Very few games nowadays can catch your attention and keep it there with a vice-like grip, especially when there are just too many titles on mobile vying for it. In the virtual world where your time is a rare commodity, choosing where to invest is a difficult decision.

Thankfully, Punishing: Gray Raven makes it easy for you - with its stunning visuals and engaging storyline, the action RPG unapologetically demands your attention, and you’ll find that it’s something you’re all too willing to offer.

What’s Punishing: Gray Raven all about?

The rich lore of this post-apocalyptic world is too deep to explain in just a few sentences but suffice it to say that it’s a cyberpunk journey through a lost Earth. The deadly Punishing virus has driven all Mechanoids to turn hostile against humanity, forcing the former inhabitants of the planet to flee as refugees.

Now aboard the space station known as Babylonia, the human race looks longingly upon the blue marble they once called home, yearning for the time when they can reclaim what’s been lost.

Punishing: Gray Raven review - bounty

As the Commandant of an elite team of Constructs called Gray Raven, you lead missions and fight against the malevolent Corrupted. But as a group called the Ascendants begins to sow seeds of discord among cyborgs and humans alike, it’s clear that not everything is as black-and-white as it may seem.

The plot thickens as you unlock Hidden Chapters that put you in the shoes of the villains, which, I feel, is one of the most ingenious gameplay mechanics I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing in recent years. You can relive past missions from the point of view of your so-called foe, and discover that perhaps motivations that appear villainous may actually have some merit after all.

Punishing: Gray Raven missions

Missions and combat in Punishing: Gray Raven

What makes the game stand out from your run-of-the-mill JRPGs nowadays is its real-time action-packed combat system. There are no auto-fights and fast-forward buttons here - you’ll have to play through each battle fully invested with all your time and effort, as you dodge, shoot, hack, and slash your way through ruthless enemies who’re out for your blood.

Each Construct you play will have its own set of abilities and combos, and every new move is as stunning as the last. The breathtaking graphics will have you watching in awe as your character flips through the air and performs sleek, stylish, and ultra-cool moves while dealing devastating damage to your enemies on the field.

combat

There are three Orb types you can chain together in a semi-match-3 way, as linking a 3-Ping will unleash more firepower than a single Orb on its own. Corresponding Orbs will also match the colour of a reserve party member in your team, so you can tap on a 3-Ping then tap on a Construct of the same colour to have him or her aid you with a special move in battle.

You can swap between Constructs any time during a match, but do keep in mind that there’s a cooldown period when you’re switching on the fly.

When you Dodge incoming enemy fire at just the right time, you’ll enter a Matrix-like bullet time that gives you the upper hand over your enemies. Dodges are limited, however, so you can’t just zip around like mad unless you want to run out of Dodges when it matters the most - I can’t tell you how many times I’ve needed to Dodge only to find I’ve run out of juice (and then I immediately perish in battle, as expected).

What’s the appeal?

The deep combat system, of course, also means that you can’t just speed through each chapter willy-nilly. You’ll eventually get to a point where the enemies will become too difficult for you, so you’ll need to farm resources, complete challenges, and upgrade your gear as is typical of other gacha games.

Not-so-typical of the genre (like Another Eden) is the fact that the gacha pulls don’t seem as important, since pulling a less-than-stellar character can still help you achieve sweeping victories if you know how to play your character right (and if you can upgrade them properly).

Apart from Constructs, you can also pull weapons and Memory, which are stats you can equip to boost your performance in battle. Constructs have their own tragic backstories that are as engaging as the main campaign (I’ve talked a lot more about this as well as the Dorm and Affinity functions in my Punishing: Gray Raven preview during the Closed Beta Test), and Memories have character backstories as well. All these histories make the narrative-driven gamer in me pretty well-fed and happy.

Punishing: Gray Raven cut scenes

Overall, Punishing: Gray Raven is a highly engaging game with one of the best storylines I’ve ever encountered so far. Unfortunately, because the stories are what drive me forward, I can’t foresee how I’ll still be motivated to play this game when the arcs are done and the last chapter closes.

I don’t see why I’d still play the game just so I can do random battles, as the robots you fight and the backgrounds you fight them in can be pretty repetitive and tiring at times. You do have stealth missions and other varieties from time to time, but essentially, the battles remain largely the same, and I feel like I’ll get bored of the mechanic easily when there are no more stories to tell.

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