Gungrave G.O.R.E has exactly one mission objective, three words that flash across the screen at the beginning of each level and every time you die: Kick their ass. For the 12-15 hour campaign, you’ll do exactly that – shoot, slash, blow up, and otherwise execute thousands of enemies and bosses on your quest to eradicate the Raven Clan and save the world from an evil drug called SEED. When it works, which is often, Gungrave G.O.R.E is a captivating ballet of blood and bullets that merges Gungrave’s signature style with the best aspects of modern action games. Unfortunately, for everything Gungrave G.O.R.E does right, there are an equal number of frustrations and missed opportunities, making it difficult to recommend to anyone outside of action game aficionados or hardcore Gungrave fans.
Gungrave G.O.R.E picks up where Gungrave VR and Gungrave VR U.N left off. You don’t have to have played any previous Gungrave games or seen the anime adaptation to pick up what G.O.R.E is laying down, though it will definitely help – if you’re new to the series, there’s a short video explaining its history to help you along. The setup is a bit goofy: SEED, a drug with a knack for transforming its users into monsters that was thought to be eradicated, has actually survived. This time, it’s being sold by the Raven Clan, so Mika, Beyond the Grave (Grave to his friends, and your main protagonist), Dr. Aso, newcomer Quartz, and the rest of the rather forgettable El-Al Canhel head to Scumland to stop SEED production and take the Raven Clan, and its four bosses, down.
Things escalate from there, of course, but Gungrave G.O.R.E’s plot and characters are never strong enough to provoke more than passing interest in what’s going on. Grave is silent as his namesake (he has less than five lines in the entire game, none more than four words long), and the other characters are mostly there to deliver exposition. It doesn’t help that the voice acting is also all over the place and the translation is pretty hit or miss – there are noticeable grammar errors in the written text and weird turns of phrase that don’t sound natural in English. Almost all of G.O.R.E’s story is delivered in cutscenes. In missions, you’ll mostly just have Quartz guiding you from point A to point B with a lot of recycled and unhelpful dialogue like “Grave. They are coming from all sides!” or “There’s the exit,” which gets old pretty fast. G.O.R.E’s story is only there to give you a reason to travel the world, meet new people, and kill them.
The action is really what you’re here for, and Gungrave G.O.R.E does more or less deliver on that. Grave has several abilities at his disposal: a pair of pistols, a charged shot, a big coffin to swing around for various three-hit combos, Demolition Shots (special abilities that cost charges you build up by dealing damage), the ability to reflect certain projectiles, a dodge, and a jump. Pretty standard stuff, but what makes Grave interesting to play are his special abilities. You can grab enemies with Death Hauler, Grave’s coffin, and use them as a human shield, or enter Burst Mode by shooting repeatedly while standing still, which allows Grave to deal massive amounts of damage very quickly. Grave can’t move in Burst Mode, but you can rotate the camera to take out enemies around you. Grave can also execute enemies at low health, which will recover his shield much faster than if you recharge it over time.
Of course, it’s not just about killing enemies; you have to look stylish doing it, too. The goal is to drive up Grave’s Beat Count as high as you can by constantly hitting enemies and grabbing a high Art score, which comes from executions, melee combo finishers, and Demolition Shots. Maintaining a high Beat Count is tricky; it disappears very quickly if you’re not hitting or shooting something, which pushes you to constantly be on the attack. It’s a fun challenge to drive it up during encounters and then maintain it between them by shooting objects in the environment, like cars, boxes, or neon signs. Play your cards right, and it’s possible (if difficult) to drive up your Beat Count into the thousands. Getting your Beat Count over 50 even gives you access to Storm Barrage, a rapid-fire attack that hits enemies in all directions and will quickly drive your Beat Count higher when used against large groups.
The trick is managing all of it. Demolition Shots, for instance, restore health but don’t contribute to your Beat Count, no matter how many enemies you hit with one, though they do give you Art score. Executions provide a shield recharge and up your Art score, but only add one to the Beat Count. Managing all of these things well, along with Grave’s health and shield, can feel great when it all comes together. The shooting is loud and impactful, Demolition Shots are amazing, and executions are appropriately stylish and gory. Melee attacks never quite feel as weighty or damaging as they should, but when you’re pulling off high Beat Counts and landing Demolition Shots, Gungrave G.O.R.E feels fantastic.
Unfortunately, everything else is more mixed. Levels are gorgeous, and Gungrave G.O.R.E takes you through a ton of different environments throughout its campaign, from the dirty alleys of Scumland to neon-soaked streets of Hong Kong and the forests of Vietnam, among others. Each place looks, feels, and plays a little differently, and Studio Iggymob has done a great job of imbuing each location with a distinct vibe. The issue is that levels themselves are entirely linear affairs; there are side rooms and small detours, but there’s no reason to ever explore them unless there are enemies there. There are no collectibles to find, no optional objectives to complete, nothing. All you need is kill, which is good because that’s all you’re going to do.
The other problem is the enemies themselves. You’ll have seen most of the enemies Gungrave G.O.R.E has to offer by the time you hit the 10th level (of 31 total), and many of the ones you’ll see after that are just variations. Instead of “guy with rocket launcher,” you might see “guy with rocket launcher that shoots four rockets,” or “guy with rocket launcher that shoots really fast and does lots of damage.” Instead of your standard, SEED-infused Orgman bruiser, you might see one with claws that moves faster and hits harder. These variations aren’t a problem on their own, but when levels reuse the same few enemies over and over again, it can get old. This is especially noticeable in the last few levels, which feature a grand total of four enemy types.
