Step into the shoes of an immortal demon hunter with detachable limbs and a head that has a tendency to roll away on its own. Battle the forces of hell with a hottie partner, save the world, avenge your wife's death, and try not to forget where you left your arm!
- Fun, campy concept with some great dialogue
- Some interesting character designs
- When it works, self-mutilation can be fun
- Controls are a mess, especially during combat
- Uneven dismember mechanics leads to frustration
- One-liners get old fast
The idea of bringing the campy excess and joyous absurdity of exploitative B-movies to gaming isn't new, although the results have certainly been hit and miss over the years. More recent releases like Shadows of the Damned and Bulletstorm prove that over-the-top violence and dialogue can be great, but there have been far more that just come off as cheap and lame. Konami teamed up with Rebellion studios to create their homage to crazy, gore-soaked horror, and the result is NeverDead--a game as split apart as its limb-rending protagonist.
A Trip Down the Bloody Rabbit Hole
The hook to NeverDead is the absurdly named Bryce Boltzman, an immortal demon-hunter with the ability to lose his limbs and head and then reform. He's an amusing one-trick pony, with a sarcastic and sexist sense of humor, a dark past, and a sexy sidekick in a tight-fitting skirt. If nothing else, NeverDead does feel very Japanese, although that's not necessarily a good thing.
The character design and overall look of the game is like any one of the horde of mostly unmemorable third-person action games we've seen come out of Japan lately. The weirdly effeminate swagger and obnoxiousness of the villains, the overall story of a brooding hero with personal demons to kill, even the dangerous, yet frequently-in-distress damsel. . .it's all been done.
This wouldn't be a big deal except it's just not done well here. The whole dismemberment-based gameplay is a fun cliché, but so clumsily rendered that it frequently leads to more frustration than fun. To put a finer point on it, Stubbs the Zombie did self-dismemberment better. The game is full of clumsy design choices, but the controls are the worst part.
Hack, Slash, Shoot. . .Snore
Bryce can take down enemies with both dual-wielded guns and his fold-away sword. Some enemies can only be killed with a blade and it’s the most effective device for mowing down swaths of mindless lower-level troops. The problem is that targeting is non-existent and Bryce’s sluggish motions make tracking enemies an exercise in frustration. The sword is actually controlled by holding the left shoulder button down while twitching the right analog stick, which seems like a neat way to handle sword play.
With a bit more skill, this control scheme might have worked. Sadly, there’s virtually no finesse to sword swings and it makes the combat feel primitively annoying. The lackluster level design (especially for the first half of the game) and brainless hordes of the same few enemies don’t help either.
Bryce’s partner, Arcadia, fares a bit better. She’s actually reasonably smart and able to fight, but when she goes down, Bryce must race to her before she dies. This sounds simple enough if it weren’t for the absurdly half-assed dismemberment game play. There are times—usually when you need him to separate or reform—when Bryce is stubbornly resistant to control.
Bryce loses limbs at the drop of a hat during combat, forcing you to either hobble around without the lost appendage, or furiously combat roll in hopes of running over the limb to make it stick again. Enough damage and Bryce is left with just his head, which adds all kinds of problems. There’s no safety mechanism in place to prevent the head from flying into an inescapable section of the map, and at times, it’s painfully hard to get the head to reform with the rest of his body.
The game also throws head-eating monsters at you, which can swallow him and end the game should you fail to complete a quick-time escape. The conversation dialogue is fun and campy, but Bryce’s constant one-liners about his body parts get old in a hurry. Thankfully, the ridiculous story is greatly helped along by the snarky characters, and there are some surprisingly good interludes and bits of interaction that should have set the game apart. For B-movie lovers, there’s a real urge to look past the other flaws simply to enjoy the overall camp.
Bryce also has a decent upgrade system that lets him pull off more wild tricks with his limbs, but the most useful skills are held back a bit too long. The game needed more immediate payoffs to help offset the woeful control issues and repetitive design, but only persistent players will be able to slog through to the last third of the game where the levels and abilities get more interesting.
Sticking around that long hardly seems worth it though. Aside from the premise and dialogue, NeverDead does little else right. The controls feel underdone and glitchy, the graphics are lackluster, and the combat and level design for most of the game are just underwhelming.
Editor's Note: NeverDead was reviewed using an Xbox 360 build of the game. We also spot checked the PS3 build of the game. If further investigation reveals major differences between the two platforms, we will update this review to reflect those differences.
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