Gravity hands-on preview

Defy gravity and talk to cats in the PS Vita’s wackiest launch-window entry

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 %26ldquo;uncover her past to protect her future%26hellip;%26rdquo; While that cut-and-paste tagline seems to have fallen right off the generic action-adventure assembly line, Gravity is unlike anything we%26rsquo;ve seen. A far cry from the fright-filled franchise the developer%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;s been highlighted, another click of the right trigger gets Kat moving in that direction. Especially cool though, is that she doesn%26rsquo;t plummet or hurtle to the new target area, but rather gracefully drifts in a dreamlike manner evocative of Alice%26rsquo;s rag doll-ish descent into the rabbit hole.

Whether heading toward a building%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;s feet into a monster%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;s refreshing gameplay is an equally pleasing art style. A cel-shaded, anime-inspired approach yields an absorbing aesthetic that%26rsquo;ll be familiar to anyone who%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;s creepier titles. Oh yeah, and then there%26rsquo;s that mysterious black cat - named Dusty, he looks as normal as any mouse-chasing stray, only he%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;s launch line-up is dominated by sequels or spin-offs of Sony%26rsquo;s most popular franchises, so Gravity stands out as one of the platform%26rsquo;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%26rsquo;s launch window by %26ndash; we hope - year%26rsquo;s end.

Aug 4, 2011

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