Gungrave VR review – Grave Mistakes

You know you’ve got a problem when the VR aspect of a VR game actively works against everything it’s trying to achieve. You know you’ve really got a problem when that’s the least of a game’s troubles. Cue the disaster that is Gungrave VR.

I got a hint of what was to come when I first booted up the game, accidentally selected the wrong language from a clunky menu, and then was left with no option but to delete the save data in order to play in English. Something as standard as a settings menu is apparently too much to ask from Gungrave VR.

Not that it’d have mattered much in the end, because the story begins and ends with a barebones introduction: there’s a drug called Seed that’s causing havoc, and you’re fighting the criminal organisation that’s behind it. The main character, Grave, doesn’t get so much as a mention, nor does the disembodied voice constantly barking inane comments as you play. Once the introduction’s out of the way, Gungrave VR simply funnels you from one level to the next without rhyme or reason.

For the bulk of its brief running time, Gungrave VR plays like a third-person shooter: you run around shooting enemies, ideally before they shoot you. The VR component means that instead of aiming with an analogue stick as you would in a typical third-person shooter, you aim by moving your head and looking in the direction you want to fire. Virtual reality doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but the shooting works, for the most part.

The problem that arises is that enemies come at you from all sides, meaning you need to constantly rotate the camera to keep on top of the action. In a regular third-person shooter, that’s fine; in Gungrave VR, presumably in an effort to combat motion sickness, the camera rotates in short, fixed bursts. It’s slow and clunky, and interferes directly with the motion-based aiming that the shooting system relies on.

To make matters worse, the way enemies rush you necessitates a degree of movement that the game just doesn’t allow for. Grave moves like a tank, and the optimistically-named “dodge” maneuver sees him roll clumsily forward with barely any extra momentum and not an invincibility frame in sight. In some levels, the sheer volume of assailants means you’d never be able to dodge everything anyway, so the game ultimately just comes down to trying to kill everything before they kill you.

Somehow, things get even worse when the game shifts to a first-person perspective. In these,  you can’t move at all—you’re just rooted in place, trying to shoot your way through more foes than your nerf guns could ever realistically deal with. Grave is sturdy enough that the game never really becomes especially difficult, but just standing there shooting things that aren’t strong enough to kill you isn’t exactly an exciting prospect.

A couple of bosses are the exception. One, a giant ghostly samurai, constantly attacks you with giant sword swings and moves about much faster than you can, exacerbating all the problems with the camera and Grave’s clunky movement; the only way to actually avoid his attacks is to already be in motion when he starts swinging, and even that is often not enough.

The other nuisance is the final boss, whom you fight entirely in that disastrous first-person mode. Unlike the samurai’s haphazard attack patterns, those of the final boss are formulaic to a fault: he fires a salvo of rockets, which you have to shoot out of the sky before they hit you, and then he tries to hit you with one of his arms. You don’t know which arm he’s going to swing, though, and unless you’re already shooting at it before the attack starts, you won’t be able to stop it from hitting you for a huge chunk of damage. To top it all off, the boss is a complete bullet sponge, turning the whole encounter into the most mind-numbing test of endurance.

And… that’s the whole game: some shooting galleries hampered by the most ill-conceived VR imaginable, a few bosses that are just heavier versions of regular enemies, and then these two frustrating outliers. There are apparently other “characters” to unlock, but as far as I can tell, that amounts to just one alternate outfit for Grave—if there are any others, they’re well hidden within a game that gives no hints as to how to unlock them, and I’m sure as hell not going to spend more time than I have to digging around for something that probably isn’t there.

The final nail in the coffin is just how bland everything looks. Grave himself looks fine—a fortunate leftover from the series’ earlier history—but the enemy designs are uninspired and the level designs are completely void of anything worth looking at. When every level takes place in the space of a tiny arena, the lack of any visual distinction is noteworthy, and just makes the monotony of actually playing the game all the more apparent.

I wish I could say that Gungrave VR was some sort of diamond in the rough, but there’s nothing at all to redeem it. This is a game that manages to fumble even the basics of one of the most well-trodden genres, before you even get to the woeful implementation of VR. Even the most diehard Gungrave fan would struggle to find anything of worth here.

  Gungrave VR
Genre: Third-person shooter
Developer: Iggymob
Publisher: XSEED Games / Marvelous Europe
Platforms: PlayStation VR (reviewed)
Release Date: 7 December 2018
The publisher supplied a copy of the game for this review.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.