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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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..
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.
- Core gameplay mimics the original
- The characters are well designed from a concept art perspective
- The Core gameplay is worse in every way compared to the original
- Bullet sponge enemies ruin the fun of being an undead gunslinger
- The presentation isn't polished, from graphics to voice acting.