‘Gungrave G.O.R.E.’ Review – Some Things Should Stay Dead

Grave takes aim in 'Gungrave: G.O.R.E' (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox
Grave takes aim in 'Gungrave: G.O.R.E' (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

The concept behind the Gungrave franchise is one of my favorites: An undead hitman named ‘Beyond the Grave’ uses a giant coffin-shaped gun and two massive pistols to fight the mob and the strange alien creatures that they’ve created.

It’s the perfect blend of action and nonsense that I want to inject directly into my veins.

The coffin isn’t just for show, it houses some of Grave’s most devastating weapons in ‘Gungrave; G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

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The first entry, 2002’s Gungrave for the PlayStation 2, was the perfect example of a game that favored style over substance.

Developed by Red Entertainment, who some players may know as the studio behind the Record of Agarest War series, while its gameplay was mediocre, its character and visual presentation set it apart from its peers.

SEED creates many different kinds of monsters to be dispatched in ‘Gungrave; G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

Its character designs alone, as provided by by Kōsuke Fujishima (Sakura Wars, Tales of Xilia) and the legendary Yasahiro Nightow (Trigun), were enough to elevate the IP’s appeal past the limitations of the gameplay.

So much so that it not only did it get an anime adaptation in 2003, but also a sequel, Overdose, the year after.

Brandon Heat returned from the grave in ‘Gungrave’ (2003), Funimation via Twitter

Unfortunately, the IP never had the staying power that it should have.

After the release of the anime and both Playstation 2 titles, the series went dormant and had since been largely forgotten.

Neon is a common design choice for lighting, drawing the mind towards the sleezy underbelly of a Red-Light District in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

That was until 2017 when Korean developers Iggymob and Blueside, under supervision by Red Entertainment, released Gungrave VR, a prequel game meant to build hype for the then-upcoming Gungrave G.O.R.E (an acronym for Gunslinger Of REsurrection).

But after finally playing this third-entry, I’m starting to think Brandon Heat and his quest for revenge were better left in the annals of kusoge history.

The simple, but entertaining main menu gets the player in the mood for shlock in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

The story of Gungrave G.O.R.E is largely forgettable. It exists only to give a very basic excuse as to why Grave is marching around through random hallways killing tens of thousands of mook enemies. 

The SEED drug, an alien parasite that first appeared in Gungrave: Overdose, has reappeared due to another mafia organization, the Raven Clan, who have begun to both traffic the drug and use it to create new monsters.

Grave’s journey takes him across South-East Asia in order to eliminate the Raven Clan in ‘Gungrave; G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

In the face of this threat, Beyond the Grave once again awakens from his coffin to stack bodies and bring an end to SEED, hopefully this time once and for all.

That’s basically everything the story needs the player to know, because they’ll learn little else throughout the rest of the game.

Graves can grab foes and use them as meat shields in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

Most of its cutscenes are just Grave walking through a door and pointing a gun at the camera, and because Grave doesn’t really talk, almost all of its dialogue is one-sided and conveys only the most basic of information.

That being said, I would be remiss to not admit that seeing familiar faces reappear in Gungrave: G.O.R.E. was pretty cool.

Grave is very good at two things, killing and pointing his guns directly at the camera, ‘Gungrave G.O.R.E’ (2022) Prime Matter via Xbox

In terms of gameplay, Gungrave G.O.R.E.’s is very similar to that of the originals’, for better and worse.

Like before, the game’s core loop sees the player tasked with walking forward, mashing the ‘fire’ button as fast as possible, and letting the series’ classic auto-aim gunplay handle the specifics. The more enemies that grave kills, the faster he’ll build up his special meters and in turn be able to use special attacks.

Narrow Halls remove the need to dodge roll when there is nowhere to dodge to in ‘Gungrave; G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

And that’s about all there is to it.

Much like the story, Gungrave G.O.R.E.’s gameplay is incredibly basic, to the point where 90% of your time will be spent fighting off waves of enemies who do little more than stand entirely motionless while auto-aim does its thing.

Every so often, you might be asked to use a special ability, but ultimately there’s no real depth or strategy to be found in Graves’ latest outing.

Most environments are small or narrow hallways filled to the brim with foes in ‘Gungrave; G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

It’s a shame too, because for a series that is both 20 years old and has faced regular criticism over its subpar gameplay, such an updated return could have been an awesome opportunity to give Gungrave fans the finely-tuned experience they deserve.

Sadly, instead of trying something new, Iggymob opted to try and mimic the originals, albeit in a way that feels worse by almost every metric.

Grave has the tools to deal with large groups of enemies in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

To that end, one of  Gungrave G.O.R.E.’s biggest flaws is that it doesn’t know how to handle difficulty.

Rather than making use of more complex AIs that push the player and require them to try out new strategies to best them (à la F.E.A.R.), the game’s idea of challenging the player is to create wave after wave of bullet sponges whose entire battle plan revolves around stunlocking the player into a corner.

SEED creates many different kinds of monsters to be dispatched in ‘Gungrave; G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

And while the game does amp things up by introducing enemies who wield shotguns, rocket launchers, and even shields, these high-powered foes eventually completely outnumber the standard grunts, leaving the player so out-gunned that they have no choice but to constantly stumble and fumble their way to survival.

Simply put, Gungrave G.O.R.E.’s misunderstanding of what actally constitutes ‘difficulty’ shifts the gameplay from passable to nearly unbearable.

Explosive are a great way to knock down crowds of enemies, giving Grave time to pump them full of lead in ‘Gungrave G.O.R.E (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

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Gungrave G.O.R.E.’s gameplay is so janky that I found myself questioning Iggymob’s approach to beta testing – and frankly why they let so much slide.

Take for example, Grave’s ‘Storm Barrage’ ability.

