Review: Gungrave G.O.R.E
About a month ago, I took a brief look at the resurrection of yet another long-dormant franchise. I walked away thinking that the opening hours in that preview meant that the comeback of Beyond the Grave was in good hands. Because of that positive first impression, taking on the review for the final build seemed like a pretty safe bet.
What I thought was a safe bet turned out to be considerably less than that.
Bringing an old IP back from oblivion doesn’t always mean it’s a sure bet for a quality product. The same could be said for the opposite problem where you have too many entries diluting the story or universe it occupies, which is why it’s refreshing to see new experiences with franchises that could benefit from a modern perspective.
Regardless, returning to the Scumlands and beyond proved to be one of the more beleaguered gaming experiences I’ve had in 2022. 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 PS5 version was played for this review.
Consumed By Seed
For those who might not have experienced the first two games back when they were originally released, you don’t need to know the plot of them to get the plot of this one, though plot synopses are available if you want them. The connecting thread is the prevalence (and massive resurgence) of the super drug known as SEED. There are four major crime bosses of the formidable Raven Clan that are using shell corporations as a front to push the drug to parts unknown, and newcomer Quartz explains the situation right off the bat to bring you up to speed.
Now as a part of the anti-SEED organization “El-Alcangel,” Grave once again teams up with Mika Asagi as well as Quartz to halt the Raven Clan’s aspirations of increasing SEED production in the Scumlands (located in Southeast Asia) and beyond. While Grave’s initial insertion into the Scumlands is entertaining and flashy, it only goes downhill from there. All you need to know is “SEED bad, destroy SEED, and neutralize those trying to take over the world with it and their hordes of followers.” That’s it. While the story has you hopping all around major Asian destinations, it’s all in service to stopping SEED.
The worst part about that setup is that it doesn’t even feel like an excuse plot. While there are plot developments concerning the operation at hand, the writing for these characters is emptier than I expected. Nothing about this writing makes me want to care about why they’re stopping the production of SEED, nor is there any semblance of meaningful character development. Everyone feels like a cardboard cutout with awful voice acting that’s pretty phoned in.
I like to enjoy stories that aren’t exactly what some people consider high entertainment so long as I’m having fun along the way. Even the worst stories can be enjoyable if you look in the right places. I tried my hardest to take that angle with this story but just couldn’t. The acting is dismally flat, the writing is nowhere near compelling, and the story just feels hollow as a result.
I don’t expect every game to have the nuance or award-winning writing when I sit down to play, but I want to experience something that will either move the gameplay along (ala Shredder’s Revenge, etc), or motivate me to continue playing to advance the story. G.O.R.E does no such thing, and it makes the breaks in gameplay that much more disappointing.
Bottomless Magazine of Despair
When I fired up G.O.R.E last month for the preview, the gameplay felt pretty solid. I encountered an instance or two of navigating from place to place occasionally getting overwhelmed by massive Raven Clan numbers that I could clear out with some patience. Speaking plainly, that’s the best part of the game. So it doesn’t surprise me that they would lead off with that for preview coverage.
The core gameplay is simple enough. Grave’s twin handguns (dubbed Cerberus) are your primary arms in mid to long-range gunplay. It’s simple enough; you just endlessly pull the trigger to keep the bullets flying. Having a charge shot is handy in a pinch, and landing enough hits nets you a Demolition Point that can be used for Fury Mode or various Demolition Attacks. With Fury Mode being a simple buffed-up mode, Demolition Attacks are where the devs get creative with how Grave clears out foes.
Close-quarters combat is where Grave’s giant coffin-gun-thing named “Death Hauler” gets to shine. While you start with a simple swing in the early game, later on, more elaborate melee combos become available as you use the DNA you acquire at the end of each stage to upgrade your overall skills and stats. Death Hauler can also pull foes in from a distance, which is useful in situations where you need to maintain a combo, use a meat shield, or regain some shield power.
That sounds like a pretty solid gameplay base, right? Sadly, that foundation is quickly eroded once the difficulty starts to ramp up and the frustrating level design rears its ugly head. Good games that are difficult often use that difficulty to teach the player to adjust their playstyle and strategy to progress in the game. Somehow, G.O.R.E pulls off being simultaneously dull and frustratingly tedious when things get difficult. The game does give you tools to progress (primarily in stat upgrades and Demolition Moves), but the attitude of going “full bore without much room for strategy” works against it time and again. It’s prevalent at nearly every turn, and finding/making space to breathe comes at a premium. Cover often isn’t an option thanks to nearly everything exploding (though useful in limited circumstances), and I often found myself carving out places to cheese my way through.
