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Gungrave (PlayStation 2) artwork

Gungrave (PlayStation 2) review


"Six Feet Under"


It's called Gungrave. The protagonist, Grave, is stylistically-dressed in purple, has a cape-like coat, and is donning a 10-gallon hat, looking like a modern day cowboy ready to throw down with his two gun cannons. They're named Cerberos. To top it off, he carries a coffin on his back which is chained to both arms. The IP and character designs were created by Yasuhiro Nightow of Trigun fame, so every drawn art piece of the main character looks slick. Basically: I thought everything surrounding this third-person action title looked and sounded cool.

But the actual game is a different story.

In recent memory, I don't think I've played a game that deflated my enthusiasm as quickly as Gungrave did. How fast? Five seconds after taking control. As chaos broke out in a bar, I tried moving Grave; tank controls. A good idea for an action-heavy title where enemies move fast and from all corners... I was slightly put at ease when I realized there's a run, roll-dodge, and lock-on button, but all these discoveries almost became moot when I also realized another thing: camera movement is tied to character movement. An actual tank has more turning flexibility. This posed an issue in the bar, a wide room with barely no cover, and it got so bad, that I unknowingly walked right up to a beefy guy holding a Gatling gun... at point blank range. I died seconds later when trying to exit the room. Adding insult to injury, the game bugged out and froze on the lifeless body.

The ordeal was such an off-putting first impression, that I didn't touch Gungrave for nearly a week.

However, when I begrudgingly returned for a second session and tried coping with the controls, I was more in tune with them, completing two stages without dying. I'm not gonna say the controls are "fine," but they are... doable, to the point of getting from one area to the next without much unnecessary struggle. I roll-dodged more often and changed manual shooting to automatic, the latter being a big deal; there's a lot of shooting, so my fingers were getting exhausted heading into the second stage. It was here that I understood a little bit where the devs were coming at by making the main character an unstoppable, lumbering beast that even the fastest, strongest opponents, with their automatics and rocket launchers, couldn't take down. A solid game can be crafted from that concept.

This isn't that game.

Barely a minute into the second stage, I again realized something: Gungrave is a shockingly basic action game. Not in a good way, either. Within these opening stages, I marched down one condensed corridor to the next, from a rooftop to inside a laboratory, blasting away anyone that showed up with disturbing ease. I felt nothing. I thought the second stage's boss fight might at least present a challenge, especially since the instruction manual recommended I stock my special attacks, abilities that can be obtained by performing damage combos. I arrived at the boss room, confronted my lone opponent hiding behind a counter, and decided to use a special attack that unleashed a huge projectile. He died after that one attack... It was such a ridiculous climax to an overall numbing stage, that I stopped playing the game again.

A week and a half later, on the brink of giving up and abandoning this review, I convinced myself to return and give one final attempt at beating the whole thing. I even started from the beginning just to see if maybe, just maybe, I was overreacting to and over-analyzing the structure of the first two stages. Unfortunately, they were as creatively bankrupt and soulless as I remembered. Stage three and beyond presented more of the same, except, due to "escalating" difficulty, certain enemies tried chiseling at my health bar faster. Here's the thing: Grave has a health bar and a "shield" bar. The shield bar regenerates if he doesn't get damaged after two seconds. Here's the other thing: all I had to do was mindlessly roll-dodge until the bar completely refilled.

This structure and flow persisted with no regrets, featuring more linear pathways, often plastered with greys and browns, while a slew of enemies with forgettable character designs attempted to strain my shield meter. Roll-dodging continued. Stacked special attacks for boss fights. I should also mention that, around the fourth stage, I was given a special move that allowed for full refill of both health and shield bars. As if the game wasn't simple already. Everything felt so stilted as I made the rounds, and while the influx of "tougher" foes forced me to be a tad more active in battles, it still wasn't fun. The sad part? Whenever I got deep into a stage or was seconds away from saving, I often dreaded experiencing another bug like what happened in the first stage, or feared the power going out; the thought of having to replay these latter boring stages in their entirety scared the crap out of me.

If I had to pick a "positive" about the game, I guess it would be the boss fights. Beyond the embarrassing second stage counteroff, the other bosses actually required some skill. Furthermore, most are really weird; one guy transforms into a giant blue balloon-helicopter hybrid in his second phase, and another boss is best described as a towering purple scorpion with a big, muscly arm in place of a stinger. Unfortunately, "positive" is in quotation marks for a reason. The battles are just slightly better than normal fights, because all that's really needed is a ton of dodge-rolling and a handy stack of special attacks, which is easy to hoard. The final stage would've been another positive for its bizarre contrast to the rest of the game, but the repetitive, borderline piecemeal act of running up countless stairs killed it for me. Considering the game is easily beatable in two hours, that's saying something...

The PlayStation 2 has quite an array of action titles, better ones, to choose from over Gungrave. I should have played those, instead.

I need to rewatch Trigun, too.

1.5/5

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (June 28, 2019)

Gomu Gomu no Bō...

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CptRetroBlue posted June 28, 2019:

Been pondering on buying this for PS2 being it has some Anime custscenes and even an Anime based on it. I am now considering not doing so if it handles this poorly :|
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pickhut posted June 29, 2019:

The controls do handle stiffly, but they're "manageable." I would say the bigger threat is the terribly repetitive action. I didn't watch the show, but I did watch a couple clips; it actually serves as a backstory for the games, so if you want the character you see in the game, there's not much there. It actually plays out more like a crime drama more than anything else.

Thanks for reading, too!

Edit: I think the whole series is free to watch on YouTube, on Funimation's channel.

Edit 2: Okay, I watched some scenes of later episodes, and it seems to have "present day" elements, as well.

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