Gungrave G.O.R.E also likes to throw enemies at you that have to be dealt with in specific ways, greatly limiting your combat options. If an enemy is equipped with a shield, for example, you cannot under any circumstances break that shield by shooting at it normally. You have to hit it with melee attacks, a charged shot, deflect a rocket into it, use an environmental explosion, or use specific Demolition Shots. That might not sound bad, but melee attacks are slow and will often miss enemies they should hit, a charged shot requires that you stop shooting long enough to charge it, which means potentially losing your Beat Count, and Demolition Shots are a resource. Even then, Demolition Shots and charged shots will often only destroy a single shield, even if you hit multiple shielded enemies with those attacks. And you have to deal with them immediately; Grave may be powerful, but he’s also slow, and shielded enemies will run right up in your face to stop you from targeting their friends, knock you down, and hit you out of – or sometimes through – your attacks. Worse still, all of that just gets rid of the shield itself. You still have to kill the guy holding it after the fact.
Enemies with powerful guns or rocket launchers are the same way. If you don’t deal with them immediately, you’re probably going to die because G.O.R.E loves to have several of them attack you at a time, their attacks are very difficult to dodge (you can’t really dodge a guy with a machine gun, and rockets basically have to be deflected because they track you) and they hit really hard. All of this makes combat less about using all of Grave’s options and more about using whatever the “right option” to deal with that specific type of enemy is. Gungrave G.O.R.E is better when it’s letting you come up with creative solutions to encounters, but enemies like this shut that down completely.
Boss encounters are much better. G.O.R.E offers a huge variety of bosses to fight, some of which have several phases. Barring a couple of exceptions later on, each is extremely unique and almost all of them are quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, levels don’t start regularly having boss fights until you’re more than halfway through the campaign. Most of the time, a stage will end with a big fight against a ton of smaller enemies, or just stop once you reach a certain point. The former is fine, but the latter is incredibly jarring and can really take you out of the experience.
I wish I could say that all of the levels themselves were great, but they’re also extremely hit-and-miss. In general, Gungrave G.O.R.E tends to get better as it goes on, but even that feels like an incomplete description. Early levels, however, are definitely less fun; most of them lack boss fights, and G.O.R.E has a bad habit of throwing gimmicks at you. One level, for instance, requires Grave to navigate the top of a moving train, avoiding passing signs and oncoming tunnels. This is fine in theory, but Grave is a slow character, and he’s strongest when he isn’t moving. Taking out the enemies around you efficiently, especially early on, when you have a limited moveset, means standing still to use Burst Mode, which opens you up to running into a passing sign or not getting inside the train before you hit a tunnel. Hitting a sign is bad (it will cost you all of your shield and about half of your health) but being atop the train when it goes into a tunnel means instant death and having to redo the entire segment. Avoiding the signs and trying to move quickly opens you up to enemies with rocket launchers and shields, both of which do high damage and can knock you off the train, which, you guessed it, results in instant death and having to do the entire section again.
Difficulty spikes like these make the early game incredibly frustrating. Generally, you’re not dying because you made a mistake, but because you don’t yet have the tools or abilities to deal damage quickly enough. By far the worst example I ran into was the sixth level, where Grave has to hold off a large group of what are, at the time, a lot of really tough Raven Clan enemies. I spent over an hour attempting this segment, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t deal enough damage fast enough. There were simply too many enemies in too small an area, all of whom demanded I deal with them in a specific way, which usually left me vulnerable to something else. I eventually had to turn the difficulty on that encounter down a notch, and that suddenly let me clear it on the first try. Gungrave G.O.R.E actually encourages you to switch difficulties if things get too tough, but it feels bad when the reason you have to do so is that your damage output isn’t up to some arbitrary standard because it didn’t give you enough points to buy the upgrades you need yet. When I came back to that same level later with more abilities, I was able to beat it on the normal difficulty pretty easily.
Speaking of upgrades, you can buy them at the end of each level or from the main menu. You gain points by completing levels, and G.O.R.E scores you in five categories: time, kill rate, life remaining, highest Beat Count, and Art Score on a scale from D to S. It then averages the results for a final score, and points are awarded based on how well you do. Initially, it’s hard to score well – you simply don’t have the abilities you need to maintain high Beat Counts (for reference: a Beat Count in the 300s on most levels will earn you a C) or Art scores, but it becomes easier as you unlock abilities.
Once you have points to spend, you can head to The Lab. There’s a lot to buy: health, shield, and damage upgrades, new melee combos and skills, and new Demolition Shots. As you purchase new stuff, G.O.R.E opens up considerably, and combat becomes much easier and more enjoyable. You can also refund your abilities at any time for their full purchase price, which can be very helpful if you’re stuck. A one-on-one boss fight, for instance, is a lot easier if you max Grave’s targeting range and bullet damage instead of his Storm Barrage, which you’ll mostly use for crowd control and building high Beat Counts against large groups.
Unfortunately, all the upgrades can’t hide how limited Grave’s moveset is. He never acquires new weapons – the twin pistols and coffin are it – so his playstyle never really changes. New moves can only iterate on what you already have. G.O.R.E does offer two other playable characters, Bunji and Quartz, but they’re only there for one level each and, in Bunji’s case, a small portion of a later level. Their playstyles are a welcome change-up: Bunji is like a faster Grave who can dodge while in Burst mode, and I enjoyed playing him more than I did Grave. Quartz, on the other hand, is more mixed. She’s a melee character in a game not really built for melee characters, and while her moveset is a nice change of pace, it’s not much more than a novelty. You only get each character for a short time, and you can’t upgrade their abilities or buy them new ones. What they come with is what they get. It feels like a huge missed opportunity, especially since Grave never gets anything to really change up his playstyle – you can’t even rebind your controls if you don’t like how things are set.