If you were to describe Gungrave G.O.R.E. to me, and I knew or saw nothing of the game besides your description, I would assume you were talking about a PlayStation 2 release. Now that I’ve played it, I find that that assumption isn’t terribly far off, philosophically speaking. Iggymob’s latest title is a game out of time, a ghost of past designs walking into the markets of 2022. That’s actually appropriate for something that stars a guy named “Beyond The Grave.”
Gungrave G.O.R.E. isn’t just a tribute to an older design sensibility, it’s practically a wholesale exhumation of the long-dormant Gungrave series. It’s a direct sequel to the events of Gungrave, Gungrave: Overdose, and even the lesser-known Gungrave VR titles. That said, it takes few steps to familiarize new players with its extensive background. A short, text-narrated video recaps the plot of the previous games. You take control of Beyond the Grave, a powerful “Deadman” soldier born from the corpse of betrayed hitman Brandon Heat. Taking the less awkward nickname “Grave,” he turns his powerful Cerberus pistols and fearsome Death Hauler against his enemies: The criminal organizations manufacturing the deadly drug SEED.
Gungrave G.O.R.E. brings familiar action to new locales, as Grave and his allies mount an assault on the Raven Clan, a syndicate distributing SEED globally. Grave travels all over Southeast Asia, shooting his way through a long procession of levels teeming with enemies. Each level begins with an exhortation to “Kick Their Ass!” and ends with a tally of your score, which determines your point reward for the effort.
In between is shooting. Endless shooting. Hordes and hordes of enemies with a behavior pattern no more complex than “run straight at the player while shooting your gun” swamp every corridor and room. Your job is to send them all to their own graves with your pistols and coffin-shaped heavy weapon. Simply turning in an enemy’s general direction suffices, as the game auto-aims Grave’s guns. In a helpful tweak from the original games, Gungrave G.O.R.E. has Grave firing a full burst with each pull of the trigger, rather than forcing players to pull for every shot. It’s a welcome change, as my aging hands felt sore even after relatively short sessions with the game.
Between the auto-aiming pistols and the array of special moves available to Grave, Gungrave G.O.R.E. is more like a character action game than a “shooter” by any modern definition. There’s no need to worry about taking cover or even reloading your weapons. This leaves you free to maneuver Grave around the battlefield like a tank. A recharging shield protects him from damage, a good thing since enemies will swarm from all sides and almost never let up. The waves come in mixed types, too. Shielded enemies need to be knocked around with a melee attack or charged shot to do lower their defenses. Some enemies throw gas grenades that block Grave’s auto-aim, and others fire rockets that can be deflected with a quick melee flourish. The sheer volume of foes makes encounters intense, especially on higher difficulty settings, where Grave can’t take as much damage.
Evening the score is Grave’s unbeatable arsenal. Hitting enemies and environmental objects with your shots builds up a Demolition Meter, which, when filled, adds Demolition Points to your gauge. These points power Grave’s unlockable Demolition Shot super attacks. Purchased with points earned from stage scores, the Demolition Shots are over-the-top screen-clearing bombs, with a variety of effects and mechanics. One launches a rocket that clears a large area. Another is a ground-pound that shatters shields and knocks enemies over. Another transforms the Death Hauler into a pair of swords and charges through foes in a straight line. Unlocking new Demolition Shots and trying them out makes up most of the progression available in Gungrave G.O.R.E., though various statistical boosts are also on offer in the between-mission Lab menus.
Outside of fairly generic corridor-and-room level design, Gungrave G.O.R.E. attempts to mix things up on occasion with a few set-piece encounters. While they do provide a change of pace, they’re sometimes more frustrating than fun. The level designers seem to have a perverse love of moments where players will fail if they fall off a platform, but then confront those players with obscene amounts of rocket-launching enemies that can send Grave flying off the edge. One encounter on top of a moving train was so tightly timed that even on the easiest difficulty, it took me well over 30 tries to clear. Though the combat design is solid, Iggymob perhaps could’ve used a few more rounds of playtesting to iron out the rough spots in the encounter and level design.
More successful in adding some variety are additional playable characters. Quartz, a new character, and Grave’s old buddy Bunji Kugashira both get their own stages and sections. Bunji’s basic gameplay is pretty similar to Grave’s, though Bunji’s more agile and less durable. Quartz’s style is a more dramatic departure from the norm, focused as it is on close-quarters martial arts and dodging. However, their sections are limited and short, leaving Grave to take up most of the game’s playtime. Beating the game on the highest difficulty also unlocks a special “Brandon Heat” skin for Grave that alters his move set and playstyle. Though I wasn’t able to earn the skin myself, it’s at least nice to know that incentive is there for players who do want to take up the challenge.
And that’s pretty much it. Like its predecessors, G.O.R.E. isn’t much for deep storytelling. Cutscenes mostly serve as excuses to shuttle Grave from one location crawling with baddies to another, and much of the story is “told” through pre-mission text briefings. Grave, being a dead man walking (and shooting), isn’t much of a conversationalist. Most of the talking is done by Quartz, who serves as your radio operator. The talking doesn’t add much, though, as the vast majority of her lines are barked through the controller speaker (on the PS4 and PS5). They consist mainly of dubiously helpful warnings like “Grave, they’re coming from all sides!” and “Grave, watch your health!”.
Though Gungrave G.O.R.E. holds up well enough mechanically and visually, rough spots and oversights in “polish” speak to the game’s lengthy development. For example, on the PS5 the sound effects were oddly muted, no matter how I set my volume. Instead, many sound effects channeled directly through my controller speaker, which dramatically dampened the impact of the onscreen violence. Several times I would clear a mission checkpoint and find that the door I needed to pass through wouldn’t open, forcing me to retry that segment. Getting stuck on level geometry was also an unpleasantly common occurrence. Even the localization could’ve used a few extra QC passes. It’s not a great look when your game’s main avenue for storytelling – the text briefings and subtitles – contains noticeable grammatical and typographic errors.
Polish issues aside, Gungrave G.O.R.E. is a nostalgic trip to a certain era of action game design, dressed up in improved visuals and performance. Its anachronistic take on shooting gameplay and late-90s anime aesthetic won’t be for everyone, but the separation of years makes it clear that there’s nothing quite like it on the market.
Gungrave G.O.R.E. is available on the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC.