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Review Rewind
Review Rewind: Gungrave (PS2)
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on January 12, 2018   |   Episode 2 (Show Archive)  

This is Review Rewind, the show where we revisit games I reviewed a long time ago. Today we're taking a look at Gungrave, the Sega published third-person shooter for the PlayStation 2. Is this game as exciting as I remember it being 16 years ago? Find out now when you experience this brand new episode of Review Rewind!

GunGrave was one of my earliest reviews, back when I was freelancing for UGO. I didn't know anything about the character or story, but loved Sega and was ready for an arcade-style action game. Perhaps that's why I gave the game a B- back in 2002 and spent a lot of time defending its shortcomings.

"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."

Looking back at it now, I was wrong. Sure, the shallow gameplay and straight-forward action would have lent itself better to an arcade game from 1994, but it's the kind of straight-forward and shallow that would have been quickly forgotten about in a week or two. I was far too generous in my original review, perhaps because I still wanted to cling to an era where mashing buttons was a viable strategy to taking down bad guys.

I went into this revisit remembering only three things -- it stars a heavily-armed dead guy who carries his casket around with him, it has an incredible anime story, and it's only a couple hours long. What I didn't remember is how poorly the game controls. Here's how I described the action in my original review: "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."

All this is true, but I forgot to mention that the camera controls and character movements are both mapped to the same analog stick. I guess I expected this to play more like a modern third-person shooter, where you use the two analog sticks in concert to have complete control over any situation. But that's not GunGrave, and I found the gameplay to be the most frustrating part of the entire experience.

I also forgot to mention that this dead dude is the slowest action hero in video game history. He just lumbers around the six stages as if he's there to take in the sights. Worse yet, he has almost no moves to speak of. He can run and leap out of the way of missiles and enemies, and that's pretty much it. I summed it up in my review by saying that "he tends to be a little slow, and could have used a few more defensive moves." Yeah, I think that's an understatement.

"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 reveals 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."

I can see why I was so impressed by the graphics back in 2002. Even though it looks a little rough by today's standards, the style remains intact. I like how destructable the environments are and how everything is constantly blowing up. It's also nice that all six stages look completely different and even offer new enemies. Between the anime cinemas and the incredible bosses, there's a lot of world building here that is squandered by a dumb and simplistic action game. Thankfully, a lot of these ideas were picked up and improved on in the 26 episode anime series.

There was a point in my original review where I admitted that "it almost pains me because I want to like it so much based on my love for the production value." I found myself fawning over the cut scenes, title screen and the Japanese voice acting, all of which led me give the game a reasonably high score at the time. Now that the graphics and presentation aren't as eye-catching, I find that I'm not as willing to overlook the shallowness. I don't care if it's "an arcade game masquerading as a PlayStation 2 title," as my review argues, because that shouldn't excuse bad controls and boring action.

Reading through my 2002 review, it's clear that I was on the fence and trying my hardest to be positive. I recommended it as a rental or budget bin buy, not a full-priced $50 pick-up. At this point, I'm not sure it's even worth that. The game is too short, the gameplay is a mess and the story just isn't interesting enough to bother. You're better off skipping straight to the anime or upcoming VR experience. The me of sixteen years ago was far too kind to GunGrave.


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