Like many, I’m a marathon gamer. After finding a suitably comfortable place to sit, I can enjoy most console or portable games for half-day stretches. But VR titles are quite different. After about an hour with a headset on, I often need a break from the feeling of isolation. As such, the brevity of arcade-style games mix well with virtual reality devices.
Essentially, that’s the concept behind Gungrave VR. Building on the feverish action showcased in the 2002 PlayStation 2 title and its sequel, this PS VR title tasks players with shelling swarms of insolent enemies. Those expecting mechanical sophistication or a contemplative plotline will be disappointed. But players who appreciate the hectic thrills of classic light-gun shooters should appreciate Gungrave VR’s hellbent charms.
Like the Madhouse-helmed anime that followed the release of the original game, Gungrave centers around a protagonist known as Beyond The Grave. But where the twenty-six party series was able to envision a backstory of rivalry between friends leading up to a quest for vengeance, this game offers only skeletal amount of exposition. For most titles, that would be a detriment. But with Gungrave VR, Yasuhiro Nightow’s character designs and Kōsuke Fujishima’s mechanical designs permit the artistic bad-assery to do the speaking. With a massive coffin chained to his body, low-slung bandoliers around his waist, and a ‘kill everything that moves’ attitude, Beyond the Grave hardly needs explanation.
But with the incorporation of an interactive tutorial, South Korea-based developer IGGYMOB believes Grave’s moveset deserves clarification. Using a DualShock controller, players move the lead around, with they’ll aim a reticule by moving their head around. While I wished for a bit more sensitively when targeting so I wouldn’t have to swing my head around so much, the sense of precision was solid. If there was an airborne-based foe approaching, getting the cursor on top of them felt intuitive.
What doesn’t seem as natural is Gungrave VR’s camera positioning. Normally, third-person shooters permit players instantaneously reframe the action with a tug of the right analog stick. But a quickly shifting backdrop can induce nausea in VR games. As such, a pull of the stick shifts perspective in wide increments. Initially, the absence of fluidity can be jarring, but you’ll grow used to if you stick with the game. But distressingly, Gungrave’s end-of-stage boss battles will require near constant changes. Here, you’ll wish the speed of panning was quicker to get the jump on enemies. If you don’t find it frustrating, you’ll at least won’t find these showdowns to be fun.
Luckily, battling subordinate is enjoyable. Like a respectable light-gun shooter, Gungrave forces you to prioritize threats. As such, you’ll need to momentarily abandon shooting the foot soldier to hunt down spawning adversaries or opponents hoovering above that are emitting a cascade of firepower. Whittling away enemies feels satisfying as striking your target results in a hit animation, HP numerals that fly off foes, and sporadically affirmation like “Great” or “Cool”. When Gungrave switches to a first-person POV, the game feels even more like an on-rails shooter. While you don’t have to fiddle with the right stick to enclose the action, the mechanics aren’t quite as polished. Inescapable hits seem more prevalent here, which is poised to provoke players.
Gungrave VR works best when you’re using Beyond The Grave’s complete arsenal. From activating Reaper Time, which slows the world around you to a crawl, evading enemy shots, and obtaining enough Beats to activate a first-person rapid-fire assault or area-of-effect attack, the game builds on the formidable toolset of the original game. Undoubtedly, these moments are engrossing- until they’re interrupted by one of the game’s unpolished elements. As such, a decision to purchase Gungrave VR (and optionally, the Gungrave VR U.N pack which add three additional missions) hinges on your tolerance for the infrequent bit of clunkiness.
Gungrave VR was played on the PlayStation 4
with review code provided by the publisher.