The turn of the century was a great time for flashy video games. Over the top moves, bullet-spectacles and weird, anime-centric vibes all marked a new shift into the “loudness” of the noughties. But whilst the likes of Devil May Cry sold gangbusters, there’s another series that was making its move. That series was Gungrave, and it was just as silly.
It shared similar themes to DMC, with resurrections, long coats and eccentric combat, but it was a different beast. Whereas Capcom’s spectacle fighter went all demons and whatnot, Gungrave went all modernish, with gangs, revenge, world-ending drugs and allsorts in-between. It had a story as weird as any manga, spawning a considerable franchise along the way.
Much like its revenant protagonist, Gungrave has once more risen for the current generation to offer a blast from the past. It’s as 2000’s a game as it comes, warts and all. Let’s tool up and find out why.
Rise From Your Gungrave
If you’re not overly familiar with the timeline and story behind Gungrave don’t worry, neither am I. I only dabbled in the first game briefly in my GameStation days. Did you know there was an anime adaptation a year after its release in 2003? Well, now you do.
Suffice to say, the plot to Gungrave G.O.R.E (which stands for Gunslinger Of REsurrection, which isn’t how acroynyms work) is daft. There’s a drug going around that turns people into monsters. The organisation behind it all is headed by four different types of wrong’un, each with their own special trait. It’s a bit like Resident Evil’s Umbrella corporation, but anime and therefore wackier.
Even the protagonist, Beyond the Grave, is a teenager’s fantasy. Killed some time ago (during the first game), Brandon Heart is reborn as a revenant-like hitman. He’s got two bitchin’ handguns and a coffin full of guns. Or made of guns, or both. He’s silent and cool, but has lost his Brett Michaels hat along the way.
I know it sounds like I’m being witty and scathing (or in my head it does, at least) but I wasn’t joking when I said “a 2000’s game”. However, Gungrave knows this and is rolling with it, and we are along for the ride.
Dead Man Gunning
Whilst I have made Devil May Cry comparisons with Gungrave, the two titles don’t play the same. Whereas DMC plays with fixed camera (the first ones, I mean), Gungrave goes over the shoulder. Grave, as he’s affectionately known, has some verticality, but for the most part runs and guns. We follow behind, taking in what he sees as he explores extremely linear corridors.
What he does mostly see, however, are waves of copy/paste goons or monster things, occasional reskinned or repainted. They’re either suicidally charging Grave to slap him, or perched on something precarious to be shot at. Conveniently over red barrels, usually. The monsters aren’t much better, all rushing our undead protagonist to drain his health whilst ignoring their own welfare.
At Grave’s disposal are his unlimited-bullet handguns, Cerberus and his coffin, the Mauler. Shooting is straightforward enough: lock on with L1 and mash R2 repeatedly (on PlayStation). The Mauler is your melee, swinging that back ol’ thing around to biff foes and return rockets to sender. Grave can dodge and jump, but the former is certainly the more reliable of the two. But that’s not all…
Teaching The Undead New Tricks
Whilst on the surface it’s a very arcade-like shooter, Gungrave does have a “token” skills and upgrade system. Why yes, it is similar to Devil May Cry, thanks for noticing. So, as you may expect, damage outputs, health maximums and more explosive moves can be bought through experience point harvesting.
There are special moves attached to the Mauler, with the first being the above: a large, area-of-effect explosion. The others vary, from large-scale fire to rotational explosions. They get mapped to L2, giving players a choice depending on the situation. Other skills are more passive, or combo-based, meaning players will more than likely do them without realising.
As long as players keep an eye on Grave, try and balance him out a bit, it’s not a massive challenge (on Normal difficulty). Keep an eye on that shield, grab enemies to replenish when necessary, but otherwise go ham on anything in the way. It can get dicey at times, some enemies will swarm you like flies and chip away at your health. Mostly, it’s about keeping on your toes and not getting overwhelmed, whilst looking stylish.
Speaking of looking stylish, I’m at a weird juxtaposition with the presentation of Gungrave G.O.R.E. On one hand, I’m playing the PlayStation 5 version and it does look rather nice and smooth. On the other hand, it really does look… well, like a PlayStation 2 game. I wish there were some wittier way of putting that, but I can’t think of one.
It seems oxymoronic to say it looks like a new old game, or vice versa, but that’s how it is. Whilst it looks shiny and new, my brain immediately goes back to the PS2 and Xbox era of games like this, The Bouncer, Panzer Dragoon Orta and such. Perhaps it’s because I remember these that I draw that parallel, but it’s not a bad thing. I like nostalgia and trips down memory lane, but I also like newer looking games.
Yet whilst the particle effects are shiny and the character models are peak anime, the same can’t be said for locales or enemies. As mentioned earlier, a lot of enemies are generic fodder, to the backdrop of extremely linear levels. That’s the negative to looking like a sixth-generation game.
So, if you’re not expecting Last of Us Part I levels of graphical fidelity, good. If you’re priming yourself by reading this first, you shouldn’t be disappointed. It’s a PlayStation 2 era game with a lot of spit and some polish.
However, this is the bit where being reminiscent of a PlayStation 2 game doesn’t do Gungrave any favours. For all its nostalgia and jazzed up visuals, G.O.R.E is lacking in the content department. The single player, the main draw of the game, is of a decent length. Players will travel across a few continents, fighting the occasional boss battle at times (but not every mission), all to get to the cartel. But that’s it.
Outside of that, there’s very little to do other than perfect scores or try harder difficulties for the sake of trophy/achievement hunting. I remember back in the day that the first Gungrave was short and sweet, whereas this feels like it’s been padded out to justify its price tag. But then, if you like trying to better scores or higher difficulties then what else could you ask for?
I haven’t finished it yet, through time constraints and such, but I do intend to. However, as mentioned earlier about “mob tactics”, there are a few moments where I’ve just put down the controller and switched it off. There’s difficult, and then there’s poorly-programmed AI that just bum-rush you into a corner and leave it impossible to get out from.
One could argue it’s my own fault for being trapped, but I’d say it was half a dozen of one, etc. Have I otherwise been enjoying the game? Yes, but that’s because I’m a man-child of the past. New players may not be so forgiving.
Dying To Live
So then, to conclude: I quite enjoyed Gungrave. I don’t really know what’s going on, despite the animated recap available in the main menu. I get the gist, but I can’t say I’m clamouring for or expecting a well-written and deep story resolution by the end. But I do want to see it through. I’ve finished every Devil May Cry, I will see this stablemate to its conclusion.
But then, I have an awareness of the series to want to give it a go. For those going in blind, or not familiar with how older run-and-gunners used to play, it might be a little off-putting. I used the phrase “old school” earlier, because that’s exactly how it feels. It’s got the difficulty spikes, the clunk, the occasionally slow loading times.
Negatives aside, Gungrave G.O.R.E is a blast when it gets going. The cutscenes are over the top, as are the bosses and the main baddies of the piece. If you can put up with the archaic rust that comes with old-fashioned games, there is fun to be had in here.
Gungrave G.O.R.E is available now on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter), Xbox One and Series S|X, Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.