Trying to capture the old school feel of games from a different era can be a tricky tightrope to walk, particularly because if the developers take things on that front too far, they’re going to end up with a game that doesn’t feel old school, but actually just feels old. Gungrave G.O.R.E is a perfect example of that. Launching twenty years after the cult classic PS2 shooter that kickstarted the franchise, Gungrave G.O.R.E tries to recapture that all-guns-blazing action loop that that generation of games so often went hand-in-hand with, but rather than trying to balance that with smart and necessary modernizations, it instead ends up delivering an experience that feels like it would have felt outdated even in the late 2000s.
The story, by design, is a pretty mindless one. The (almost) silent (and undead) protagonist Grave returns, and with fellow members of ass-kicking and crime-fighting organization El-Al Canhel, heads into the city known as Scumland. Their target is the Raven Clan, a drug trafficking organization masquerading as a corporation, who, led by their four bosses, have been selling the drug known as SEED, which turns its victims into literal monsters. Yes, its pulpy as hell, and Gungrave G.O.R.E makes no bones about that fact- the story exists purely to facilitate the action.
“Launching twenty years after the cult classic PS2 shooter that kickstarted the franchise, Gungrave G.O.R.E tries to recapture that all-guns-blazing action loop that that generation of games so often went hand-in-hand with, but rather than trying to balance that with smart and necessary modernizations, it instead ends up delivering an experience that feels like it would have felt outdated even in the late 2000s.”
Sadly, the game steers into that approach a little too hard for its own good. You can have a simple and straightforward story setup that doesn’t get in the way of the action while still telling an engaging narrative, but disappointingly, Gungrave G.O.R.E doesn’t even try to strike that balance. The cutscenes are thoroughly bland and uninteresting, even if they do occasionally convey a sense of style on a very superficial level, and there are almost no major story developments in the game worth paying to much attention to. Characters lack personality and are so bland and uninspired that even calling them one-dimensional might be a bit generous, and it doesn’t help that the voice acting and writing are shockingly bad at worst and of a barely acceptable level of quality at best.
Most of these issues would be relatively easy to forgive if Gungrave G.O.R.E was a home run on the action front – that’s very much the point of the game, after all, just like the cult classics it’s inspired by – but the game stumbles here as well. Admittedly, there is a lot more to like here, most of which boils down to the game’s insistence on gleefully bombastic and mindless action without any sort of tactical or strategic nuance. If you’re looking for a game where you can walk into a corridor and be faced with a seemingly never-ending stream of enemies, only to mow them down with a glorious and explosive barrage of gunfire, you’ll find plenty of that here. But if you’re also looking for anything close to resembling variety and depth, Gungrave G.O.R.E will leave you sorely disappointed.
On a fundamental level, going through the environments and blowing entire waves of fools to smithereens is a fun exercise, largely because even though Gungrave G.O.R.E’s core gameplay loop is pretty straightforward, it does have a decent moveset with a number of actions that encourage you to mix and match and rack up combos and style points (referred to as Beat Count in this game). You have your dual pistols, which serve as your primary weapons, and a massive coffin that Grave carries around on his back, which can be used for basic melee attacks. Beyond that, you have a chained hook that you can use to pull enemies to you (or pull yourself towards bigger enemies), a charged shot, finishers (which also recharge your shields a little faster), and special abilities known as Demolition Shots (which also restore a chunk of your health). Absolutely none of that is ground-breaking, but it works on a fundamental level, keeping the moment-to-moment engaging to at least some level.
“You can have a simple and straightforward story setup that doesn’t get in the way of the action while still telling an engaging narrative, but disappointingly, Gungrave G.O.R.E doesn’t even try to strike that balance.”
If those were the only things constituting the game’s skeleton, it would at least have a steady foundation to build off of, but the gameplay suffers from some glaring issues. The biggest of these, in my experience, is the plain and simple act of shooting. Bafflingly, Gungrave G.O.R.E doesn’t let you hold down the trigger to keep firing your weapon- you have to pull the trigger repeatedly for every single bullet that leaves your pistols, and that gets tiring very quickly. And when I say tiring, I mean it. You’re shooting a lot in this game – almost constantly, in fact, because the Beat Count system kind of demands it, even when there are no enemies around – and having to repeatedly pull the trigger rather than simply holding it down takes a toll on your finger. I can’t fathom why the developers would make this decision in what is essentially a bullet hell shooter.
Another major issue with the gameplay is how clunky the movement feels. It’s a pretty basic collection of moves to begin with, effectively boiling down to a simple jump and a dodge, and not only do even those movements feel choppy and inaccurate, they’re also just incredibly slow and sluggish. Even though Gungrave G.O.R.E maintains a pretty steady framerate, simply moving forward through the levels feels like an exercise in patience. It clashes massively with the heavily action-oriented nature of the game.
The game’s level design does it no favours either. Every level is incredibly linear- there are never any branching paths, and the few offshoots and side rooms that you will chance upon are all virtually useless. Gungave G.O.R.E has no collectibles or optional objectives, or any other tool to encourage players to explore its levels. Other than the visual aesthetic of the levels – which, to the game’s credits, do showcase decent environmental variety – there is nothing to separate them or give them any sort of visual identity. There are a few levels that do try to introduce some new ideas, but sadly, most of them involve annoying gimmicks or unfair and frustrating difficulty spikes.
“If you’re looking for a game where you can walk into a corridor and be faced with a seemingly never-ending stream of enemies, only to mow them down with a glorious and explosive barrage of gunfire, you’ll find plenty of that here. But if you’re also looking for anything close to resembling variety and depth, Gungrave G.O.R.E will leave you sorely disappointed. “
The level design combines with the incredibly simplistic and straightforward gameplay of Gungrave G.O.R.E to make for what quickly reveals itself to be a painfully repetitive experience. Yes, it can be mindlessly fun to mow down waves of enemies, but you an only do that for so long before it gets boring. Boss fights do break up the action and, more often than not, mix things up in some interesting ways, but they don’t manage to do enough to stave off how monotonous the entire experience feels on a macro level- neither do the barebones progression mechanics, which offer almost nothing worth speaking about.
It’s a shame that Gungrave G.O.R.E has so much working against it. If not for the developers’ misguided attempt at making a game that’s too old school for its own good, it could have been a solid enough action experience in its own right, but unfortunately, there’s just too much holding it back, and in ways that are far from easy to forgive. Whether its the bland story, the repetitive and straightforward gameplay, or some of its baffling design decisions, Gungave G.O.R.E keeps finding ways to keep tripping over itself. If you have a hankering for an old school action game that evokes the gameplay style of PS2 era titles, you’ll be far better served looking into something like Evil West.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox Series X.
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