It doesn’t matter if the stage design is wide open or narrow as all get out. When you end up in combat, it becomes a matter of survival more than it is strategy. Having a shield and health system is standard in modern game design and is present here. But when you flood the stage with what seems like hundreds of foes that can drop you in less than 5 seconds in every single stage, it starts to become a chore to play. Even with opportunities to maintain survival in the thick of it, the tedium is overwhelming regardless of difficulty level. Difficult gameplay does not make a game bad, but not allowing the player to learn from their mistakes and instead overwhelming them to the point where strategy is impossible is not what I would call a balanced or enjoyable experience.
Even the most difficult bullet hell shmups can and will use visual/audio cues and clever gameplay mechanics to help players manage the chaos. Here, the chaos feels like being in a swordfight with a spork when things get hairy. With that often being the case, managing said chaos feels Sisyphean. Pair that up with a near-constant flow of one-hit kill level design, and frustration is all but guaranteed. It’s one thing to play a difficult game and say “that was hard, but I accept that it’s not for me.” It’s another thing entirely when you actively dread progressing through a tough game that’s also poorly designed because the process of playing it is such a slog. You can only go through so many samey hallways filled with foes and wring any enjoyment out of it. The times I found myself genuinely enjoying the gameplay were rare, and even those moments were fleeting.
Beyond the Pale
When you have names like Yasuhiro Nightow and Ikami Nakamura attached to a project like this, you expect at least a little bit of the artistic flair and flashy gunplay that comes from both Trigun and Bayonetta to be an easy transition to make. G.O.R.E does pull from these influences from these creators for its sense of flash and flair, but it’s often overshadowed by other low points in the presentation.
The overall art style of the game bears the mark of these artists, though the result is something that could be mistaken as an early Xbox 360 game. In motion, it isn’t especially terrible. It runs at a consistent 60 frames without ray tracing turned on at a 4K resolution. But once we get into cutscenes, the cracks begin to show. Character models in cutscenes are often ugly and move unnaturally. They don’t show much emotion, if at all. What little emotion is shown often gets lost in the jilted animation. It gets worse the more you look at it, unfortunately.
The audio presentation doesn’t fare much better, either. While the soundtrack carries an appropriate edgelordy vibe, the bulk of it is so forgettable and often repetitive during gameplay. Think of the horns section from Sonic Unleashed in the Werehog stages, for example. Entering combat would play the same riff every single time, and it got old fast. It’s not quite that bad here, but it feels like they didn’t have the budget or resources to put together something compelling or varied. It ends up being bland because of that.
Voice acting bears a similar mark, and none of it is worthy of praise. Grave being the largely silent protagonist he is doesn’t have to worry about this, but his supporting cast does the bulk of the heavy lifting with the dialogue. Combat dialogue is repetitive as hell, as are radio lines piped in from Quartz. Unfortunately, I could only turn off the latter. I’ve already said my peace with how flat the overall performance is, but it bears repeating how much it affected my enjoyment of what little plot there was. Why should I care about this story if the voice actors couldn’t be assed to not phone it in? There are bright spots, but the overall presentation is middling at best. Given the names attached to this, it makes it all the more disappointing.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve played a truly bad game, and unfortunately, Gungrave G.O.R.E falls into that category. The further I progressed through the game, the less I wanted to play it. That’s not something I’ve found myself feeling in years, and that’s saying something. For as much as I wanted this to succeed, every attempt at grasping for a modicum of decent gameplay was met with the most tedium I’ve met in a game this year. It feels like a game defrosted from 2005, and not in a good way.
Equal parts missed opportunity and failed return, Gungrave G.O.R.E‘s high aspirations are often met with the harsh reality of how messy it ultimately became. Even the notable names attached to this comeback couldn’t save it from the mindless, frustrating, and tedious mess this game is. The best-case scenario for this game is someone curiously downloading this on Game Pass, playing for an hour or two, and deleting it shortly after. Some things should just stay buried.
Review code provided by Prime Matter for PS5. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Prime Matter.