We all love some over-the-top action, but can the new stylised shooter from South Korean developers Iggymob, promising thousands of bullets and probably just as many explosions make Gungrave a must-play?.
The original Gungrave was first released back in 2002, and G.O.R.E (which somehow stands for Gunslinger Of REsurrection) is actually the third game in the series. But don’t worry if you’re not up to date with the story, because there’s a helpful history option on the main menu that will help bring you up to speed.
In Gungrave G.O.R.E, you initially take control of Grave.
Part of the group called El-Alcangel, after finding out Scumland is home to a Seed refinery, the group head to the island run by the notorious Raven Clan.
After a brief introduction, you head to the first location in the Outer Scumlands, where you’re gently eased into the gameplay, best described as an off-rails shooter with a little third-person action thrown in for good measure.
Controls are initially straightforward, you shoot with the right trigger, dodge with X and melee with B. You’re then introduced to using the melee button to return projectiles, which is the only major use of the oversized suitcase you’re lugging around because, at this early stage, combat is all about the gunplay.
Shooting has auto-aim and each trigger press will fire 4 bullets, you can quickly scan across the screen taking down dozens of enemies with relative ease, but I still found myself smashing away at the trigger, as many enemies seem to fluctuate between needing one bullet or five and it often felt like luck of the draw how many would actually hit their target, thankfully you can pull LB to focus on one enemy and I found this a much more reliable way when faced with a horde of threats, especially later in the game.
Things do feel a little sluggish at first, but everything gets turned up a notch for the second mission. One of the first steps is to hit 50 beats (that’s a posh name for your combo), and then you can utilise the Y button for an attack is similar to Reapers Death Blossom in Overwatch, you spin around shooting all directions, initially, it does the job just fine initially but I found it pretty pointless against stronger enemies.
There’s also an impressive Demolition Shot where you kick an explosive into the surrounding enemies which in the right situation can pull Grave out if a tight spot.
Sure enough, you’re starting to see more and more enemies, and the slow pace suddenly picks up considerably, when the screen has more than a couple of enemies firing at you, you can easily start to chain together attacks, charging your shots to dismantle shields, returning missiles to sender, and taking down group after group of the Raven clan.
Gunplay has a really pleasing flow to it, it’s certainly not as fluent as it could be, and the necessary dodge does break the flow of combat, but when in full motion, you can breeze through a section with explosive satisfaction.
Moving through the story, everything was going well (bar a few silly deaths), I progressed through the Outer Scumlands with relative ease, but sadly the second area has a few balancing issues, with one part on a train, forcing me to fail one section time and time again due to a strict timeline and a few too enemies to run past, without getting knocked off the train and back to square one.
Thankfully, after this, you’re off to Hong Kong and from here on, Gungrave returns to its crazy best, with some great level design, lovely visuals and a little more variation in enemies, it was worth enduring a few balancing issues earlier on.
I won’t spoil the surprises, but there are more than a few unexpected twists which keep the light story interesting, and the gameplay exciting. I’m not sure if there’s a bottle of scotch in that luggage, but Gungrave gets better with age.
Between stages, you can head to the lab, where there are upgrades available to unlock new combos, increase firepower and add a few extra moves to your arsenal, as well as more Demolition Shots, which are most useful when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed and need to clear the immediate area.
I never felt like managing your upgrades was essential, but having a few extra combos makes melee a little more worthwhile.
I was also a little surprised by the longevity of Gungrave, most levels are likely to take you 15-20 minutes, and with 5-6 levels in most areas and 6-7 locations, you’re looking at around 15 hours just to get through the bulk of the storyline.
Considering that there are no collectables to artificially flesh out game time, and the minimal (although mostly impressive) cut-scenes, 15+ hours is far better than expected, and with more upgrades on offer, there’s plenty of reason to replay a few fun sections to add more powers to your repertoire ready for later in the game.
Gungrave will also be available day-one on Xbox Gamepass making it essential for shooter fans who subscribe to the service.
Moving on to presentation and there are quite a few similarities with titles like Devil May Cry, short on voice acting and narration, a few cheesy one-liners and a much bigger emphasis on spectacular firefights and explosions.
Firstly, there’s a range of characters, but I struggled to build a relationship with Grave himself.
Firstly, he’s a moody fellow, who just doesn’t quite fit… He’s supposed to be some badass reaper, but with his neat hair, smart spectacles and not a single scratch or scar on his face, he looks more like a businessman who stole a wig and some clothes to try a little cosplay. Add to this the near non-existent voice, and Grave just feels like an empty shell.
Mika, the 14-year-old head of El-Alcangel, is a little more relatable and the assistant and narrator Quartz isn’t terrible, but the voice acting of many other characters just feels flat, too scripted and not localised as well as it could have been.
Graphically everything looks great, on Xbox series X, I found the choice between 4K 60 or 4K 30 with Ray-Tracing in the options, and even at 30fps, the game seems to move at a steady pace, and still looks amazing at 60fps, which is quite a feat considering how much is going on and the 4K output.
The level design is gorgeous, and there are always plenty of impressive explosions – often a great way to keep your combo (beat) building.
Some animations are a little awkward looking, the running animation of Grave is dreadful and lip-synching is usually some way off, but for the most part, it’s a good-looking game, which just misses a few shots down to a lack of attention to detail in the character animations.
One area that sadly struggles is the audio, the first hour is good enough, the early narration is delivered well, enemies will grunt, groan and complain, and there are plenty of sound effects, explosions and Gunfire to wrap your earlobes around.
However after a few hours, some of the voice-acting starts to feel flat and lacks any real power, enemy comments are soon repeated, time and time again, and when you realise you’ve heard that background music for the 8th time in the last hour, it soon starts to sound just a little too repetitive. Once again, things improve when you head to Hong Kong and beyond, but expect to hear many lines repeated, especially within the same locations.
There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of fun within the walls of Gungrave G.O.R.E, when its fires so many bullets, obviously some are going to hit the target, but it’s doing far better than expected.
Early on, I did find the enjoyment halted a little due to a few repetitive sections and poor difficulty balancing. Likewise, a little more attention to detail and polish, a more varied soundtrack, and some deeper conversations between characters could have really taken it to another level.
But once you work beyond these first few hours, there are plenty of surprises, plenty of variation and a grave full of explosive fun.