There are multiple playable characters with their own flair in ‘Gungrave; G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

When used, Graves’ handguns transform into fully automatic machine guns, allowing him to both unleash hell at a faster rate and hit targets all directions, not just those directly in front of him, while standing still.

Yet, despite how helpful this ability is, it near immediately becomes useless following the early stage introduction of shotgun- and shield-wielding enemies, as the former can easily knock Grave out of his stance or block his barrage alltogether, respectively.

They don’t shy away from the violence in ‘Gungrave; G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

Because of this, the ability quickly becomes completely useless.

The fact that Iggymob saw this and didn’t think that something was fundamentally wrong leaves me at a loss for words.

Boss Fights require a bit more attention and the use of the dodge button in Gungrave: G.O.R.E (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

And while Gungrave G.O.R.E. does have an upgrade system, the bonuses all felt so inconsequential that I was left thinking, ‘Why bother’?

For instance, even after twice upgrading my weapon damage, it made no difference to the fact that enemies still took entirely too long to kill.

It wouldn’t be a Gungrave game without an attempted dissection in ‘Gungrave; G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

I also managed to unlock several new special moves, but the only one I ever bothered to use was the rocket attack I got at the beginning of the game.

Not because it killing any enemies though, but because it would knock them down and allow me some breathing room so I can kill them on the ground.

Most Fighting takes place in narrow corridors and hallways in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

That’s not the worst of it though, as Gungrave G.O.R.E. also features a level which I have officially crowned ‘The Worst Level In A Video Game I Have Ever Experienced’ – and I know I’m not alone in that assessment.

The level in question tasks the player with running atop a train and jumping off before it enters a fast-approaching tunnel.

Grave’s new design drips with Ikumi Nakamura’s style in ‘Gungrave; G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

However, standing between them and salvation are dozens of the aforementioned enemies with shields, shotguns, and rocket launchers – each of which, if ignored, will simply knock Grave off the side of the train, killing him instantly.

This means that the only way out is through, leaving players to shoot the enemies oneself or occasional splatter them on the level’s environmental obstacles.

Grave may be large, but many of your foes will be larger in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

The issue is that every enemy takes so long to kill that, unless I made perfect use of every obstacle, I would run out of time before I was finished mowing them down and fail the mission.

After countless runs dumping ammunition into enemies who never seemed to go down, I came to the rare realization that I wasn’t having fun anymore.

There are few levels worse than the train in Gungrave: G.O.R.E (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

It wasn’t just that stage either. The next several that followed were so equally annoying and unsatisfying that I felt myself becoming numb to the whole experience.

At one point, I even felt like the game’s frustrating gameplay and design was trying to challenge not my skills, but my patience. It was at that point I put the controller down.

Scumland is a stylized mix between Downtown Los Angeles and a Factory in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

I’m sad that Gungrave G.O.R.E. was such a slog that even its multiple playable characters couldn’t redeem the experience for me.

Grave didn’t feel good to play, and no one else did either. 

Most Fighting takes place in narrow corridors and hallways in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

Sadly, in terms of its visual presentation,  Gungrave G.O.R.E.’s is similarly lackluster.

I’m not normally one to talk poorly about a game’s graphics, but there is a lack of polish here that is hard to ignore.

Grave has the tools to deal with large groups of enemies in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

The graphics feel dated, the sound effects were far too repetitive, and the fact that the cast was redesigned by Ghostwire: Tokyo creative director Ikumi Nakamura is readily apparent.

(The lone exception to this effect being Bunji Kugashira, who makes his return relatively unscathed.)

Bunji lights up an iconic cigarette in his reunion with Grave in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

In interviews, the developers have said that  Gungrave G.O.R.E.’s change of art style was inspired by several films, including Equilibrium and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Unfortunately, while the characters’ designs are conceptually interesting, the developers were unable to properly bring them to life.

Quartz takes in the situation in 'Gungrave: G.O.R.E' (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

Quartz takes in the situation in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

For all their updated appearances, the characters can barely emote, instead spending most of the game with dead expressions on their faces.

This may have been fine for Grave or Bunji, who are both resurrected warriors, but for the rest of the cast, it felt jarring.

Mika accompanies Grave on his next mission in 'Gungrave: G.O.R.E' (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

Mika accompanies Grave on his next mission in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

The voice acting isn’t much better.

No matter what language I played in, Japanese, English, or Korean, the voices sounded off and didn’t fit into the game the way it should have.

Grave arrives at the train station in 'Gungrave: G.O.R.E' (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

Grave arrives at the train station in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

It also does not help that audio queues would occassionally trigger at the wrong time.

Nothing breaks your immersion like hearing Mika yelling “Grave, jump!” well after having clearing whatever obstacle she was trying to warn you about.

Beyond the Grave leaves carnage in his wake as he seeks to bring an end to the Raven Clan in ‘Gungrave G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

I try to be a generally positive person when it comes to video games. I admittedly probably like them more than the average person, and I’m always looking for a silver lining to anything I play.

That said, I’m hard pressed to find many positive things to say about  Gungrave G.O.R.E..

Big Wushen unveils her truth form in 'Gungrave: G.O.R.E' (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

Big Wushen unveils her truth form in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

For a game that I was excited about since it was announced years ago, I went into it with expectations that it would be a slightly improved version of the older games, but hat I got was an experience that felt worse in every regard.

Instead of spending the $50 to pick up Gungrave G.O.R.E.,  I recommend spending that money on the original Gungrave and Gungrave: Overdose for the PlayStation 2.

They are much better experiences and will leave you feeling far more satisfied than their next-gen sequel.

Grave takes aim in 'Gungrave: G.O.R.E' (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

Grave takes aim in ‘Gungrave: G.O.R.E’ (2022), Prime Matter via Xbox

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