Reviewed: December 22, 2004
Reviewed by: Mat Houghton
Released: September 15, 2004
You play Beyond the Grave, an undead gunman who carries a casket chained to his biceps. In case you havenít quite apprehended the nature of the game from this description allow me to repeat myself. You play an undead gunman who lugs a metal casket around by his biceps, while doing all sorts of acrobatics, spins, and jumps. Also the casket is your screen clearing boomstick, and your melee weapon. His name is Beyond the Grave. Over-the-top does not even begin to describe Gungrave: Overdose.
The little plot synopsis I will give you is that you and your team of little children are hunting down the spread of a drug ďSeedĒ that is highly addictive and has a tendency to turn people into grey skinned monsters with little bat wings. Early on you are joined by a ghost haunting a guitar and a blind swordsman wielding a variation on a gunblade. By the way, the swordsman is undead too Ė like I said completely bending reality. It only gets weirder from there.
These are your basic third person shooter controls, with a few variations and one glaring error. The really nice thing is that you can choose to go manual or automatic on the button mashing, so if you just want to hold down fire you can, but if youíd rather button slam to your heartís content you can and if you hold down the button you can charge your shots which makes short work of the big guys.
Having selected your particular brand of fireworks things devolve pretty quickly. You kill guys and blow up things in the environment to build up your combo score, which gives you demolition shots which clear the screen pretty well. Oh, one other little wrinkle, some enemies fire missiles or block you shots which require you do go up close and personal on them. The missiles you can bat back with a melee attack and the blockers go down the same way. Run. Jump. Gun. Repeat as necessary, or perhaps ad nausium.
The big, big, big problem is that there is absolutely no circle strafe in this game. Alright, I exaggerate, there may as well not be any circle strafe in this game because what they give you is well nigh useless unless you can keep the guy in your view, which you canít. Also the enemy lock is just about as bad, with short range and if they arenít in front of you then forget it.
What saves this game from a short ride to the cheap bins (though it really is going to end up there anyway, it just is still worth a play) is that the completely crazy nature of the game actually makes it fun. I mean they throw an endless array of faceless minions at you, several bosses, and enough environmental mayhem to keep you coming back. I could go on, but once youíve ravaged a hotel full of gunmen, blowing up everything in your path youíll know what I mean.
Also, the AI is decent, with enemies constantly trying to surround you and dodge out of the way. The show a surprising ability at self-preservation sometimes, especially when you bring that demolition shot to bear.
This game has a love/hate affair with its graphics. The cinemas are beautiful. They did a really nice job creating 3D cel shading that brings the anime quality of the game to life. Also, it just looks cool.
The hate part comes in during the game itself. You have a range from good to sparse, to just too crowded to see anything. The detailing us also light, most enemies are just stock repetitions with very little to them: simple guys in suits, or body armor and berets, or crazy monsters. Bosses and the main characters are more detailed, especially Grave and his casket. The inter-level briefings and story sequences are pretty lame though, with talking stills in boxes over a simple background.
Animation is kind of up and down too, most of it is pretty high energy with guns blazing from every angle on Grave, and him lurching forward under the weight of the casket. Everybody seems to labor under that same weight though, and most of the enemies seem to move from one set motion to the other. Now I run forward. Now I jump to the side. Now I shoot. The series of motions doesnít seem so preprogrammed most often but the motion itself sometimes does.
Effects? Well things go boom. A lot. In fact most things in the environment are destructible, including pots, gas tanks, cars, sofas, beds, chairs, bottles, support columns, display cases, statuary, cargo containers, you get the idea. The explosions are all well done, bringing satisfaction to the little demolitionist in all of us. They also pull off a nice slow motion effect for when you fire a demolition shot. Itís great to see all of the little peons go flying out of the way.
Grave is completely silent, and when you hear the rest of the voice acting team you are glad of it. Not only does the whole cast commit the same crimes that all voice actors in the States are blamed for, the recording is just as bad. Most of the lines come out sounding muffled somehow.
The music is good however, with the opening theme being a nice brass big band sort of piece that puts you in the mood for something fast paced and popcorn. The rest of the music is passable, but usually overridden by the sound effects.
Explosions? Check. Gunshots? Check. Death moans? Check. Laughter, roars, and clanging metal? Check, check and check. Suffice it to say that there are a plethora of things that clank, creek, or pop in this game, and they are definitely not overlooked.
The game itself will take you about 10-20 hours to complete, depending on your abilities. Most of it is pretty straight forward, but there are a few sticking points in the difficulty. After that is done, if you havenít unlocked all of the demolition shots, weapon upgrades, etc. you can go back to do those. Also, after you have finished the game you can then play through as either of the other two characters, the guitarist or the swordsman. The levels arenít very different, but you do get a different take on the story of the game as you play it through a different pair of eyes.
Is this game worth fifty? Probably not, but the game only costs $14.99, and buyers get a free three issue subscription to PLAY (worth $18) and a Nightow (the animator) art card (worth $5?). So essentially, the game is FREE. What could be a better bargain than that? Plus it is entertaining and addictive in itís own way.
Playing this game is, overlooking a few control issues, just simply enjoyable. There is nothing too demanding in the way of strategy, itís just a matter of shooting everything. So play it to relax a little after a demanding final. Popcorn is popcorn, if you know that going in and enjoy it, then you will like this game. Besides you have to give style points to any game that opens every level with ďKick Their Ass!Ē