Preview: Gungrave G.O.R.E.
There’s something to be said about the allure of resurrecting long-dormant franchises, especially when you’re the kind of person who latched onto one of them when it was originally released. It’s a chance to breathe new life into your creation, and also a chance to adapt to the times. In recent memory, I’ve seen (and covered) several instances of developers hitting the “reanimate” button for franchises beloved and obscure, and hearing the phrase “someone is making a proper sequel to the two Gungrave games from the early aughts” was not something I had on my radar in 2022.
For a minute, it seemed like the universe surrounding Beyond the Grave and his cohorts was shaping up to be a hot property in its original release period. Two games and a 26-episode anime to boot? It’s no surprise that fans having to endure a wait rivaling that of Shenmue III to see anything new in the main storyline would be disappointed to wait that long. There was a stab at VR for some reason, but fans were understandably hungry for a proper continuation.
In either case, we got the chance to take a quick stroll in the long-awaited follow-up to the latest franchise to be suddenly brought back from the dead. Developed by IGGYMOB and published by Prime Matter, Gungrave G.O.R.E. releases on PS4/PS5, Xbox One/Series X | S, and PC on November 22, 2022. The Steam version was played for this preview.
Not Quite Buried
The amount of time I could spend with this game was decidedly brief, but it did a good job of establishing everything about the series in one fell swoop. The undead badass Beyond the Grave (aka Grave) has made his way to the South Asian island dubbed the Scumlands to finally put an end to the horrors brought upon by the deadly drug known as Seed, which has now spread more than they could imagine. With his partner and ward Mika Asagi backing him up as part of the newly formed anti-Seed organization “El Arcangel,” Grave begins his assault against the Raven Clan in the flashiest way possible once the game opens proper.
Third-person shooters aren’t anything decidedly new, but it’s pretty clear that the aim for G.O.R.E. was to stick to the tried and true corridor shooting design philosophy from the very start. Combat is a mix of bottomless magazine shooting for distance-based enemies, and using your big-ass not-quite-a-coffin gun “Death Hauler” for close-quarters combat. While it’s not exactly something I would use all the time, it’s nice to have a little bit of variety in combat. Even if it is just a quick melee combo, which is what most close-range combat ends up becoming.
The bulk of your shooting is primarily focused on using your twin Cerberus handguns to mow down your foes. There’s the basic shot pattern, though there’s also a stationary rapid mode and a charge shot. Each of these has its use in the right situation, but the Death Hauler is also useful for ranged finishers as well. It’s as simple as hitting the bumper and Grave does the rest. There are close-range finishers, but I often found myself safely dispatching weakened enemies from afar. A secondary powered-up mode is also present when you hit up a large enough combo, which is essentially a way more area of effect than the base stationary firing pattern. It’s good for weaker enemies, and it’s a cool visual as well.
Keeping your combo up in a Devil May Cry type of way often yields a “Demolition Point” that will give you access to a special move or an overpowered mode that can help you clear out a room pretty quickly. One such special move available in this build (dubbed the Demolition Shot) has Grave summoning a giant missile to thin the ranks with some well-executed strategy. Though I often found myself leaning towards the buffed mode, as I could spread the increased damage around more effectively.
I was able to experience the first four areas of the game with this build, and it was made pretty clear from the get-go that this largely sticks to close-quarters corridors. Because of that, most of the environments you traverse in the Scumlands are decidedly tighter than many games these days. There were occasions where the lack of space got in the way, as there were numerous instances of waves of foes pouring in from all sides with little to combat that outside of hopping out of the way or leading them into a dead end with a narrow entry to pick them off from. You can cheese through some of it with the “break shield and chip down your health” system seen in other games. But the combat tactic of “overwhelming the player” can end up being frustrating when it rears its head.
There were a handful of boss battles included here, and they took a page from some of Platinum Games’ back catalog in terms of scale. We’re not necessarily talking about flipping a Metal Gear RAY by its arm or anything, but these bosses are pretty big on their own. The environment does scale to accommodate the size, and there is just enough room to shoot and dodge around the arena. The first fight reeked of the “get your feet wet” kind of boss fight, but later encounters do require a basic grasp of the mechanics. None of it felt especially unfair, but having your wits about you at all times will work in your favor.
Resurrecting Old Vibes
Sometimes, you run into something that feels less like an homage to a specific era and more like something that felt that could have been released in that era and the public would have looked at that and said “Yeah, that tracks for what I’m seeing these days.” With the first two games being released in the aughts, one could look at G.O.R.E. and think of it that could have been seen on the Xbox 360 or PS3 based on the aesthetics alone, which early games weren’t far removed from the more edgelord-y vibes of that era.
If you’re familiar with the work of Yasuhiro Nightow (primarily known for the anime Trigun) and Ikami Nakamura (who worked on Bayonetta and Okami), you’re sure to see their fingerprints all over the art style. The overall series always latched onto flash and flair in a way that later games in the industry would find themselves latching onto. Having that kind of pedigree makes sense in the context of the anime, but character designs do differ a bit since Grave changes his duds each game. He’s not trying to be the Humanoid Typhoon, but you can see some parallels between the two protagonists even today with the gunplay.
G.O.R.E. might not sport the graphical fidelity of its predecessors, but it feels like it could easily pass as an early seventh-generation game as you play it. The overall environment and effects would dazzle folks at that time but ended up coming off a bit low budget now. It’s not a particularly ugly-looking game or anything, but it’s not something I would exactly call a graphical powerhouse either. There have been games we’ve covered that end up falling into a weird uncanny valley that might fall at the feet of budget concerns, but some games have come out looking and performing well with those same restraints. My PC was able to handle G.O.R.E. with little issues in 1440p and a stable enough framerate, though the PS4 and Xbox One consoles might end up getting the short end of the stick in terms of performance.
Audio performance was a slight disappointment for me, primarily in the voice acting department. The bulk of the aughts vibes generally stem from the hard-driving rock music, but most of the dialogue in this preview had Mika doing the heavy lifting. She’s not the most annoying thing, but her radioing in the same repeated lines got old pretty quickly. Sometimes the delivery was just weird. It doesn’t get much better with members of the Raven Clan, either. They have what feels like maybe five lines, and they sound like they were recorded while they were holding their nose. Now imagine that when you fight endless waves saying these lines over and over. While annoying, I was able to somewhat tune it out.
While I do have some issues with the overall presentation, it’s decent enough if you’re willing to overlook those flaws. It could be considered something that could be a bit cheesy, but also enjoyable in that context. Perhaps if you were to pretend that this was released when the property was still fresh in people’s minds, it may soften the blow a little bit. Now? It just feels like a silly presentation that hearkens back to when the 3D game presentation wasn’t as robust as it is today.
Seeds of Completion
With G.O.R.E.‘s release about a month away, one would hope that things would start looking like a coherent final product. After my brief romp in the Scumlands, I feel like you can say things are looking up for Grave’s re-resurrection. It may not be as polished as one would expect from other flashy games that are releasing at this point this year (namely Bayonetta 3), but I feel like the game being dropped day and date on Game Pass will work out in its favor. Curious folks may find themselves more willing to download it and give it a try as opposed to dropping 50 bones on it.
Fans, on the other hand, may just be content to finally sit down with Grave again and get the closure they’ve been seeking for over 18 years. Regardless of what crowd you find yourself in, it feels like there’s at least a little bit of something to be excited about here. Here’s hoping whatever loose ends IGGYMOB has left to tie up here will be helpful in the home stretch.
Preview code provided by Prime Matter for PC. Screenshots taken by writer. Featured image courtesy of Prime Matter.