The gothic action-shooter is a lost art; a relic of the early 2000s that has yet to receive justice in the modern world of gaming. There was an era positively filled with these romps – Darkwatch and Final Fantasy 7: Dirge of Cerberus leading the pack – and it was in this period that the Gungrave series was born.
In the original Gungrave, you play as a semi-undead gunslinger (Grave) fighting for justice in a lawless world. You have a coffin gun strapped to your back and pistols by your side, which serve you well as you travel segmented levels populated by waves of terrifying enemies. In modern sequel Gungrave G.O.R.E, nothing much has changed.
G.O.R.E is a direct continuation of Gungrave: Overdose, the last mainline Gungrave game, and pays strong homage to the classic action-shooter franchise. Decades may separate the design and graphics of each game, but they remain close companions, nearly identical on a surface level. In that regard, G.O.R.E. makes for a wonderful and nostalgic trip – but one plagued by archaic-feeling movement and action.
Striking from the offset is how slowly Grave moves, which sits in stark contrast to modern games. He’s a more grounded character, and while he can dive and jump on a dime, he works best as a solid, immoveable object.
In active combat, this translates to slower-paced fights where Grave oozes into new arena, and paces forward slowly as he picks off enemies with targeted sights, one at a time. For the most part, this is a satisfying twist on the action game formula, as it allows time for you to focus attacks from a central standpoint.
But where the twist falters is in enemy attacks, and the pure number you’ll have to face in your adventure. While Grave is slow, enemies are not – and in tense portions of the game, you’ll wind up facing hundreds of enemies in the space of seconds. As each pours into cloistered rooms and corridors, there’s much less room to plan your movements.
Grave has access to special firepower attacks – some of which can dispatch enemies in quick succession – but you’ll need to gain special charges for these ‘Demolition Shots’. If you’re out of luck, and the room is filling fast, the action of Gungrave G.O.R.E. becomes a frantic blur as you attempt to claw and fight your way past enemies that can move much faster than you can.
In some circumstances, the battlefield is also muddied by engineers throwing tubes of SEED gas and fire in your direction, creating a thick mist of pain that coats the battlefield and confuses your firing. As you travel through each of the game’s many stages, enemies also gain higher-powered abilities, like dispatching deadly rockets, gaining unbreakable shields, bloody claw attacks, and more. These abilities can stack – enemies fire from behind shields, or constantly barrage you with fire from all sides, leaving no room for a counter.
Mounting frustration builds to a peak as the hulking Orgmen take over the battlefield. These beasts are massive, take over your entire camera view, and beat you down with clawed attacks. Generally, they are released in multiple packs, requiring a grim and desperate fight for survival.
Relief is only found in the game’s brief moments between all-out assault and in its cutscenes, which paint a vague picture about Grave and his pals taking on four science-powered villains (The Raven Clan) who are attempting to exploit the powerful SEED chemical for their own nefarious purposes.
The story has only a light grounding in the action; instead, it serves as a framing narrative to keep Grave pushing through strange terrains in an arcade-like progression system.
Each story beat is split into a new level, with these lasting 10-15 minutes each. Some take you through the forests of Vietnam, others through strange and surreal buildings topped with golden statues and white marble. There are neon-infused streets, and casinos that glow with a rich colour palette. Sure, there are also plenty of drab warehouses and underground caverns to stomp through – but in brief sojourns, Gungrave G.O.R.E. is surprisingly pretty.
Character models aside – many look stiff and ugly in cutscenes – Gungrave G.O.R.E. is a gorgeous-looking game. It’s also got a diversity of environments that is rarely seen. Much of the action takes place in and around Asia, with Grave travelling through Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, and other locales in his quest to take down the villains behind the SEED revival.
Read: Gungrave G.O.R.E. could have been a Souls-like
The forest regions of Vietnam pop on screen, with bright and leafy textures disguising incoming troops. Waters glisten beneath your feet, and reveals worms brought to life in shiny, disgusting textures. The light ripples off glass panes, and the glow from neon lights gives a warm feeling to twisting streets. As you advance through stages and work your way towards each boss, levels become more complex and intriguing. Staircases twist to new heights, and alleys become ever more deadly.
It’s just a shame the action is so muddied by a reverence for the past – because when Gungrave G.O.R.E. achieves its flow, it’s a transportive experience. And then, the game forces you to take on rigid and ungainly platforming by jumping across boxes or ravines, and it loses its momentum.
Between stiff movements and enemy barrages, there is a shining heart in Gungrave G.O.R.E. – but you’ll have to work hard to see it. While the game is hamstrung by its dedication to the past and gameplay systems that feel long outdated, there is a real sense of satisfaction to be dug out while you’re blasting away at enemies.
Achieving flow by activating Grave’s barrage and Demolition Shot skills lends a real sense of freedom and satisfaction to combat. It shines when you’re allowed to let loose; when Grave goes in, all-guns-blazing against hapless troops. When you’re in wider, open areas and combat can actually breathe, there’s space and time to watch wild blood spatter, and feel the power at your command.
While these moments are limited, thanks to the relatively linear and cloistered corridors you’ll often be travelling, plenty of areas along your journey will allow you to grasp the full capability of Grave with both hands, and unleash a wonderfully deadly storm against your enemies.
In boss fights, this freedom is unparalleled.
In these wide-open battles, it’s just you, your opponent – and plenty of bullets. Finesse is needed to survive these encounters, and it’s here where the game’s intentions are most clear. G.O.R.E. isn’t designed to be a snappy character action game like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, although it does share the aesthetics of these adventures.
Rather, it’s a meaty power fantasy, one where your survival depends on guns. Lots of guns. In these arena battles, you can realise your true potential, engaging in strategic dodge-roll-attack loops and combat strategy. Against enemies like Big Wushen and Yensen, you can deploy a cavalcade of attacks, with a focus on avoiding high-powered blasts with good timing and awareness, while chipping away at enemy health.
One bar at a time, you’ll fight your way to freedom in one-on-one battles that birth a real sense of elation. These battles are revelatory, and bring G.O.R.E. to impressive heights – but the lasting glow they leave is fairly soon lost as you romp your way through yet more crowded stages, and more waves of enemies approach.
There’s always more blood on the horizon, making Gungrave G.O.R.E. feel like a break-neck romp with little room to move or breathe along the way. While dotted with moments of joy and violent freedom, the action of the game quickly devolves to repetition – making it a largely enjoyable romp, but one that only rarely makes a meaningful impact.
Three Stars: ★★★
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Windows PC
Publisher: Prime Matter / Plaion
Release Date: 22 November 2022
The PlayStation 5 version of Gungrave G.O.R.E. was provided and played for the purposes of this review. GamesHub has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content. GamesHub may earn a small percentage of commission for products purchased via affiliate links.