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Gungrave VR

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Release Date: Dec. 11, 2018


PS4 VR Review - 'Gungrave VR'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 11, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

In Gungrave VR, players take control of Grave with his iconic set of dual guns, Cerberus, and will have to master different playstyles to take down the various foes that stand in his way.

The last time we saw the Gungrave franchise was 2004's Gungrave Overdose. At the time, the games were riding pretty high on the PS2, and the anime was just as well received. After a long dormant period, the series is aiming for a comeback with the soon-to-be-released Gungrave: G.O.R.E. Before that happens, the developers thought it would be a good idea to get people up to speed with the character and the world with the prologue game, Gungrave VR. Instead of getting people excited about the franchise again, however, this title does a better job of scaring away potential and longtime fans.

For an anime series that was quite deep in some areas, the story in Gungrave VR is as barebones as possible. In the near future, a drug named Seed is responsible for an outbreak of mutated humans. As the silent protagonist Beyond the Grave, it is your job to go after the Corsione family, who's responsible for your death and the spread of the alien narcotic. That's really all there is, since the game doesn't follow up on the monologue.

After a lengthy tutorial, you're thrust into the campaign, where each stage is spent eradicating hordes of minions before the boss appears. If you're familiar with the older games, then you know what to expect in terms of abilities. The only projectile weapon at your disposal is your dual pistols, and while they have an infinite supply of bullets, they need to vent out their heat if you don't want them to stall. The large coffin you always carry on your back is good for a sweeping melee attack, blocking projectiles, and batting projectiles back at the enemy. Get enough hits on foes, and you can call upon two specially powered attacks; one is a stronger melee attack, and the other has you call upon a turret for sustained machine gun fire for a short amount of time.

Based on what the older games doled out, you may expect the usual grand levels, cunning AI, and good combat punctuated with exciting boss fights. Unfortunately, none of this is present in Gungrave VR. Levels have been reduced to two-room arenas (at most) where enemies try to go in front of or above you. Some stages are merely turret sequences, so standing still and firing is actually a viable option. The enemies are also rather brain-dead, with almost all of them preferring to go to a fixed position and attack sporadically or wait to get shot. This may actually be preferable, since your dodging is clunky, your melee attacks barely connect or do much damage, and all of the bullets travel rather slowly. Boss fights lack any spark because there aren't any patterns. The lack of strategy means they're all battles of attrition; you simply shoot enough to get better attacks and hope you don't get mauled in the process.

This would tolerable if it weren't for the fact that Gungrave VR insists on being a VR-only title. VR isn't bad, as there have been a few instances where a third-person perspective works in something that has mostly been used for first-person experiences. However, the implementation here is nothing short of awkward, even though the call to use the DualShock 4 instead of Move controllers is the right one. Aiming with your head is fine, as other VR games have applied this to good effect, but turning is slow due to the fact that moving the right analog stick only turns you in small, incremental jumps. For the most part, you're better off strafing than actually turning to move in a different direction.

Speaking of movement, the dodging and general forward movement commit the cardinal VR sin of creating a disconnect that leads to nausea. Whether sitting or standing, there's no escaping the fact that you'll feel dizzy anytime you step forward in the game. Finally, despite the 3D capabilities of VR, it becomes very difficult to gauge depth, so the only way to deflect projectiles is to spam the melee button and hope your hit connects.

About the only consolation for a title like this is that the experience is short. Provided you aren't plagued with cheap deaths, you can wrap up the game on the normal difficulty in about an hour. With that said, the only thing you unlock is a new skin for Grave that doesn't give you any new functionality, even though you have to score an SS ranking in every level to get it. The purchase price isn't necessarily an indicator of quality, but $30 is too much to ask for a short and unpolished experience like this.

For a PS4 VR title, the presentation feels like a regression to the franchise's PS2 roots instead of something more modern. The environments are very empty, and the textures used for every structure are flat and lack detail. Aside from bosses, enemies animate poorly and look rather generic. Being in VR only makes things worse due to the inherent 3D effect, since everything from explosions to characters look flat, similar to the intentional effect seen in Parappa the Rapper.

The sound for the game is also quite limited. Effects come out muffled or bland, and some effects, like Grave's breathing when he's near death, are so loud that you want him dead so you don't have to hear his labored breaths. The soundtrack only has a handful of songs, so repetition is apparent quite early. The voices are the only part that's fine, and you have the option for both a Japanese and English dialogue track.

Gungrave VR is a game that not only tarnishes its own legacy but also leaves a bad impression of VR as a whole. The gameplay is shallow, as attacks feel slow and lack any sort of impact. The limited nature of the stages and the lack of any intelligent enemy combat makes the affair boring, but the clunky implementation of VR is what really drags down the game. The VR feels unnatural, and it doesn't safeguard one from getting nausea. There's still hope that the upcoming sequel will fare better, especially if it sticks with more traditional gameplay elements and presentation, but this VR take is one that players can easily skip.

Score: 3.0/10

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