Developer: Rebellion / Publisher: Konami / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: $59.99 / ESRB: Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language)
You play as the cocky, sullen hero Bryce who was cursed with immortality over 500 years ago. Not being able to die makes him the perfect specimen to take on contracts from a secret agency trying to stop the threat of a demonic invasion. At Bryce’s side is the voluptuous vixen Arcadia, who works for the same agency as Bryce but doesn’t have the luxury (or curse, rather) of infinite life. The two work together to blast the baddies to pieces until they eventually rescue a young female pop star named Nikki.
Soon after, the two of them unravel a bigger mystery as to why the demons want Nikki and how the fate of the world could hang in the balance. Interspersed between missions are cutscenes that chip away at Bryce’s past, providing more depth and motivation for his actions. The reasons Bryce and Arcadia work together simply does not make sense. Arcadia does not help in any meaningful way, and the fact that she can be killed means Bryce has extra baggage to look after on each mission. Their dialogue is poorly written and the characters sound boring and uninterested when delivering their lines. Bryce is easily the most likable character of the bunch compared to his accomplices and the random other demon mercenaries you’ll run into, but even he can’t escape from a dull storyline that doesn’t leave you with any real reason to want to see what happens next.
NeverDead is a third-person action game not unlike Devil May Cry. Bryce can use a variety of guns to dispatch his enemies: two pistols are available from the start of the game, and eventually you find SMGs, assault rifles, and a shotgun. Ammo is limited, however, so conserving firepower for the right moment can be critical. After 500 years of battling Bryce has also gotten pretty skilled using his butterfly blade, an obscenely large knife that makes slicing through enemies a breeze. You can also dodge roll to avoid incoming damage as well as jump to traverse over obstacles. As you kill enemies you gain experience that you use to buy new abilities, such as increased weapon damage, longer roll distances, and sharper aiming. Many parts of the environment can also be destroyed as well, causing ceilings to fall and opening up new pathways to explore.
Where NeverDead finds its unique style is with Bryce’s immortality. There are no life bars, but if Bryce takes enough hits (oftentimes one is enough) his legs, arms, and even head can go flying from his torso. Losing an arm or a leg isn’t so bad because you can still use your weapons and walk around somewhat normally, but losing your head is a different story. When decapitated, you must navigate Bryce’s head back to his body by rolling it around the level until you find his mangled torso. Your head will attach to your body when in close proximity, but when trying to reattach your limbs you have to roll over them to pick them back up. I guess simply walking over your severed arm was too much of a hassle.
This is a pretty cool idea, having limbs lopped off during battle, but it happens far too often and far too easily. If you so much as brush past an enemy you can kiss your appendages goodbye. What’s worse, your head can sometimes go careening off in one corner of the stage while your body remains at the foot of the big ass monster that ripped you apart in the first place. So then you have to reassemble yourself just to get obliterated again by the same monster. Sometimes you can magically re-grow your missing limbs if a special meter is filled, but this does not alleviate the problem. There are instances where having severed limbs works out rather well, like when you have to rip your own arm off to throw it into the mouth of a creature to kill it from the inside, or when you have to pull your head off to loft it into a ventilation shaft to reach a new area, but these sequences still don’t make up for the infuriating scenarios while battling enemies.
You fight only a few styles of enemies over and over again. Four legged dog-like creatures can lunge at you from afar but are pretty easy to take out. Grotesque monsters with huge blades for heads can only be killed by your sword, giving you reason to alternate between weapons. Other enemies can only be damaged by hitting specific areas. Also little fleshy ball monsters run around the level inhaling your severed body parts. If they inhaled your head you have to succeed at a small quick-time event or it’s game over (strangely, for a hero who can’t die). Killing enemies in the first level is fine and all, but fighting basically the same enemies just with different colors all throughout the entire game is boring. One highlight is the impressive boss battles that mark the end of each stage. I mentioned one boss that has you firing your gun inside its stomach in order to kill it, and another has you killing off electrically charged flying monsters before you’re able to attack the tender underbelly of a demon nearly three stories high. Though the bosses are cool and well designed, they simply aren’t worth trudging through level after level just to see them.
Sloppy controls make an already mediocre game worse. Trying to aim with your guns is a chore, as enemies move too fast, highlighting the lack of any lock-on mechanism. Toggling aim mode helps a little bit, allowing for more accurate shots, but it still doesn’t make it much easier to hit your target. The butterfly blade does have a lock-on ability, however, making it the more sensible choice of weaponry. While using the blade, you lock on to an enemy with the left trigger, and then move the right control stick to swing in the desired direction.
The game informs you that careful motions make for more damaging blade swings, but I found moving the stick left and right repeatedly was effective in just about every situation. Moving around feels sluggish, and oftentimes Bryce will get stuck behind a small piece of debris that has fallen into his path. Having to constantly roll over your body parts to pick them back up is completely unnecessary and turns the game into a gymnastics simulator instead of a demon killing marathon.
Sound and Visuals
I have to give Neverdead some credit for being fully voiced, but lackluster dialogue removes most of that credit. Arcadia is so monotone in her delivery that you’d think they had a computer reading her lines. On the other end, Nikki has an annoyingly high voice and constantly nags you even though you’re saving her life. Many lines are repeated during combat as well. I can’t tell you how many times I heard Bryce proclaim, “Hello, anyone seen my right arm?” or “Lookin’ for my left leg” during gameplay. A heavy metal and rock-influenced soundtrack plays during each stage and sound alright. Visually the game looks good. Stages are varied and unique: first you’re in a dilapidated building, then you’re exploring a detailed museum, and later a pitch-black subway station. The characters look good, and during cutscenes they move and animate great.
Ultimately NeverDead is a failed opportunity to do something special. Too many bad design choices hold back the overall experience. Repetitive gameplay, constantly having to recover your limbs, useless supporting characters, poor controls, the list goes on. The real curse for the main character isn’t immortality, but forever being a part of this game.