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PS2 Preview - 'Gungrave: Overdose'

by Thomas Wilde on Sept. 7, 2004 @ 1:54 a.m. PDT

Beyond-The-Grave, our favorite undead-Mafioso-turned-almost-good-guy, is back to kick ass against the Corsione family and prevent them from using the Seed to gain control of the world.

Genre : Action
Publisher: Mastiff
Developer: RED Entertainment
Release Date: September 15, 2004

Pre-order 'GUNGRAVE: Overdose': PlayStation 2

The first Gungrave was a prime example of style over substance, with gameplay that often boiled down to hitting the Square button twelve thousand times in a row until you won. While you looked cool doing it, you weren’t playing the game so much as you were building thumb muscle.

The existence of Gungrave: Overdose, then, is something of a surprise. I’m told that the anime series that both games are based upon is extremely popular, both in Japan and among the fansub crowd, so that may have something to do with it.

It’s also helpful that Overdose is an improvement on Gungrave in many ways. Gungrave was an intense shooter that somehow wound up being boring; Overdose is an intense shooter on the same engine that isn’t. It’s almost weird.

Three years have passed since Beyond the Grave, an undead gunman who wears his coffin strapped to his back, destroyed the autonomous city of Billion, shot like five thousand suit-wearing mobsters, and saved the world from the scourge of the drug known as Seed. To help stamp out the last remnants of Seed, Grave’s friend Mika calls him back from the dead and equips him with an improved coffin.

With Mika and her new friend Spike providing intelligence, Grave sets out to… well, shoot people. What did you expect?

The first and most obvious change is that Grave is no longer the only playable character. After you clear the first chapter, you can start a new game as either Juji Kabane, another undead ass-kicker who’s better with his weapons’ long sword blades than with the attached guns, or (and I cannot believe I am about to type this) Rockabilly Redcadillac, a ghost who’s haunting an electric guitar.

Each of the three characters has the initial moveset from Gungrave: you can rain death upon all you see with your character’s firearms, from Grave’s twin pistols to Billy’s waves of sonic death. Hitting multiple targets in rapid succession, whether it’s a slab of faceless goon or an unfortunate piece of furniture, will fill up a meter, which when charged lets you use a high-velocity screen-clearing Demolition Shot. Each character gets different Shots, and you can unlock more as the game progresses.

Among your new moves is the ability to block, by holding your character’s melee weapon in front of you. You can also reflect slow-moving projectiles, i.e. rockets, back at their previous owner by hitting them with a melee attack. You no longer have to kind of sit there and hope that a thug with a rocket launcher misses you; instead, you can bounce a missile back at him and watch the fun.

Grave and Billy can also hold down Square to charge their guns up. A powered gun attack auto-aims at targets around your character and obliterates up to four of them, followed up by the usual posing. Juju can do the same thing with his melee attack, starting off with a flurry of long-distance slashes before unleashing a powerful combo on anyone stupid enough to be within sword’s-length.

You’ll need these attacks to take on Overdose’s new hordes of enemies. The first game was fond of human waves, where you shot down all who opposed you before they overwhelmed you. In Overdose, the expected gunmen are accompanied from the tutorial onward by huge bastards in suits with oversized rifles, bullet-deflecting swordsmen who can appear from anywhere at any time, men with bulletproof shields and rocket launchers, or somebody who’s smart enough to jump into a vehicle.

There’s a lot more variety in Overdose, right down to the bosses. You haven’t seen a decent anime gunfight until you’ve seen Grave take down an attack helicopter, or a fat mobster cranked to the gills on Seed and sitting astride a mechanized attack chair.

The graphics and soundtrack haven’t changed much; the engine remains somewhat crude but serviceable. The real draw is Overdose’s cutscenes, where hand-drawn art is combined with cel-shading for a series of unique and dramatic images. Some decent voice acting rounds out the presentation. It’s a shame that an equal amount of attention wasn’t paid to the in-game graphics, but c’est la vie.

Gungrave: Overdose brings a much-needed injection of solid gameplay to a perfectly decent shooting game. If you played the original and found it repetitive, you may want to check the sequel out. It’d be nice to see powerups and other pickups make their way into the game, but what’s here is intense, unrelenting, and generally over-the-top. You’ve got another week to make up your mind.

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