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REVIEW: Retrospective – Gungrave (PS2)

Gungrave is one of those games, which despite having some big problems, I couldn’t help but immensely enjoying. However, as this review stresses, it is not for everyone, and the main reason I like the game is that I am a huge fan of such 3rd person action adventure games.Basically, Gungrave is a 3rd Person shoot ’em up game which casts you as Grave, a dead killer, who has come back to life to take on ‘The Syndicate’, a shadowy criminal organisation ran by half-human, half-mutant types. To be honest, the plot gets pretty absurd eventually, and to some extent it adds little to the action since the game is basically a no-brainer shooter, that despite its beautiful up-to-date visuals, is more reminiscent of 2D Shoot ‘Em Ups (largely a genre of yesteryear) than the Resident Evil’s and Metal Gear’s of the 3rd Person Action adventure category of games.

Aesthetically, Gungrave is superb. The game is cel-shaded, and this has been implemented excellently. The main two contributors to the game’s art and graphical design where Yashuhiro Nightow (who works on the Trigun animation/comics) and Kosuke Fujishima, who has been an artist for a lot of Japanese comics. I’ve never heard of either of them, but if you have and are a devotee of their works, then knowing of their efforts towards this game will make it essential to you So if you fall in this camp, you may as well stop reading, because you know you’ll buy it whatever else I say. The game is graphically gorgeous, with a great game world and even better looking pre-rendered movies. The visuals style takes many influences, particularly Blade Runner, which seems to have had a strong influence on at least the game’s early levels, which take place in a dark, drab, futuristic, and crime-ridden city. Japanimation freaks will also probably be pleased by the fact that the game retains the original Japanese voices in true anime style.

Engine wise, Gungrave does suffer slightly from frame rate issues and resolution deficiencies, but only at times when there are absolutely loads of enemy thugs on screen. Sometimes the slowdown witnessed is done intentionally for effect, such as when Grave does his ‘demolition shot’ moves. Usually though the game runs well in a nicely flowing fashion. Explosions, lighting and smoke effects, and damage to the playing environments looks ace too. It must be said that some areas do look better than others. For example, the opening club and street fight scene impressed me more than the less astounding level where Grave has to move higher and higher up towards the clouds. Overall though, level design is quite cool.

Praise should also go to the character detail, particularly on Grave and the weird but wonderfully designed bosses.In terms of gameplay, in a nutshell Gungrave simply requires the player to gun down every bad guy in the game. However, it offers rewards to individuals who perform their massacres in a more creative and stylish manner. There is a combo meter that racks up the number of continuous bullet hits you achieve in a row as you shoot enemy thugs and smash up scenery. This can go into the hundred counts if you’re a good shooter. Also players are rewarded for shooting in an action movie style as if you kill while doing jumps or dives, this will increase the artistic bonus you receive at the level’s end.
Players who are imaginative gunners and score high kill combos and body counts are rewarded with ‘Demolition Shots’. These can be used to regenerate Grave’s health or alternatively can be used as shots for either the rocket launcher or machine guns, each of which can cause massive amounts of damage.
Gungrave isn’t particularly a hard game to beat as although the levels get progressively more difficult and the bosses are pretty demanding, there is little to prevent even a novice finishing the game fairly swiftly. It took me three hours the first time I went through it. However, replaying the game in the quest to get full marks for the body count and artistic bonus in each stage will take a good while longer, and like any of the brilliant old 2D shoot ’em ups of the Mega Drive/SNES/PS One/Saturn, mastering the game is where Gungrave derives much of its lastability from. Those who are a big fan of shoot ’em ups, such as me, therefore may warm to this game and should find it worth buying. For those not so keen, I would say it is worth renting, as it is a blast while it lasts, but if you aren’t going to want to play it again following completion, then there is little point in purchasing this piece of software. Some potential pundits may also be detracted by the slightly dodgy camera, a fault that blights many similar 3rd person games (It doesn’t cause too much harm though). As said before though, anime fanatics should pick it up even if you aren’t that interested in the gameplay, as the graphics will no doubt put them in a frenzy.

In conclusion, Gungrave is a wonderful little Japanese shoot ’em up and is a hell of a lot of fun. It is a shame though that it isn’t matched in the area of longevity as it is rather short, and only big fans of shoot ’em ups and 3rd person action adventures will want to replay it much. The closest game overall to Gungrave is Devil May Cry (and the sequel), which is also a 3rd person adventure packed with action. To be truthful, Gungrave overall can’t compete with Capcom’s behemoth, and I would recommend either bouts of Dante’s devil slashing shenanigans over Red Entertainment’s effort. So if you are after a 3rd person action adventure with a more arcade feel and haven’t got DMC 1 or 2, then get them prior to Gungrave. However, owners of both DMC games looking for more similar action are advised to pick this up, as well as big devotees of the 3rd person action adventure and the shoot ’em up genres and anime, as such people will find enjoyment from Gungrave.

i>Price: £5-10 second-hand.
Score: 4 out of 5.

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