We Review: NeverDead

Konami and developer Rebellion Developments have gone out on a limb with NeverDead and its bizarre mechanic. Without hearing anything else about the game, the ability to rip off your appendages and fling them at enemies had certainly piqued my interest. If you’re reading this I can assume you may be that way inclined too. So, has Rebellion Developments succeeded in converting this novel idea into a worthwhile game or has it shot itself in the foot? Let’s find out after the cut.

The idea behind NeverDead is evident in the title itself.  Our protagonist is Bryce Boltzmann is a bitter alcoholic and immortal demon hunter. Boltzmann is a nasty character to be around but he wasn’t like this all the time. 500 years ago, a life-altering encounter with a demon king left Boltzmann cursed with immortality. He outlives the people that mean the most to him and hides his true feelings behind cartons of cigarettes, beer bottles, and banal jokes. In the present day, Boltzmann is employed by the National Anti-Demon Agency (NADA). He kills demons for money and together with Arcadia, a mortal NADA operative, has been tasked to investigate an ever-growing demonic infestation in the city. By now, any gamer worth their gamerscore should be able to figure out where this plot is heading.

As Arcadia and Boltzmann make their way through locations such as hospitals, museums, sewers, and churches, they are tested by many a trope in the action-adventure genre. When you enter a room or outside area, the exit is sealed by a demonic curse and you have to dispose of every enemy in the vicinity before the seal can be broken. It’s a rinse-repeat type of affair as NeverDead guides you by the nose to its conclusion. This might sound tedious and repetitive, and it is. More often than not, there is a “womb” in the area—a ghastly creature that spews forth demons and continues to do so until it is destroyed. In certain circumstances you can kill it with fire, or use environment hazards against it, but if those aren’t available, you need to chip away at it, like Andy did with the rock hammer in The ShawShank Redemption. Sometimes it felt just as long.

Thankfully, for the role of a demon hunter, Boltzmann has the right tools for the job. He can dual-wield pistols for long range attacks and for the “in your face” confrontations, he has sword called the Butterfly Blade. There are only a handful of enemy types, and you encounter them in succession, just in different numbers. Some enemies are better dispatched with the Butterfly Blade, others should be filled full of lead. Switching between the weapons is often slow and clunky. Different guns can be equipped on each of Boltzmann’s hands using the D-pad, but during an intense fight, cycling between the guns while avoiding enemies is easier said than done.

As you progress through the game, you can find and use the standard fare of assault rifles, shotguns, and grenade launchers. Different types of swords are eager to be found, along with hidden collectibles that do nothing more than add to your XP count. NeverDead employs the “kill demons, acquire XP” mechanic, and any XP gained can be used to purchase abilities. These abilities can extend the power of your guns, sword attacks, or increase the manoeuvrability of your disembodied head. But there’s a rub. Each ability takes up a certain number of slots, and with a finite number of slots available for use, you won’t be able to unleash the full potential of the weapons. It feels more like a compromise. For the most part, the guns didn’t pack any punch, it felt like I was firing marshmallows at some enemies. The sword did have a weight to it, but getting up close and personal meant the risk of your body being ripped apart was significantly higher. And that’s where another frustration comes in.

Boltzmann isn’t particularly attached to his limbs, so when one of his appendages are torn off, he simply needs to roll over the missing limb to reattach it. In the times when all of his limbs are ripped off, you control the head. It’s at this point when reassembly becomes an irritating, finicky exercise. Enemies kick your head and send it flying in all directions except the one you intended, and depending on the amount of destruction you have done to the environment, trying to navigate your way to over and around strewn rubble can become frustrating. Getting unstuck is made more difficult by a terrible camera which seems to lose its grip on reality and enters a catatonic state. But wait there’s more! If your head’s not getting battered around, it’s getting sucked into the mouth of one pesky enemy, and if this happens you need to perform a time-sensitive action to escape. Mistime it, and it’s right back to the start of the checkpoint for you. This is true for boss fights, which are made longer due to these irritating mechanics.

Just as limb reassembly can become a repetitive cycle, Boltzmann’s inane one-liners are perpetually stock on repeat. “Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ rollin’”, “Has anyone seen my left arm?”, and “Slice ‘em and Bryce ‘em” wear out their welcome after the first time you hear them, but are recycled throughout the game. It becomes so bad that I would have given an arm and a leg for him to clam up [Ed: how about a head?]. The supporting cast of characters have a few more lines, but that’s not saying very much at all. They lack any sort of personality and dialogue between them is stiff. While we’re on the topic, the soundtrack to the NeverDead is composed by Megadeth. Make of that what you will.

After you’ve finished the single player campaign, NeverDead provides some multiplayer challenges. You can choose a character and select a limited set of abilities and try your hand [Ed: head] at four different challenge types. There’s Onslaught, a co-op mode that involves beating back waves of enemies, and in Search and Rescue players need to escort civilians to an evacuation area. Egg Hunt is a competitive mode where you need to collect eggs and return them to a goal zone. In Fragile Alliance, players race through a series of checkpoints where they need to clear an area of enemies before the next checkpoint opens up. I can’t say much more about my experience because I couldn’t find anyone to play with or against. NeverDead’s multiplayer server was a like a graveyard when I tried it.

All in all, there aren’t too many good things to take away from NeverDead. The level design is terribly pedestrian and there isn’t any variety in the enemy types (sometimes the same bosses are used in later levels). The controls are cumbersome, and often times the camera can be considered as the worst enemy. While the idea behind NeverDead might have separated it from other shooters in the market today, its other qualities brought it down into the stagnating pool of gimmicky sub-par action titles. Boltzmann is cursed to an eternity of despair, and I have a feeling that NeverDead may be cursed a life in the bargain bin.

Final Score: 4.5 legless [Ed: headless] prawns out of 10

Detailed information:
Developer: Rebellion Developments
Publisher: Konami
RRP: R499
Release date: 03 February 2012 (EU)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 (reviewed)
Age rating: 18

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