It’s been close to 20 years since the last mainline entry into the series, but Grave is back and he’s ready to induce violence, chaos, and carnage to his enemies once again, this time straight into Game Pass! A new story, new characters and new villains are just the start of what await Grave in this adventure. But was it worth waking him up again after all these years? Or should he have been allowed to peacefully rest? Find out in the Xbox Era review of Gungrave G.O.R.E
I need a reason to shoot things?
Developed by South Korean studio IGGYMOB, Gungrave G.O.R.E (which stands for Gunslinger of REsurrection btw), is the third mainline game in the Gungrave series. Starring the same titular character “Beyond The Grave”, known more simply as Grave, the game follows the group El-Arcangel and their goal of stopping SEED distribution by Raven Clan, the primary antagonist.
Now I say group, but really it’s just you playing Grave as you move from location to location with the story being told through cutscenes or some text before levels. What’s SEED? Who’s the Raven Clan? Who’s Mika, and most importantly, what’s the deal with Grave himself? While the story in G.O.R.E is self contained, the answers to those questions come from previous games or the Gungrave anime. Thankfully there is a little “History” tab in the main menu that loosely goes over the story in the previous two games. But if you find yourself really wanting to know more about Brandon Heat (Grave’s real name), I’d highly recommend the 2003 anime, Gungrave, that goes through his life before all of the “Beyond” stuff happens. The story certainly… goes places, but for now let’s dive into the game itself.
Starting off with a bang
Gungrave Gore is very much a game first and anything else second. What I mean by this is that while there’s a story and characters, and revenge and blah blah, the clear focus for the developers was in the gun slinging, gore inducing, body breaking gameplay. Heck the game even starts with you literally blasting into enemy territory.
Gungrave is an action game where you move from corridor to corridor blasting through waves and wave of enemies. Grave’s primary weapon for this bloodbath are his two pistols, which make up the “auto attack” or so of the game. Pressing “Right Trigger” fires the pistols four times and automatically aims at enemies in front of you. You can fire while moving, dodging, and jumping, so this game is never about hiding in cover, even though there is a rechargeable shield. Instead it’s about constantly killing the enemies in front of you to give you the time and space to stay alive.
Along with the main attack, Grave also has a few more moves that are introduced in the starting levels. Pressing “B” has Grave use “Death Hauler”, the giant coffin that he carries around, as a weapon. This acts as a melee attack meant to push enemies away, destroy shields, or deflect projectiles. You can have him jump with “A”, but I found the jump to be pretty ineffective and it instead mostly just got in the way. For when you really need to dodge, you can double tap “X” to roll to the side. The dodge functions well enough in regular combat, giving you some extra breathing room while still taking down enemies in front of you. Finally you can grab or grapple to enemies farther away from you with the right bumper, this is useful in executing weakened enemies, which recharges a small amount of your shield even during combat.
That’s the gist of the regular gameplay but there are also special attacks which can be used after you’ve earned a “Demolition Point” by killing enough enemies. These special attacks can vary quite a bit, from firing a giant projectile, to slowing down time, to raining down rockets on your enemies; the abilities are flashy and usually do a fair bit of damage. They also heal Grave slightly, so it’s best to use them only when needed. There are more moves, such as pressing “Y” to do an area attack around you, which you can only do after you’ve gotten your beat counter over 50 (essentially a combo system), or my favourite which is if you stand still while shooting you eventually enter this cool heavily anime looking shooting animation and you can now hold down the right trigger to rapid fire at any enemies in front of you. Looks very cool but is rarely used as you’re usually moving forward or you have enemies throwing things at you. You can deflect any thrown items back at their senders by tapping “B” without a direction. This is an essential skill to learn as many enemies throughout the game will be firing rockets, smoke bombs or other explosives at you.
Didn’t I already kill you?
Speaking of, the enemy variety in Gungrave G.O.R.E is… okay. It’s not particularly large and halfway through the game you generally keep coming across the same enemy types. Most of the enemies shoot at you from some distance but there are also bruisers that rush you and knock you out of any locked shooting animation. A particularly annoying enemy type were the ones with shields, which require either a melee combo to break or a charged pistol attack. This doesn’t sound that bad until I had my charged shot miss several times in a row, targeting different enemies instead of the shield ones rushing me.
The combat in general ranged from feeling pretty good to being pretty awful. My biggest gripe was that the regular attack had you always pressing the right trigger. Not holding it, but pressing it again and again and again and again. There was no option to change the way this was fired and not using it wasn’t an option as it’s your primary attack. This meant several hours where both my fingers and my forearm started feeling really sore, to the point where I had to physically stop playing. This, along with some frustrating enemy encounters, lead to me reducing the difficulty of the game and also focusing almost solely on increasing the damage of my bullets when upgrading.
