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Gravity Rush 2 is a reminder that E3’s best stuff isn't always in the press conferences

The action game was one of this year's best — and best-kept — secrets

There is another timeline in which I never tried Gravity Rush 2, one of my favorite games from E3 2016. In this other reality, I instead left the show floor on the event's final day raving about Horizon Zero Dawn, the game I'd showed up to the private PlayStation booth to check out in the first place.

But this is not our world, and I never got to play Horizon Zero Dawn. Instead, when I made it to the booth that afternoon, excited to hunt robot dinosaurs, ride mechanical buffalo and whatever else Sony touted as possible during its press conference, I was greeted with bad news.

"Sorry," the PlayStation rep manning the desk replied. "We closed down that demo a few minutes ago."

Disappointed but ravenous and undeterred — I was as determined to snack on some of the fancy salted nuts stocked in the demo area as I was to play a new game — I peeked over her shoulder to get a sense of what was still available. I'd already played The Last Guardian's 45-minute demo; I was still physically recovering from Resident Evil 7 in VR.

"What about ... Gravity Rush 2?" I asked. I remembered passing by that demo multiple times, always surprised to find it included among the bigger titles. Gravity Rush 2, though it did receive a post-show E3 trailer and had a decent presence across the show floor, didn't quite have the star power that the other, far more recognizable titles around it did. Its short new trailer debuted online, not on stage; I'd yet to hear anyone mention it among the games they were excited to try or had played and loved.

Gravity Rush 2, unlike those other games, was still set up, and so I tried it, and played it, and loved it. The PlayStation 4 game is due out later this year, and it's beautiful, surprisingly easy to get the hang of, and hard to pull yourself away from once you're in the groove. Those who played Gravity Rusheither on PlayStation Vita or its recent PS4 remaster, will find the combat familiar — silent protagonist Kat is a death-defying warrior. She's unafraid of free-falling and launching herself into her enemies from hundreds of feet in the air.

Plummeting into that beautiful blue sky is totally liberating

Those are the most common actions I had her perform during the demo, which was mostly a tutorial. It's a beautiful world that Kat runs around in, full of townspeople and animals and creatures waiting to be pounded on. But before I got to do that, I was encouraged to find some ledges to jump off, inciting Gravity Rush's most entertaining mechanic: the manipulation of, naturally, gravity. Plummeting into that beautiful blue sky doesn't mean certain death, as it probably would in other action games. Instead, it's totally liberating, thanks to Kat's gravity-bending powers that force space to conform to you.

Speedy Kat can float and kick her way through the air, but she always feels grounded and within your control, and the camera is well equipped to keep up. New fighting styles will add challenge and variety to the mid-air combat, too, as one makes Kat faster and lighter, the other heavier but stronger.

Those are the biggest reasons why playing Gravity Rush 2 felt so good, and it's why I had so much fun with it in the quick 20-minute session. Other physics-based games can be tricky to get a hang of, with characters feeling like they'll float away in any direction without warning.

For a game that blended so easily into the background of the booth, lost in the din of buzzier, bigger games, Gravity Rush 2's presentation is another major part of its appeal. There's the gorgeous character and level designs, and the comic book-style cutscenes are just as beautiful. I saw only a modicum of the game's lush, fantastical setting, but it will be almost three times larger than the first game's. A mission at the demo's end that sends you gunning across the skyline suggests that you'll explore every inch of that city, by foot and otherwise. The game's color palette is overall less muted than the original's, too, and it's got a more distinct look than many of the games Sony deemed more worthy of its presentation.

Visibility is how a game truly wins an audience

I was so high on Gravity Rush 2 after just 20 minutes that I wondered why Sony, seemingly, didn't feel the same way, at least where its primetime conference is concerned. Perhaps it's because it's the surprising sequel to a quirky cult hit, befit with a strange core mechanic and potentially alienating art style. It's a refinement of that first game, not a radical departure from it.

In that sense, I get why Gravity Rush 2 was relegated to an E3 B-side. But few people will be as lucky to have the experience that I did: looking to play another game entirely but stumbling upon this truly hidden gem. Most people who want to play Horizon Zero Dawn will get to do that, Gravity Rush 2 consolation prize not included. Inclusion in the biggest show of the year is one thing, but visibility — something Gravity Rush 2, for one reason or another, lacks — is how a game truly wins an audience.

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