Beyond the grave
It’s hard to describe the impact that Yasuhiro Nightow had on me growing up. After discovering Trigun during a particularly tough period of my life I started to open up and just plain enjoy life more. If you’ve seen the carefree nature of the series’ protagonist you’d understand, but the concept of really connecting with a work of art is so commonplace that I think you’ll get it regardless.
Other than a brief one-off film revival in 2010, Trigun has been dormant, leaving Nightow to tend to his other major creation: Gungrave. Amazingly this one has withstood the test of time, coming out of a long hiatus much like its anti-hero.
Gungrave VR (PS4 [reviewed with PSVR])
Developer: RED Entertainment, IGGYMOB
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release: December 11, 2018
MSRP: Base game ($29.99) / U.N. standalone DLC ($14.99) / Bundle ($39.99)
Gungrave‘s history is a little complicated but I’ll try to parse it as best I can. Back in 2002, the original Gungrave video game was released on PS2, which kicked off this whole shebang. A year later an anime debuted, followed by a second game in Gungrave: Overdose. Gungrave VR follows all that, and is a “prologue” for the upcoming Gungrave G.O.R.E. And it shows.
There’s really no story to speak of here. You control the deadly assassin Beyond the Grave and need to take down various baddies and monstrosities across six levels. That’s how it is and how it’s always been. It’s a stylish joint, complete with diving shots and the like. Enemies pop-in on screen in coin-op arcade fashion and you’re on your way. I’m always up for something like that on any given day.
This VR package is not an exact replica of the original set of games: more like a re-imagining. There’s a mix of over-the-shoulder bits with a God-like camera view and some mostly uneventful first-person sequences. You remember those quarter-eating arcade games where a T-Rex unavoidably bites at you every 30 seconds or so? The latter portions are kind of like that.
As I played through the initially promising but underwhelming VR-heavy bits I couldn’t help but think of how they could be improved. There’s a choppy flight sequence that seems cool as hell at first, but instead of giving you wind tunnel-like transition scenes to simulate that you’re flying around and taking down an aerial base, the game kind of just pops you up at different altitudes in a jerky fashion. Levels in general are frequently cut short just as they’re getting good, despite many fun hectic moments like “final stand” type confrontations with a ton of different enemy types.
In fact, a few visual and design tweaks could have made it a more competent arcade game. There’s several really unique enemy types, like snipers hanging from zip lines that might be obscured from view, giant exploding abominations that need to be dodged, or tiny tricksters that toss grenades your way with an audio cue. Again, there are a lot of little moments in Gungrave VR where I’m smiling with the headset on, but they’re few and far between.
It’s short, too. The base game is six levels and the “U.N.” expansion of sorts is one giant stage spread across three missions. The U.N. portions feel tighter and more focused, perhaps due to the common factory theme and thread that involves pursuing a deadly foe to the very end, but they commit the same sins as the father. Even if you’re a fan, Gungrave VR is fairly unsatisfying in all other artistic realms, only providing a few minutes of anime footage (with options for full English or Japanese audio). It’s all over in just several hours if you do everything.
Gungrave, like when it debuted over a decade ago, is an acquired taste. It’s rigid and not particularly welcoming, two qualities that are exasperated in VR. Despite its problems, I’d welcome another go at Gungrave (or a revival of that Planet Gunsmoke Trigun game), and it looks like we’re getting it. But you can skip this outing.
Gungrave VR – 5.0/10
Gungrave VR U.N. – 5.0/10
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]