If GunGrave had been released eight years ago in the arcades it may have been appreciated for what it is. But in this world filled with consoles that do much more than play games and children with cell phones, Sega’s GunGrave
can only be, albeit unfairly, judged for what it’s not.
A lot has changed since the days of Smash T.V., Mercs, and Final Fight
. In the last decade gamers have come to expect more than just button mashing and big, loud explosions from their games. Adventure games and RPG’s were once the only games to offer dozens of hours of gameplay, but that is no longer the case as action titles, sports games, and even fighters offer something more than just a standard arcade experience.
If you judge games by how long they last, and the amount of time you’ll be playing them, then GunGrave is disappointing on every level. The game itself will only take a few hours to beat, and there really isn’t much to do after you’ve gone through it a few times with your buddies. At fifty dollars you are basically buying an anime with some exciting arcade-action thrown in.
But it’s the animation itself that is the biggest selling point. Easily demonstrating the best use of anime in a video game, GunGrave is tightly sewn together by a series of extremely well produced cut scenes. Each reveal the somewhat murky, and generally indecipherable, story of GunGrave, which involves a man who is apparently “back” to take on something called the Syndicate, all in behalf of a mysterious girl. As the instruction manual states: “This mysterious girl’s appearance awakened a killer named DEATH: BEYOND THE GRAVE with huge twin guns: “CERBEROS”. Whatever that means.
The game does offer a rather interesting story, but like most action movies, it’s fairly meaningless, and is there to basically facilitate loud explosions and exciting moments of senseless violence. And if GunGrave delivers on anything, it’s loud explosions and exciting moments of senseless violence. Actually, that’s something of an understatement. GunGrave is wall-to-wall pure adrenalin action!
Being essentially an arcade game, GunGrave offers gamers the chance to forgo all of that technique found in most games these days. Sporting two guns, er Cerberos’, our hero takes out just about everybody in sight without too much trouble. Since the computer targets for you, your game playing is basically limited to button mashing and turning in different directions. Often times you don’t even have to move, just continue to shoot until there’s nothing else to destroy.
As the dark figure continues to destroy, kill, and maim, his ‘beat meter’ adds up. As long as the beat stays constant with SOMETHING to shoot at, be it the bad guys or background, the beat gauge keeps increasing. Conceivably you can have literally hundreds of shots going as you work your beats higher and higher. The game tends to push you to simply button mash; since the characters animation tends to become more fevered and exciting to watch the higher the beat goes.
The nice thing is that there’s almost always something to shoot at. Be it cars along the streets, tables and chairs in restaurants, or just windows and random debris, you will be able to rip apart just about everything you run across. Bullet holes will stay in the backgrounds, and there are plenty of animations to keep you shooting everything you can see. If you completely fill up the beat gauge you will be able to let loose one of four Demolition Shots. These are basically powerful attacks that get rid of just about everything on the screen in dramatic fashion. Each offers a different animation, and slows everything down so you can savor the pure destruction you have caused.
Other than the Demolition Shots and the regular gun, your character is limited to only one other move: the mighty coffin twirl. This fast move gets rid of all enemies directly surrounding you, but loses track of your beats. Our hero tends to lumber around, kind of like you would expect with a heavy coffin on his back. He tends to be a little slow, and could have used a few more defensive moves, in my opinion.
We’ve already established that the cut scenes are among the most impressive this reviewer has ever seen, but the in game graphics aren’t too shabby, either. In fact, the transition from cinema to game play is extremely smooth, without there being a glaring difference. The in game graphics are using a similar style of cel-shading as the cut scenes, but tend to not look as clear, and get a little lost in non-stop explosions and gun play.
Each of the six levels is unique, and ultimately offers several different styles of backgrounds in each. The enemies are also different from level to level, adding a lot to the overall style of this game.
What GunGrave lacks in depth it overcompensates with style. The characters themselves are designed by Yasuhiro Nightow, who is probably best known for his work with the anime Trigun. There is no doubt that the game does a great job of making you feel like you are playing an anime, something that has been attempted, but never quite like this.
The music also fits perfectly with the general mood of the game. In the club scenes, for example, there is overpowering techno beats muting the gun shots and ultra-violence. Yet in the China town there is a really wonderful ambience that actually sounds like the background looks. And it doesn’t stop there, a lot of the music actually reminds me of other anime’s, most notably Akira and the Cowboy Beebop series.
Presentation wise there aren’t a lot of games like GunGrave. And it almost pains me because I want to like it so much based on my love for the production value. The cut scenes are actually engaging, and beautifully acted (all in Japanese, I might add). Heck, even the intro before the title screen is as good as anything animated I’ve seen on the big screen recently.
Ultimately this is just an arcade game masquerading as a PlayStation 2 title. And perhaps that’s exactly how it should be enjoyed and graded. Like almost every arcade game, GunGrave can be finished in a matter of hours. This can be good if you’re just looking for something short and sweet to play through, or bad if you really want to get the most out of your $50.
GunGrave is a solid arcade experience, but not a fulfilling console game. It’s pretty, and it sounds amazing, but it’s a limited experience that is great for a rental, or when the game goes into the budget bin. I have found myself play through it a few times, especially to show friends, but there just isn’t enough here to keep people interested for more than a weekend.
Hopefully Sega will see the potential and this franchise and develop a sequel that is more than just a three-hour tour.
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