Gungrave G.O.R.E revives a third-person shooter from the early 2000s – and it is indeed a grave state of affairs.
When you give your scrappy, B-tier action game a subtitle like “Gore”, you better deliver on the gruesome goods. Thankfully, it was after seeing my chunky protagonist leap out of the sky and twist a thug’s head around the wrong way (causing his corpse to misfire and gun down his friends) during his introduction that I knew that this latest Gungrave instalment wasn’t a let down on that front. Where it does constantly trip up, however, is in almost every other gameplay and presentation aspect. Because rather than some long-awaited series reinvention destined for cult classic status, this is the type of third-person shooter you’re more likely to find in the bargain bin. There are some good ideas here, but overall Gungrave G.O.R.E is an unrefined mess.
As mentioned, events start off in an incredibly stylish manner – and that’s despite an overly convoluted setup for this nonsensical story. Grave himself looks like a character ripped right out of the early 2000s, touting a cool coffin-like melee weapon and two intimidating hand cannons. Dante, eat your heart out. It’s as soon as you get to grips with the game’s controls that things fall apart, though, as shooting somehow manages to feel thoughtless and unsatisfying. Unlike most other shooters, you see, any sense of free aim is done away with in favour of an auto-lock. Rarely do you need to line up shots because a centre reticule always targets enemies for you. This would be fine in and of itself, but when combined with the baffling decision to make constantly tapping the right trigger the way to maintain a consistent stream of fire? Combat encounters quickly grow tiresome.
Enemies come at you so thick and fast in Gungrave G.O.R.E that you would never want to pop off a few shots and then stop, as holding down the right trigger would suggest. And while this is likely done to encourage you to perform combos – pulling in enemies with a chain, charging up shots to break enemy shields, firing demolition shots, and so on – it gets repetitive extremely fast. The idea behind what you’re doing should prove like a futuristic power fantasy, but it never comes together. This is in direct contract to cutscenes, which are far better directed than they have any right to be. Grave’s actions within them are always much more enticing than what you actually get to do during gameplay, too. That’s a problem. Twist an enemy’s head? I want to do that!
Also not helping is the slow and sluggish movement. Developer Iggymob quite clearly wants Grave to control like a one-man battle tank, capable of rolling over most underlings with ease. Surprisingly enough it achieves that almost too well, but the trade-off is that any time you walk or run forward it feels like you’re fighting against glue underneath your boots. A basic dodge mechanic does let you dart back and forth to avoid enemy fire, yet that doesn’t make getting around in between the endless bouts any less tedious. No matter how much I tweaked the camera sensitivity, I couldn’t get Grave to move in a way that felt good.
It’s a shame because, on paper, Gungrave G.O.R.E should be the type of brash action game revival capable of carving out a new niche, a third-person shooter brimming with the stylish absurdity and constant combo chasing of, say, Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. Right-trigger spamming quickly takes that prospect firmly off the table, however, and no amount of inventive combos or cut scene spectacle can make up for it. Couple this with unfair difficulty spikes (one section atop a train took me 20 attempts to complete), lacklustre boss battles, abrupt music transitions, and a general lack of polish, and Gungrave G.O.R.E isn’t so much a reminder of that Double-A charm but more so an ill-judged parody of it.