“Undead gunslinging goth cowboy fighting an unending battle against an uber-powerful drug-peddling criminal organization” sounded like a winning concept to me. As a huge fan of the PS2, Gungrave G.O.R.E‘s heritage appealed to me too. G.O.R.E is the third mainline entry in a series that started and stopped (excluding a couple of recent VR games) on the sixth-generation PlayStation. Then there are character designs from Yasuhiro Nightow of Trigun fame, and mechanical designs courtesy of Sakura Wars and Tales of artist Kōsuke Fujishima. I even thought developer IGGYMOB’s Gungrave VR showed promise though it was janky and simple. I was more than ready to fall in love with this game. But unfortunately, despite its solid core and unique style, Gungrave G.O.R.E is shallow and shoddy.
Dressed To Kill
Gungrave G.O.R.E (G.O.R. standing for Gunslinger of Resurrection) has wildly varying production values. I played the game on PC with all visual options at their highest settings at 1080p and 144 frames per second and was impressed by much of what I saw. The lighting, particle effects, foliage, and destructible elements of the environment were highlights. Plus, the game ran smoothly regardless of what was happening on screen.
Our protagonist, Beyond the Grave, looks nice most of the time too, unless in an area where his model is lit in an unflattering way. And in an era of minimalist HUDs, Gungrave G.O.R.E boldly displays both a health bar and a delightfully over-the-top special attack gauge that doubles as a compass. This compass is inhabited by a smiling, laughing skull that reacts to the availability and activation of your most powerful abilities. Each level begins with an ornate UI prompt to “kick their ass”. Incredibly stylish and visually stunning pre-rendered cutscenes by the prolific Digic Pictures bookend the game.
However, for every element I was pleased with, there was something to detract from the presentation. Gungrave G.O.R.E‘s in-engine cutscenes, whether focused on dialogue or action, are often poor and look even jankier next to the excellent pre-rendered ones. The English voice acting is rather bad and robs scenes of any emotion that could have been present, and obfuscates an already roughly localized lore-glossary heavy plot.
There are areas of the game where textures clash roughly, with one body of water clearly displaying tiled blocks. Speaking of clashing, while much of the game manages to nail the look of “anime realism” like Dead or Alive 6 or Final Fantasy VII Remake, certain locations and characters veer too far into one realm or the other and feel out of place. Quartz is an odd-looking character in particular, especially when seen next to Grave or Bunji. The near photo-realistic foliage of Vietnam is also jarring after leaving the stylized city of Scumland. The title screen of the game made me literally do a double take — it’s a PNG image of Grave shrinking and growing to simulate his model being there and breathing.
Loud and Heavy
Sound is similarly uneven in Gungrave G.O.R.E. Composed by the talented duo of Tetsuya Shibata (Final Fantasy XV, Devil May Cry) and Yoshino Aoki (Final Fantasy XV, Breath of Fire), the music in G.O.R.E rocks. It fits the vibe of the game and adds a lot to the action and atmosphere. The tracks playing in the (incredibly brief) moments outside of combat add more life and feeling to the game than any other factor. Sadly, G.O.R.E‘s sound effects don’t match the OST’s quality and sometimes hamper the music.
There are three sound effects in Gungrave G.O.R.E I love. There’s the deep rumbling of Grave’s pistols, the heavy swoosh of swinging the coffin, and the futuristic blast of your charge shot (Death Spear). Aside from these, things range from “ok” to “bad”. Smashing enemies with Grave’s coffin results in a strangely puny clanging sound, even against unarmored human enemies. This makes melee feel less satisfying and is also confusing. Combined with how ineffective melee is in the game (we’ll get to that soon), the sound might lead you to believe your attack was deflected. When you initiate special attacks (Demolition Shots), the skull in the HUD will react with excited sadistic laughter. Whatever filter they put over this bit of voice acting was a mistake. Your skull buddy ends up sounding like a Halloween decoration low on batteries.
G.O.R.E‘s great music is often drowned out by a cacophony of destruction. Even when things aren’t exploding and enemies aren’t yelling and firing rockets, the OST can be covered by your own gunfire. Though it sounds and feels good, shooting your pistols is loud. You’ll be firing your pistols for approximately 85% of the game. Because of the way the combo (Beat) system works in Gungrave G.O.R.E, even when there are no enemies on screen, you’ll likely be firing your guns to destroy objects in the environment and keep your hit streak going. The combination of constant loud gunfire from a single gun type combined with, when you can hear it, heavy electronic rock can wear on you over the course of G.O.R.E‘s 13-hour runtime.
Because Reloading Takes Too Long
Gungrave G.O.R.E is an arcadey third-person shooter that feels more like a beat ’em up than it does other games in its genre. It has modern controls but is designed to be played differently than most modern titles. Through 31 levels, players take control of Grave and fire at everything that moves (and many things that don’t) with every shot landing counting toward a combo counter. There’s no need to reload, and the ammo is infinite, so you can fire to your heart’s content. Levels are linear stages with hallways and arenas where a variety of enemies appear depending on the location and plot beat. Though some of them feature nooks and crannies that are out of the way, there’s no point in exploring any of them; there’s nothing to interact with, no one to talk to, and nothing to collect.
