Gungrave VR Review
Release Date: December 11th, 2018
Developer: RED Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4 (PlayStation VR)
I love seeing classics, both niche and illustrious, get revived to bring in new audiences, as well as breathe new life into much deserving properties that once stood for something and probably still mean a lot to people around the globe. Each decade games, as much as hardware, evolve as technology grows and becomes more advanced, and while the transition may seem negligible to the people that actively play them on a daily and weekly basis, when you go back to games that are now considered classics and retro, the difference is like night and day in a lot of departments - graphics, mechanics, presentation, and much more. In the case of GUNGRAVE VR, Red Entertainment - with Iggymob and Marvelous - came back to bring Gungrave out of the… well… grave after a decade and a half from its initial PS2 release and onto PlayStation VR. So much has changed since then, so Gungrave has a lot to work with now and utilize to bring its crazy third-person shooter and borderline hack and slash to the modern era. Unfortunately, even with all the tech at its disposal and with it also being a PSVR exclusive, all it really does is remind you of a much different, less-advanced time.
Gungrave's initial release wasn't particularly well-received, though one of the big reasons why it stood out and was remembered by a lot of people was because of its unique approach to combat and an art style that combined the artistic prowess of the creators of Trigun and Oh My Goddess!, which is made immediately apparent after taking one look at any photos of the game. Gungrave VR doesn't have has distinct an art style as its PS2 counterpart, but it does retain a lot of its over-the-top gunplay that reminds you of films like Hard Boiled, Shoot 'Em Up, and The Villainess. A big problem for Gungrave VR, however, is that while its shootouts may be wild, the mechanics, presentation and controls feel dated and unpolished to the point you have to wonder if the game was severely underfunded. Graphics aren't anything to marvel about as textures are flat, enemies are banal in design, and the game throws you in a bunch of different perspectives with aiming feeling jarred as you go between first and third-person with the occasional side-scrolling. Set pieces are static, and there's a point in the beginning of the game where you're fighting in the sky in first person and - while it may not have been intentional for the player to see this as the action is up and around you - while looking down the poor image of the sky, which looks like a low-res .jpeg, is protruding from a centered location below you. It's a lazy attempt at putting a backdrop that further lessens the quality of Gungrave VR. It doesn't help that the game tries too hard to be edgy with a constant "Kick their ass" splash at the beginning of every level that you can't help but cringe to.
While bugs are minimal, you do have some mishaps where enemies will walk in place and in some cases stop acting all together. On Normal difficulty the game is already a cakewalk, so seeing enemies just stop shooting all together makes me feel like I'm partaking in one big joke. These issues extend beyond what's being portrayed on the screen, however, as the audio mixing is all over the place with sound effects sometimes masking and fighting with music and other FX. It's a cacophonous mess that'll make you question whether your $150+ headphones were worth it after listening to all of that in crystal clear quality. It's bittersweet though that all of this can be withstood so long as you're willing to put in two hours or so of gameplay, since that's all you'll really get out of it. Asking $40 (Loaded Coffin Edition) for a two hour game with little replay value seems a bit like a scam, and for a game that hasn't seen a proper follow-up in well over a decade, the install base is minimal with newcomers that can be easily shied away because of it. There's not enough here to warrant jumping in, even if you're a fan of the artists and the original PS2 games, and it makes you wonder what its eventual sequel will deliver in the long run, seeing as this was supposed to help somewhat fund it - prototype, spinoff, or not.
With its short length and bare-bones approach to VR tech and gameplay, Gungrave VR doesn't offer much to breakdown and take away as it feels uninspired and more of a way to bring the name back into the modern age for the sake of publicity and remembrance than any kind of merit. With how incredible the art direction was for its previous entries thanks to its iconic designers, it would have been better off taking the approach of what some games such as Tomb Raider and Mirror's Edge did before they got their sequels with a comic and manga prequel following up to the actual game's release. These were a great way to help expand lore in a much more concise, affordable, and collectible fashion while churning out a game that will just end up doing more harm than good on a legacy character and series. We've seen what VR can do now that PSVR has matured with the likes of Astro Bot, Moss, The Inpatient, Tetris Effect and more, and with so many great games for the same price if not cheaper with much more replay value and long-term recognition, you're better off looking elsewhere. Even if you're looking for a basic shooter, the likes of Firewall Zero Hour, EVE Valkyrie, and Bravo Team will more than suffice in quenching your thirst for the next immersive VR experience.
Over-the-top action presented in a few different game styles from third and first-person to side-scrolling.
It’s arcade-like gameplay makes it appealing when you’re missing the likes of Time Crisis and Virtua Cop
All sounds are seemingly fighting with each other just to be heard due to its poor mixing
Clunky controls make for an annoying time playing the game
$40 for two hours of uninspired linear gameplay is (grave) robbery
Thank you to Marvelous, Inc. for providing us a copy of Gungrave VR for the purposes of this review