Gather round the campfire children and let me weave you a tale… I will tell you a story of a medieval knight, sworn to fight and defeat the king of demons, only to fail and be damned for all eternity to live with his failure. I am of course talking about NeverDead, the latest IP from Rebellion and Konami.
Let’s go through the checklist shall we? Main character cannot die – check. Main character can self dismember and throw body parts around the environment – check. Rock soundtrack by the one and only Megadeth – Check. Dynamic destructible environments – Check.
So, with quite a bit going for it, and a fairly unique approach to your character’s life – being immortal and all – NeverDead had a good chance at being a surprise hit and a fun game to play. Unfortunately it’s not.
Let’s start with the combat. From the start, you are equipped with a sword, and dual pistols. Two reticules on the screen indicate your aim location, and the longer you remain still the closer these two reticules converge. Utilising the left and right triggers for each gun, you can quickly build up some gunplay combos while rolling about the screen with each press of the B button. As you progress through the game, you pick up a generic range of weapons which can be equipped in either or both hands, including an SMG, shotgun and assault rifle to name a few.
Press the Y button and you change quickly to melee stance, equipping your “butterfly” blade, which is folded neatly on your back. If you then hold the left trigger button, you lock onto your immediate target, and right trigger blocks. The interesting part is how you attack. Moving the Right stick swipes in that direction and timing this correctly to start a new swipe when the previous hits, allows you to perform combos, doing greater damage. From the get go this feels and responsive, smooth and naturally, let down only by the inability to switch targets on the fly as you have to release the target and face your new target to change. This meant on countless occasions I was fighting a minion standing behind two rows of other creatures. This wouldn’t be so bad but the right stick moves the camera when the targeting button is released, so it must be held to attack.
This brings me to the automatic tracking of the camera in these sections. As your character faces the creatures he is targeting, if you attack in its general direction the camera realigns sharply to your target’s new position. This makes the camera jerk about after every swipe which is not only annoying but extremely distracting effectively breaking the desire to use such a well crafted melee system. Add to that the fact that certain creatures must be defeated with melee and you are forced to endure the broken camera quite regularly.
I think those in charge of writing the plot – not to mention naming the enemies – decided to take extended holidays for the entire duration of the games creation, so the designer must have asked his five year old to help. Demons that look like dogs? Yeah, let’s call them puppies. Demons that have a large spike on their forehead – Swordpigs. Flying demons, let’s call them birdies… and so on. The plot and acting is just as much of a lame duck.
You play Bryce Boltzmann, a medieval knight cursed for daring to challenge the king of demons, Astaroth. First he slays your wife, a medium able to summon the demons into the physical world, and then he curses you with immortality to ensure you suffer forever with the thought of your loss and failure. For 500 years you have been working as a Demon Hunter, and currently you are in the employ of the N.A.D.A (National Anti-Demon Agency) partnered with the Agent Arcadia Maximille.
Initially it sounds like a decent premise, until the actors start to speak. The female leads have annoying and whiny voices, and are portrayed as ditsy, egocentric characters, both of which will grate and annoy you throughout each and every level. Bryce himself seems to have taken the whole immortality thing as a licence to make bad jokes such as “gimme a hand…literally” and “keep your head Bryce” when the respective appendage is removed. This is quite literally funny once, but after hearing it the odd hundred times during the game – and you will – you’ll find yourself reaching for the mute button, just to get him to shut up.
This brings me on to the overall game mechanics. If you are an immortal character, what penalties can be applied if I make a mistake? Well, in this case, dear reader, you will find that Rebellion have plumbed the depths of the barrel and come up with some real stinkers. The aforementioned female characters follow you around criticising everything you do, on every level. Not only that, but they are of no assistance whatsoever, and Arcadia needs picking up to allow you to endure her constant droning further. Fail to do so and it’s game over. This is also bugged if she is on the floor for revival when you kill the last creature of a kill room it will save the game and you will not be able to pick her up, meaning you have to restart the entire level again from the beginning as there is no save function other than the auto-save. Fall off an area, and you will be put to a screen letting you know that by the time you had returned, Arcadia was dead.
If you thought those were bad, I’ve saved the best to last. The main mechanic of the game is that you can be broken down into component body parts, legs, torso, arms and heads, the lowest obviously being when you are a head rolling around on the floor. Rolling over your body parts reattach them to yourself which make for interesting combinations. Head, one leg and two arms hopping about is quite amusing. In every section of every level are Grandbabies, small globe-like demons that have a penchant for eating your detached body parts but have a special love for your head. As you roll around, they will approach you and try to suck parts of you in. If they do this with an arm, or a leg, it will be destroyed after a short period, and you will have to wait for your regeneration ability to recharge before holding the left stick to re-grow the missing body part. If it’s your head, however, it’s a different story.
Once sucked in, you will be put in a QTE where you have to hit a bar at the correct time, to force the Grandbaby to spit you out. Miss and once again it’s game over. Welcome to eternity being digested in the baby’s stomach. This would not be so bad if it wasn’t extremely easy to lose your head, and even if you kill the Grandbabies before hand, they are continually respawned. Couple this with the large kill room sections the game throws at you and one mistake can set you back 20 minutes of game time.
Let’s go back to the main mechanic though, as that opens up a whole new can of worms. As you progress through the game, you learn how to manually remove your head, and arms, which can be used both offensively – exploding arms anyone? – and to solve puzzles, such as throwing your head up to an unreachable ledge then regenerating the rest of your body. Detached arms will continue to shoot at the reticule point on your screen, so you can actually throw an arm to higher ground to get an elevated shooting position on your enemies and on at least one occasion you use it to throw to a demon to be eaten, so you can shoot inside it and reveal its weak spots. This is a nice feature, but extremely underused.
In this respect, the mechanic works well… until the regeneration bar stops charging. On more than one occasion while being minus one or both arms, the regeneration stopped, and without said arms I could not remove my head and move forward in the game, so back to level start again.
When this game first announced at E3 2010, the video promised a dark comic game. Unfortunately, it just provided a bad joke. NeverDead should have been NeverConcieved.
MLG Rating: 3/10 Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360 Release Date: 03/02/2012
Disclosure: Derek Mcroberts rented a physical copy of Neverdead for review purposes . The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.