And yes! The game does have an upgrade page, where you can unlock new abilities, new combos for your melee attack, buff your damage, health, shield and more. At the end of every level, you’re given a score based on how much time you took, how many enemies you killed, how much health you have, how high your beat counter was and your art score, which is how often you executed or used abilities to kill your enemies. All of those add up at the end to give you a grade, which then give you points you use to upgrade. This initially sounded pretty good, especially as I’d go over some very, very cool looking abilities. But in practice these attacks often did subpar damage and weren’t worth the point investment. Especially when used against the various boss encounters in the game.
So Gungrave G.O.R.E. has a mix of regular enemies/levels and boss encounters. Now while the bosses often had cool visual designs, sadly they didn’t hold up as much in the actual gameplay department. As I mentioned earlier, Grave’s dodge feels clunky at best and it’s never more apparent then when against a boss encounter. Hit boxes are wild and unintuitive, where I would be hit even when I knew I’d gotten my dodge off in time. This wasn’t as much of a problem with the physically smaller encounters, but with the larger ones (and one boss in particular), I felt like ripping my hair out. Time and time again I would dodge but still get hit, and then hit, and then hit again, because for some reason you can’t dodge any of this three combo hit. This singular encounter made me lower the difficulty down immediately after beating it. Thankfully the bosses after weren’t nearly as bad but they also weren’t particularly good either, other than providing a break between the often monotonous levels.
Rule of Cool
While the visuals in the game would often look good, the level design itself felt almost entirely uninspired. Almost always I’d be fighting in a small corridor that would then lead to a slightly more open area, often a warehouse or a laboratory, which would then lead back to a small corridor. There were a few more interesting levels, such as a vibrant jungle or fighting on top of a moving train, but eventually I’d always find my way back into a tiny cave or other such limiting areas. This was disappointing, as I thought the game was at its best when it was open and not using cheap tactics to knock me off said moving train or small platforms.
Back to the visuals for a second, Gungrave G.O.R.E. is mostly not a bad looking game. At least as long as you keep moving and don’t stop to explore. As you make your way through a level, you may be tempted to look around every little corner to find hidden items or such. Don’t bother doing so, as the levels are barren other than some exploding environments and the enemies themselves. You’ll find little rooms but they’ll be empty, used only to spawn enemies out of sight. Thankfully every once in a while you do have a bit of variety in setting. The vibrant neon streets of Hong-Kong and the lush jungle of Vietnam provide a much needed break in-between the dull shipping containers and the sterile laboratories.
While Gungrave doesn’t excel in its environments or level design, it does excel in being stylish as all hell. Beyond the Grave is someone that oozes “The Rule of Cool”, with his wardrobe and shooting animation, and of course his giant coffin, which can protrude a sawblade to cut people up, or become a machine gun ripping through your enemies.
This is, in my opinion, where the game succeeds the most. The visual style of Grave’s moves and his animations during certain attacks almost felt like I was playing an anime at times. While they may not always do the most damage or be the most effective, I have to hand it to IGGYMOB here. The game looks damn cool.
I don’t want to jump
Thankfully my experience was mostly bug free, where only at one point did I have to restart a level because an enemy either didn’t respawn or was out of my sight. There is a day one patch set to release but at least on the Series X, my experience was mostly flawless, bugs/crashes wise.
Gungrave G.O.R.E. has two visual modes, the default of which was “Performance”, that focused on frame rate, and the other being “Quaity”, that reduces the fps to 30 while adding ray-traced reflections and rendering at 4k. I’ll tell you right now. Do not play on anything other than performance mode. I don’t care if you say you can’t tell between 30 and 60 fps. The quality mode in this game is a stuttering mess. Heck, I couldn’t even tell if it was dropping under 30, or if the switch from a smooth 60 was just that bad. After playing a couple levels in the slideshow like 30 fps, I figured I didn’t hate myself that much, and switched back to the silky smooth performance mode, which as far as I could tell, didn’t drop frames at all. Though keep in mind I’m also playing on a VRR enabled television.
One final thing I had to mention before the end of the review was the inclusion of random platforming sections. I mentioned earlier that Grave can jump, though barely. These sections force you to utilize this jump, going from floating container to floating container, or small rock to small rock. This sounds fine, until you realize the platforming is the exact opposite of precise and your character ends up jumping before or after you actually want them to. Oh and to top it off in one of these sections there’s something above the platform too, which lead to many, many falls that felt entirely unfair and extremely frustrating. At one point the game either felt pity for me or I happened to make it past a trigger, and a locked door opened on its own, freeing me from this gauntlet of pain.
Under The Grave
Gungrave G.O.R.E. is a game with few strengths and many flaws. Thankfully most of these issues are small and the combat may allow one to look past them and still have a good time. That was almost the case for me but the repetitive encounters, the often frustrating level/boss design and the absolutely infuriating platforming, stuck with me more than the stylish combat and awesome attack animations. I’d recommend folks to try the game on game pass to see if the combat clicks, but otherwise I think it’s time for Grave to go back to sleep.