Gungrave (PlayStation 2) review
"The lumbering goon of a main character, Grave, is well-equipped for fighting the mindless goons of this world, but wouldn't last a minute if he were up against the misfits from Streets of Rage, Shinobi, or pretty much any other game where the opposition actually fights back."
A methodical, cold-hearted killing machine lurches across the street, mowing down unarmed men with its twin rapid-fire cannons. One valiant soul, armed only with a sword, deftly ducks the burly juggernaut's bullets, easily running circles around the slothlike beast.
Will this one man be able to overcome the odds? Can David topple the Goliath?
Not an unusual premise for a game.. except this time, you're Goliath — the unstoppable killing machine, lumbering through dank bars, dank warehouses, dank streets, and other dank areas, mindlessly slaughtering everything in your path.
You can strike a pose, you can beat people up with your coffin, you can dive to avoid incoming fire, you can blow entire city blocks of baddies away — sounds like fun.
The lumbering goon of a main character, Grave, is well-equipped for fighting the mindless goons of this world, but wouldn't last a minute if he were up against the misfits from Streets of Rage, Shinobi, or pretty much any other game where the opposition actually fights back.
Walk (not run) through the streets while firing your pistols. Pinpoint the bland, normal-looking man with the rocket launcher — he's your only threat. Kill him by shooting him. With your one standard type of gunshot. [All the fancy between-the-legs stuff? Just part of the standard animation cycle. You have no actual control over how you shoot.] Kill the other 100 (yes, one hundred) bland guys by shooting them. With your one standard type of gunshot. If a mob should somehow swarm you, pull out the trusty coffin — it's your (one) melee attack, and it will easily clear out everyone in the immediate vicinity. Walk to the next bland segment of the level, and repeat the entire cycle of tedium four or five times before you reach a boss. Then you shoot him.
You do have limited special shot attacks, functioning along the lines of magic from Golden Axe. Except that was a good Sega game. Gungrave is not. Nonetheless, the special attacks, at the very least, can make the boss battles easier. During these end-of-level encounters, if you use a special attack to deliver the killing blow, you get to watch a mildly amusing fatality visual scene — the gameplay's most enticing aspect. Fatalities were also the main attraction in Mortal Kombat. Gungrave has fatalities but lacks in quality, Mortal Kombat has fatalities but lacks in quality... you're an intelligent gamer, you can see where I'm going with this.
Supposedly master manga artist Nightow designed the game's artwork. Oh, I believe that he designed Grave. Grave looks awesome. Everyone else looks bland — zombie-like men, men in white coats, men in suits, men in orange shirts... even the bosses are only occasionally inspired, alternating between mutoid-blue-fat-man (cool) and man-standing-behind-bar (not cool). This game doesn't just fail in gameplay, it fails in art design.
Now, open up the window-blinds and take a peek outside. [If there's not a street out there, close your eyes and pretend.] You see cars, I bet. Distinct buildings and houses. Perhaps even some grass. Basically, you see color and variety.
Now, I doubt you would normally consider your hometown avenue to be a bevy of excitement, but the backgrounds in Gungrave are positively bland. A city street, with only a token car or two, filled with nondescript, carbon-copy, orange or grey buildings, and a simple sheet of grey for ground.
Then there's the "boxes" level. Get this — you wander around this blue-floored, blue-walled maze, but to spice things up (and make it harder to see), there are all these boxes piled up in randomly-sized stacks. Meanwhile, the background music is overlaid with shooting noises — a good thing if the noise were some indicator of enemy proximity... but that's not the case here. The gunshots are simply part of the music, bearing no relation to the location of any potential attackers. Much like birds chirping merrily on a sunny day — heard, but never seen.
The last level is the worst thing ever, born from the "trippy special effects are the best thing ever" school of design — a course I must have skipped. Sword of freakin' Sodan has a better finale than this game.
While playing Gungrave, I found myself glancing at the clock over and over, seeing how much time had passed. The game felt really, really long as it droned on and on. The sad part is that the game is actually quite short — it's just that damn boring. If you're looking for a poetic experience of death and destruction, buy Serious Sam, or Shinobi, or Max Payne... just don't buy this. There's nothing eloquent about it.
Staff review by Zigfried (January 19, 2003)
Zigfried likes writing about whales and angry seamen, and often does so at the local pub.
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