Version tested: PlayStation 2
That's all you need to know. Everything anyone could ever tell you about Gungrave: Overdose is captured in the utterly ludicrous name of one of its central characters. To prove the point, let's dissect it in stages:
Here we could equally use the words, "Bang", "Destroy" or "MEGA-KAPLOWEE". It represents endless, cacophonic destructive violence.
As in "Silly Billy", this signifies the mental faculties at the game's disposal. Gungrave: Overdose is why the phrase "not stupid, but special" was created.
The colour red really ought to be written down, and indeed spoken aloud, as "RED!" It's the colour that means business, no messing. It's the colour the sky turns when it's being its most beautiful, and when the bombs start dropping.
People stop and look when a Cadillac goes past. It catches the eye. It's a big old beast of a car, ridiculously greedy on the gas, but it still represents the authentic elegance of a bygone era.
Rocketbilly Redcadillac really does capture Gungrave: Overdose perfectly. In fact, every time we type the name of the game, it comes out "Gungrave: Overdoes", which also goes a long way toward explaining the nature of the beast. What we've got here is pure, undiluted nonsense. Gloriously so.
We should probably offer you a courtesy that the game certainly does not and actually explain what on earth this is all about. Overdose is the sequel to 2002's original Gungrave, the videogame incarnation of Yasuhiro Nightow's Anime TV show. It featured Beyond The Grave, an undead warrior hero of sorts, fighting against the evil mafia family Millennion in an effort to prevent the evil drug 'Seed' from being, oh, probably taken by the kiddies or something. This was somewhat obfuscated by the knowledge that he only existed because his dead body had been injected with Seed by Mika, the daughter of... oh, you don't care. And nor indeed do they. The original game saw Millennion defeated, Seed taken care of, and Grave returned to his timely death. All was well and good. Until...
Until nothing, actually. In what could almost be misunderstood as a parody of a forced sequel, poor Mika explains to no one in particular how even though Millennion were defeated, the bad mafia types are back now, and even though Seed was destroyed, some of it seemed to survive, and then very best of all, explaining the mysterious re-emergence of Grave, she details, "I managed to revive him... somehow." Excellent stuff.
Unlike the original, Overdose has three playable characters, with only Beyond The Grave available at the start. An enormously annoying tutorial sequence entirely fails to give you a taste of what's to come, opting instead to interrupt the action every four and a half seconds to reiterate what it just told you the last time, and ensure any attempts at practising the new moves are entirely wasted. But it's no great loss, as intricate skills aren't exactly what Gungrave calls for. Because past that, onto the Stage One hotel lobby, you realise the sum total of what is on offer. Action. A lot of it. All the time.
Grave has two main attacks (as indeed do the unlockable Juji Kabane and Rocketbilly Redcadillac, fellow travelers in this nonsensical tale). The first is the endless arsenal of bullets pumping from his twin handguns. The second? Oh, that would be the GIANT COFFIN he carries behind him, swung at nearby bads in melee combat. That's: the GIANT COFFIN. These attack are boosted by the earned 'Demolition Shots' - special moves achievable once you've hurt enough people the old-fashioned way, and increased in variety by good performance during levels. The other two characters may have different weaponry (Juji has swords, and an improved melee attack, while our old friend Rocketbilly has... oh, we've been waiting for this bit... an electric guitar! Oh, this crazy game), but it all plays much the same. Hammering at the Square, tapping at the Circle, and once in a while giving it a Triangle. And it really does feel that way. The combat, born in wave after wave after wave after wave of the same five enemies, is a peculiarly clinical effort - a process, rather than an arcade response. It doesn't exactly stop it from being fun, but it does prevent it from ever feeling anything much like skill.
The nine stages can be cleared in a tidy six hours, with only the increasingly preposterous bosses presenting anything that will challenge along the way. And that's the idea - with Juji and RB available at the main menu once you've reached a certain distance with Grave, the game is built around encouraging you to replay and attempt to beat your best times, kill-rates or even arty stylings. But this is where Gungrave: Overdose really falls flat on its face - it's a reasonably entertaining bubblegum ride, a novelty blast with its astonishingly over-the-top gung-ho action, but it's hardly compelling. After blasting your way through a few stages with the other two just to see what they're like, you'll inevitably wander away, never to return.
Special celebration of its quite heroic levels of silliness must be made. With an extremely pleasing implementation of a controller's rumble feature and ridiculous sound, every bullet fired has an especially satisfying punch behind it. And when that's about eighteen million bullets a minute, that's a lot of satisfying punching. With this GRRRRR, BEEF attitude in mind, new stages greet you with the bold instruction, "KICK THEIR ASS!!", and then present you with yet another embellished corridor of utterly stupid volumes of baddies to pummel. Amazingly in this bucket of extremes, there's a subtle use of slo-mo which only kicks in when it feels right, and makes dives and blocks look that little bit more beefcake-action-hero, without giving cause for irrelevant Max Payne references.
Standing in the middle of a group, swinging a coffin around and around, then smacking an incoming rocket back at its owner with its blunt end of your box, feels magnificent, especially when followed with a Demolition Shot, perhaps pirouetting in the middle of a room spraying a bazillion bullets at everyone foolish enough to get close to you. Which is all as nothing when compared to frying everything that moves (and indeed everything that doesn't, with pretty much every piece of scenery available for wanton, needless destruction) with cords of chords from RB's electric guitar. And damn if it isn't pretty when it does this. A muddle of Anime cartoon, pseudo cel-shaded designs, and traditional old boxy backgrounds are surprisingly effective, and the whole thing has a pleasing visual vibrancy that hides its dated ways.
However, enormously disappointingly, all this fluidity is interrupted about every ten seconds when one of the innumerable glitchy traps ensnares you. Maybe you are unable jump forward for no discernable reason, or (as is agonisingly often the case) you get knocked over by an enemy attack and take longer to stand up than they do to fire again, or, as in our case, at one particularly low point, you get killed by a boss because a tiny pot-plant blocked the escape route. Beyond The Grave: undead warrior, here to rain down justice upon the guilty, unless of course they have an interest in botany.
The sheer schlock nonsense of the whole affair (which goes for the ghastly 'story' as well, told in that traditional Japanese way with lots of faces with alternating expressions barking barely connected gibberish at one another until, mercifully, it comes to an end and you can hit stuff with coffins again) is peculiarly placating. It's all so forgiving (read: easy) that when our way was inhibited by these play-breaking glitches, our response was one of laughter rather than frustration. It's all so ludicrous to begin with, when it breaks it just gets funnier. You do kind of hope the game was intended as funny, but thinking that maybe it wasn't only makes the giggles more enticing. Of course, that doesn't change the fact that it does break, and often.
We've probably made it sound quite enticing now, and it's not clear whether that's entirely a good thing. Let's put it as plain and straight as we can: It's not all that good, and it's got some horrible flaws, but at the same time, at least for a while, it's a laugh. It's coming out at the lower price of £25, which for a six-hour game with little worthwhile replayability, you'd flipping well hope so. Thing is, it was only $20 on launch in the States, which means they're charging us twice as much for the privilege. As it is, we wonder if you're going to have to have a pretty powerful penchant for the dumbest of gunfests to fork out the dosh.
Well, you have all the facts, you've been warned it's pretty stupid and heftily buggy, and you're a grown up. What you've got to decide now is if you can resist a game featuring someone called Rocketbilly Redcadillac who fights endless droves of brainless goons by the electric magic of his rock-out guitar skills. Good luck.
5 / 10