Normally, the reviews here at GameCritics.com start with what I like to call a preamble—Chi and Dale like it when we find a theme or an idea that resonates outside of the gaming industry and tie it into the game review itself. However, sometimes one must just cut to the chase, and the chase here is that Gungrave: Overdose is a bad game. Oh, it's technically proficient—it won't crash or lock up a PlayStation 2—but it's so bland and uninspired that one has to wonder how it ever got released. At its worst, it's a vampire in CD form, sucking all the joy out of any gamer unfortunate enough to put it in their PS2. At best, it's a thinly veiled "commercial" for the anime series that spawned in the wake of the first title. What it is not, however, is fun.
I was pretty lenient with the first Gungrave game. It was a mindless shooter that went for aesthetics over substance, but it was beaten in a few hours—basically before it wore out its welcome. Gungrave: Overdose is more of the same. In fact, its biggest sin is arguably that it does nothing to expand on the first game in any meaningful way. The core gameplay is just as repetitive as it was the first time around, the controls still blow, and the game is actually a little uglier in terms of graphical presentation. The game's "innovations" are the inclusion of two new characters to play as (neither makes the game even remotely enjoyable) and a few new special attacks…that's it. The big selling point is that publisher Mastiff has released the game at an obscenely low $15 price point. Yet, even at $15 this game is a rip off.
Players take control of Grave, the returning undead main character of the first game. Grave follows the credo of "don't speak at all and carry two really big guns and a huge freaking coffin." He's a shoot first and ask questions never kind of guy—which is just what this game needs since there's not a single person to actually speak to in Gungrave: Overdose, nor is there ever anything onscreen that shouldn't be shot into a million tiny pieces as quickly as possible.
In this regard, Overdose is eerily reminiscent of the old 8-bit shooters—games like Contra, which put a single good guy up against nearly insurmountable odds. And had Gungrave: Overdose appeared on consoles roughly twenty years ago, it might have actually been fun. Unfortunately, the past two decades have seen gaming advance in innumerable ways, and the "shoot everything that moves" genre has grown. There are still third person shooters around, but in 2004 they need a little more nuance than just "shoot the hell out of everything on the screen" to appeal to today's gamer.
The original Gungrave, as mentioned earlier, was smart enough to realize that this style of game was one that would wear out its welcome in short order. As such, the game was beaten in roughly three hours the first time through, and even at the end of three hours it was getting tedious. For some odd reason, someone decided that Overdose—which features the exact same game mechanics—would be better served by being nearly twice as long as the original. If you thought Gungrave was getting tedious at the three hour mark, imagine just how much fun hour five is…six hours of mindlessly blasting bad guys and destroying everything on the screen (albeit with no background music other than the sound effects of my guns) had me questioning why I even play videogames. Games are supposed to be fun, and Overdose is the veritable antithesis of that.
The problem is that the game never changes. From the first stage to the last it's the same thing repeated over and over again. Characters may learn a few new demolition attacks as they advance, but it doesn't change anything in how players approach the game. This is a button masher of the first order, and even then, players will only be mashing two buttons over and over. There are no cool combos, no upgraded weaponry, no character advancement…nothing. It's all just walk and shoot.
One would think that when a game is as simple as walk and shoot that the developers could get the controls right. Unfortunately, the controls in this game are about as responsive as someone in a coma. Grave still lumbers along like a dumb lug, making trying to dodge any of the insane amounts of incoming fire absolutely pointless. He can still jump and dive, and just like the last time out, he'll dive when you want to jump and jump when you want to dive. Cheap death abounds as players advance and the controls become more of a hindrance than a help. And don't even get me started on the auto-targeting system—a system that makes the auto-targeting in Grand Theft Auto 3 look absolutely brilliant in comparison.
Overdose has a whopping total of two positives going for it: the anime cutscenes are still nice (which is to be expected since the game's spawned an anime series of its own) and the main theme of the game (which returns from the first title) still kicks butt. It's a shame that such a badass theme is wasted on such a mediocre title. Neither of these positives can outweigh the mindless button mashing, the crappy level design (one stage has players walking through a casino destroying slot machines armed with machine guns…another takes place in a grocery store…), bland graphics, and nonsensical story (I'll not even bother trying to explain that…).
It's been awhile since I've played a game this bad (Aquaman was the last one that left me this bitter), and while I'm certainly okay with suffering through stuff like this so others don't have to, I know someone out there is still gonna get suckered into picking this game up. "Oh, it's only $15—it can't be that bad" they'll think—but believe me, it is. Gungrave wasn't a good enough game to spawn a sequel, and this one is even less inspired than the first. Trust me, there are far better things to blow $15 on.