What is it with developers these days? It seems like going for a high level of style makes them totally ignore the substance. Note to developers: the two elements are not mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, the "great-looking, weak-playing" game seems to be a new genre that's here to stay.
Mike's right on target in his writeup, but I don't think it's fair to single out Gungrave, though... Devil May Cry is just as guilty of being all flash. The only difference between the two (and I can already see the emails coming in) is that Capcom's game tries desperately hard to portray itself as cool, whereas Gungrave avoids the fake, manufactured flavor by actually being cool (at least as far as the graphics and style go, anyway).
You've got to give props to any game that's brave enough to name its lead character "DEATH: BEYOND THE GRAVE" in all caps. He's dark, his weaponry is immense, and he's got a sweet jazz soundtrack. Sign me up. The cutscenes between levels are astoundingly good, the in-game cel-shading is masterful, and the disc's overall appearance literally drips with ultimate badness. Each stage starts completely balls-out with a blazing "Kick Their Ass!" so there's definitely no confusion about what's going down. It's easy to get hyped with such strong visuals and bold manner.
However, much as Mike suggests, the allure of an adrenaline high and tight visuals can't carry the entire game. Instead of a fast third-person shooter, the controls are slow and cumbersome. That huge coffin full of ammo on Grave's back is pretty heavy, I guess. In fact, Gungrave almost feels like Time Crisis or House Of The Dead as you methodically plod along hallways and mow down everything (and I do mean everything) in your path. Enemies, cars, cement pillarseven furniture. It's all evil, and it all needs to go. I don't think there's ever been a game with such a massive amount of gunfire, and when Grave goes into his Burst mode he makes Dante look like a complete pantywaist. But as much fun as it is to take on an entire city and shrug it off, there just isn't anything to sink your teeth into.
Walk and shoot, shoot and walk. Dive and roll, while occasionally unleashing huge special attacks. It looks great and even feels great for a little while, but Gungrave is the kind of empty calorie dish that leaves you craving meat and potatoes an hour after dinner's over. Fans of suave games with sharp aesthetic design (like me) might want to check it out because it really is artistically outstanding. But in terms of delivering the kind of interactive experience that keeps you coming back, Gungrave is barely more than a warmed over shooting gallery.