Here is a list (which is not exhaustive) of things I have seen explode in Gungrave G.O.R.E.: Cars, trucks, computer monitors, mechanical cranes, barrels, neon signs, crates, red boxes, chairs.
Gungrave G.O.R.E (from now on referred to as Gungrave) gave me a newfound respect for seemingly innocent everyday items. Had I known that the very thing I am sitting on as I write this might erupt in flames and kill me, I would not have been so cavalier in carrying it up the steps when I moved in.
So, what is Gungrave actually about? I am glad you asked because I am still trying to figure it out myself. There is this guy called Grave – looking like if Peter Steele, of goth metal band Type O Negative, was brought back to life and a bit moodier – who walks along and makes things blow up.
Included is a photo for reference because, apparently, people don’t know who Peter Steele is.
I’ll let the promotional material clarify the story:
Each Gungrave game has its own enemy/evil organisation, so each of them are self-contained revenge stories. The previous games do not have to be played to experience G.O.R.E, although certain established concepts might take some getting used to by newcomers, especially revolving around the seed. The common thread between the games is the seed and the relationship between Grave and Mika. In a sense, Gungrave G.O.R.E is the finalisation of the seed story arc and the culmination of Grave’s story since the real super villain is finally revealed and defeated.
I could not tell you what any of that means and the cutscenes do little to illuminate as half of them are Grave walking up to a door, looking incredibly angry with his side-parted long black hair, dressed fully in leather, and opening said door. This is all done to the sounds of moody Buttrock numbers that make it seem like the early 2000s never ended.
None of that matters really because what Gungrave does really well is make you want to see things mushroom cloud at every, single, moment.
Gungrave is a third person action game. The player has two guns, a melee-coffin, and some ridiculous room-filling special moves that allow them to slowly tread along each of the areas shooting and splatting everything. The guns automatically lock on to whatever the player points at and the coffin is used for enemies able to block. To use the specials the player has to get a destruction meter up. Once triggered, a sound effect I can only describe as a demented Insane Clown Posse ‘whoop-whoop’ goes off, and Grave will do something like kick a skull missile into a group of whimpering gang members. Which is very useful because each level is just teaming full of criminals, mutants, and criminal mutants to be killed. In terms of defensive maneuvers Grave doesn’t have a lot going on as he handles like a tank, plodding through each scenario but to help that he has recharging shield that will soak up damage – he also has a finishing move that will jump start the shield recharge.
Gungrave is not subtle, the first level is just called ‘Big Wall’ and it is set on a big wall, where is this Big Wall situated? A place called Scumland, that is a land… full of Scum.
Which is great, because I don’t think anyone was looking for subtlety from a game where it looks like the protagonist decided that My Chemical Romance needed a buff-bondage enthusiast, chained to a coffin.
Instead, it is just blowing things up wall-to-wall. What I appreciated was that the game leaned into it so hard that there was actually some nuance to it all. Each level is teeming with things that want to detonate – each time Grave hits one of them it helps keep a BEAT meter going. If the BEAT meter goes above 50, Grave gets access to extra skills, the higher the BEAT meter goes the better the player is rewarded at the end of each level. It was then that I started to notice that it was possible to string together a combo through each room. Things like the chain that Grave can attach to enemies and send himself flying towards them for death kills, weren’t just fun but helped launch him into new areas to keep the BEAT meter going.
Viewed as such, each level became a racecourse, the less populated passages in between big battle arenas are the difficult corners that need to be taken with finesse so as to not lose pace. The enemies that cannot be blasted with Grave’s guns are chicanes that must be hit with a well-placed coffin hit. My racing metaphor is falling apart, but my main argument is that Gungrave might not be refined but it does understand how to take a relative shallow ‘everything blows up’ scenario and spin something close to gold out of it.
Doing well at a level is worth it because it feeds into the game’s levelling system with more points to spend on upgrading Grave’s arsenal.
If Gungrave had managed to keep this smartly stupid approach I think I would be calling it one of the best games, if not the best game of this year. Instead, there are some major stumbles.
The first is that with an almost indestructible protagonist, Gungrave decides that it has to offer some challenge in the form of instant death scenarios, some of them linked to third person platforming. In other areas Grave is placed on a moving/precarious platform and is prone to be knocked off by an errant rocket. The restarts on these areas can be torturous as I had to sit through a loading screen and a cutscene of Grave angrily staring at a piece of concrete.
Later there is a short bit where Grave is supposed to jump across a series of interlinking platforms (thankfully not across a death pit). After I failed it 5 times, the game just seemed to give up and unlocked the next area as if to say ‘Yeah, that was a bad idea, wasn’t it?’.
The other fumble is that everything blows up, except not everything does blow up and there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to it. There was an inconsistency to it that never stopped annoying me. Sure, this random Chinese lantern keeps my combo meter going, but this other glowing sign doesn’t?
These hiccups in terms of visual and game design caused the 30+ level run time start to drag near the end and there were multiple times where I grew numb to the repetition and just wanted Gungrave to be over. Which is a crying shame when I was initially so high on the unrepentantly dumb approach of the beginning of the game.
Gungrave G.O.R.E is a clever-dumb game that finds ways to turn mindless shooting into an alternative character action model. Sadly, it is brought down by trying to be too smart and muddying its objectives. When it sticks to what makes it enjoyable, it excels.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox S|X review code, using an Xbox S|X console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.