired skills.
While potentially disorienting, the physics-tweaking mechanics are surprisingly intuitive. When on the ground, comfortably familiar dual-analog stick navigation and camera controls are used. However, a press of the right trigger sends Kat, who’s presented in a third-person perspective, floating in the air like a zero gravity-loving astronaut. From there, players pick another point in the level with the right stick (less responsive gyro- controls perform the same action); once the new destination’s been highlighted, another click of the right trigger gets Kat moving in that direction. Especially cool though, is that she doesn’t plummet or hurtle to the new target area, but rather gracefully drifts in a dreamlike manner evocative of Alice’s rag doll-ish descent into the rabbit hole.
Whether heading toward a building’s side or some other physics-defying angle, she can be brought back to a floating state with another trigger pull, or be forced back to following the laws of real-world gravity with a left trigger input. While the former allows players to pick another destination on pretty much any reachable surface - sideways, upside-down, or otherwise - the latter will drop Kat back to the ground without a scratch. Obviously, this feature opens inventive opportunities for both platforming and exploration-heavy gameplay. We spent about thirty minutes with the game and had a blast traversing the city with skills that’d make even the most agile superheroes envious.
Once comfortable behind the controls, we were introduced to some combat. Like most action-adventure protagonists, Kat is skilled with both feet and fists. However, she can also complement her butt-kicking with her kitty-granted gift; using the same controls, players can target enemies - rather than destinations - before allowing gravity to take over and deliver a powerful kick. While building-hopping is a ball, executing the same moves to plant Kat’s feet into a monster’s face is even more rewarding. Our demo consisted solely of low-level, blobby menaces that we thwarted with a single attack. That said, we’re guessing the promised boss battles will make even greater use of this potential-packed mechanic - having to target individual weak points on a mobile baddie with gravity-assisted melees would be a good start.
Supporting Gravity’s refreshing gameplay is an equally pleasing art style. A cel-shaded, anime-inspired approach yields an absorbing aesthetic that’ll be familiar to anyone who’s had their eyes engaged by a graphic novel. While the Sony rep overseeing our demo remained secretive on narrative specifics - including where the fictional city is located and when the story takes place - we got a heavy, French European vibe from Hexaville. More specifically, it recalled a Professor Layton-like setting, only more stylized and slightly steam-punky. The characters, on the other hand, are another story. While Kat evokes Aeon Flux, the inky black and red baddies could have crawled from one of the developer’s creepier titles. Oh yeah, and then there’s that mysterious black cat - named Dusty, he looks as normal as any mouse-chasing stray, only he’s got that whole give-gravity-bending-gifts-to-strangers thing going on.
In addition to getting an eyeful of the striking visuals while the in-game action unfolds, a number of comic book-like cutscenes help flesh out the story. These can be flipped through by swiping a finger across the multi-touch screen, and the device can even be tilted slightly to view them with a sort of 2.5D effect. Much of the PS Vita’s launch line-up is dominated by sequels or spin-offs of Sony’s most popular franchises, so Gravity stands out as one of the platform’s more promising original titles. We look forward to giving gravity the finger and chatting up kitty cats when the title gracefully falls through the PS Vita’s launch window by – we hope - year’s end.
Aug 4, 2011