By shooting, dodge rolling, using enemies as shields, melee attacking with your coffin, hook-shotting into foes, and unleashing powerful special attacks, players make their way from the start of each stage to the end killing everything in their path. The only diversion from simple navigation and mashing R2 nonstop to blast all you see is the rare inclusion of truly dreadful platforming. It’s unfortunate that Grave’s jump has so little combat utility because it means the only use for it is clunkily hopping from space to space the few times the game asks you to, sometimes with instant death as punishment for failure. Generous checkpoints and quick loading mean these sections aren’t too frustrating from a challenge perspective, but they’re not fun.
A sole focus on combat is fine if it’s compelling. When Gungrave G.O.R.E began and presented me with all the options I had in battle and showed me a myriad of unlockable techniques and stat upgrades after the first level, I was sure it would be.
When the controller is rumbling, and Grave’s pistols are thunderously unloading bullets the size of baseballs into walls of enemies and destructible pieces of the environment to maintain a combo, while filling a meter with successful attacks allowing you to unleash Demolition Shots, earning you ART points to get a high grade at the end of the level and unlock more combat options, the game shines. There’s this satisfying score-chasing flow G.O.R.E enters, culminating in finishing a level and being ranked and awarded with upgrade points. Past the first third of the game, this flow is rarely achieved thanks to technical issues or design choices.
In the first third of the game, enemy waves are dispatched in a number and arrangement facilitating this grade-hunting, attack-chaining playstyle. Destructible objects are scattered along the environment to allow for maintaining “beat” count between encounters with foes. With each passing level, it seemed that enemies were given more health and increased in number. Enemy groups go from sensibly assembled groups of shield wielders, grunts, and a missile-launching enemy to assortments of random feeling numbers of each type. End-lag and an inability to cancel either dodging or deflecting means areas with ludicrous amounts of rocket-launching enemies give players few satisfying choices. Enemies with area of effect gas canisters are placed on levels where you can’t move from your platform without fear of instant death. Combo-able object placement also suffers as players move out of the alleys of Scumland and into wider play areas with less clutter.
Gungrave G.O.R.E‘s enemy variety is impressive, but more and more, tougher enemies who are immune to one or multiple of Grave’s techniques are introduced until some of the game’s mechanics are unusable. In some of these later encounters, with a limited number of options, problems with some of the remaining ones you’ll lean on begin to show. Sometimes snipers are placed above where you’re allowed to aim, requiring you to circumvent it by aiming as high as possible, walking to the right spot, and then hitting the lock-on button. Charge shots often miss if there’s any elevation difference between Grave and foes. Melee attacks do very little damage, very little knockback, don’t feel or sound satisfying, and you can be knocked out of using them easily. Some Demolition Shots get caught on parts of the environment or have hitboxes that remain unclear to me after finishing the game.
Your hookshot attack has the same animation and sound when you miss with it as it does when you hit an enemy immune to it. Hookshotting to an enemy, on the other hand, works on just about anyone but has the same weak knockback, meaning you’ll often fly into a group of enemies with an ineffective attack that doesn’t even make any of them flinch. This last problem is egregious; IGGYMOB has done a great job making Grave control and feel like a hulking bullet-spewing menace. When you fire a chain into an enemy and zip across the screen with the momentum and weight of Grave and his coffin slamming an organization soldier and they don’t even react, it’s supremely disappointing.
Hard To Kill
The last couple of levels in Gungrave G.O.R.E are populated exclusively with enemies with tremendous health. They take a huge amount of damage to fell and they either rush in to attack with melee or are ranged attackers that immediately break Grave’s “shield meter”, the line of defense he has before he starts taking fatal health damage. Without the ability to use any of these enemies as shields, hookshot them to me, hookshot to them, or melee without being stunned out of my combo, all that was left was to shoot or use a special attack.
Special attacks are earned through normal combat, so I simply dodged in a huge circle around the arena until I earned a Demolition Shot, used it, and repeated it for many minutes. It was fairly challenging, but it wasn’t much fun. I felt like I was “cheesing” the game; I was just dodge-rolling and shooting over and over again. But I didn’t see any other option other than grinding old levels for upgrade points to maybe make melee attacks viable, but at that point, I wasn’t enthused about playing any more of the game than was required to finish it.
I made it out of the room and fought the pushover final boss in what was one of the most visually uninteresting arenas in a game that’s sometimes visually stellar. At the time of writing, I’m one of 0.45% of players who’ve finished the game through PC Gamepass or any Xbox console according to achievement statistics.
Gungrave G.O.R.E had potential. It’s apparent in the early levels. I can see it in the animations. I can hear it in the soundtrack. Regrettably, things just don’t come together. A rough localization and voice acting keeps G.O.R.E from meaningfully benefiting from or adding to the Gungrave series’ lore. Technical problems keep mid-to-late game combat from being satisfying, and game design decisions keep those periods from being fun. With the core elements of the game being hindered by these issues, a lack of variety (even with short stints as two other playable characters) has Gungrave G.O.R.E become increasingly chore-like as you make your way through it despite its promising start.
G.O.R.E is a big step up from developer IGGYMOB’s last effort with Gungrave VR, and it seems fan feedback is being taken into account for patches to improve this title in the future. Gungrave G.O.R.E may yet reach its potential, but as it stands, it’s difficult to recommend.