When the world is overrun by heinous demons, the only man for the job is Bryce Boltzmann, a 500 year-old immortal demon hunter with a bone to pick. The sword and gun-toting alcoholic has become a hired member of NADA, a government sponsored anti-demon task force. His role is to assist their human operative with taking out any foul being which happens to threaten the status quo. Unfortunately, his job is going to get a lot tougher now that high ranking evil beings have set their mind to resurrecting a fallen leader. You can just imagine the chaos that brings to the world in NeverDead, the horror-filled action game from Rebellion Developments and Konami Computer Entertainment.
After a tutorial-serving historical boss fight, we catch up with our assumed hero and his attractive partner, Arcadia Maximille, as they are summoned to check out a decrepit mental hospital during modern times. A young couple who were illegally close to the abandoned building caught sight of something strange, which they’ve referred to as a “sword-pig.” That means it’s time for the demon hunters to go to work, exploring each and every hall for that aforementioned fiend. Of course it’s no surprise that something is there considering how many knee height and dog-like minions happen to be flooding the overgrown courtyard and its adjoining institution. The result is an hour long shootout and slash party, which has the duo hoping for some rest. Though, since this is an action oriented video game, there’s no such thing as a day off.
Hundreds of years prior to the building demolishing first mission and its chaotic workload, Bryce and a his wife (a young spell-weaver,) battled against Astaroth, the King of Demons himself. This event is harkened back to throughout the campaign, as it sets the foundation for the eight or so hour long game’s campaign. Despite their best efforts to defeat the throne-sitter, the two failed, resulting in the death of Cypher Boltzmann and her husband’s immortal curse. An evil eye was swapped out for his own, forcing the grieving widower to spend the rest of eternity overburdened by his profound loss.
Fast-forwarding the calendar to our current age, it is quickly discovered that Astaroth is behind the chaos which threatens the world. He’s searching for something to help in the before-mentioned awakening process, and it’s about to severely impact our immortal demon hunter’s life. He’s now in the middle of the plan, fighting against some of Hell’s most powerful creations, in order to save his former (mortal) kind. In order to do so, he will have to hack, slash, shoot and explode a path through hundreds to thousands of minions. Over the course of this journey, past events will become clearer, as will current motives.
What NeverDead brings to the table is a rather unique health system, which comes along with its rather standard action gameplay. The immortal curse has an interesting side effect, which allows Bryce to lose and then regenerate new body parts. This comes into play quite often, as regular attacks tend to chop off at least one body part, especially on hard. If only one or two limbs are lost, it’s not the end of the world or any reason to worry. That is, unless both arms are gone and there’s no way to attack. The only time where the player is in danger of facing a game over screen is when all that is left is a severed, rolling head.
While it’s impossible for our assumed character to actually die, that doesn’t mean he’s unable to be absorbed for all eternity, thanks to tiny and incredibly annoying enemies known as grandbabies. They’re present in just about every in-game battle, meaning that the player must use careful avoidance tactics while decapitated. Standard rolls are generally slower than the enemies’ movement mechanics, making directional pad enabled speed shots incredibly important. Think of it as being like Sonic the Hedgehog’s spinning charge, which allows him to skyrocket towards another part of the level, as that’s basically what this ability is. Using it can allow you to attack the white baddies, but the hit detection is off, leading to frustration. The best thing to do is to shoot away repeatedly until the slow moving regeneration bar is full. It surprisingly fills slower when more limbs are lost, even when boosting abilities are equipped.
Playing through the game on its hard difficulty setting meant having to put up with repeated dismemberment, although my normal-based preview sessions also had a lot of loss. Battle situations in NeverDead usually equate to the player being outnumbered and overwhelmed by baddies who are quick to attack and slice off a leg. There were times where I would roll around to regenerate, just to have it happen all over again as soon as a brief second of invincibility wore off. In the end, I probably spent more time without a full body as I did with one, making things somewhat frustrating. This included health system is different, but it definitely isn’t perfect because of that frustration, and the fact that Bryce’s head can skyrocket far away from the rest of him. As a result, it’s possible to get it stuck on something like a pipe, which just so happens to be attached to the top of a close-by building.
The odd vent, unreachable collectible, water geyser or puzzle will present a chance to use the aforementioned dismemberment abilities as a progression tool. Pressing two shoulder buttons together makes Bryce rip his head off, while holding just one will make him pull off an arm. Those abilities are fitting and helpful when a narrow opening presents itself as the only way to complete a task or move on to the next area. Or you can choose to use an arm as bait, which is more helpful when the exploding limb ability is unlocked. Regardless of the encountered situation, those mechanics are both helpful and frustrating. Setting up a perfectly aimed limb toss is quite difficult, as the game employs an aiming system that is less than stellar.
Adding onto this undying characteristic, is the opportunity to use the elements of fire and electricity to solve puzzles and/or harm enemies. Bryce can become engulfed in flames or statically charged by simply touching a destroyed panel or by walking into roaring flames. Both of those can be transferred onto just about every demon you come into contact with. Flames help by slow roasting their host, while electricity acts as a stunning mechanic. On tougher difficulties, using the elements is important in order to get the upper hand during battle. Most of the time, they would work as planned, but there were occasions where character models would take a few touches to become elementally charged.
While immortality does have its quirks, the rest of the experience is rather cookie cutter genre fare. In many ways, its action mechanics are similar to what is found in the Devil May Cry games, where Dante has different guns at his disposal, alongside a trusty sword. That set of tools is exactly what you’ll find here, with the addition of discoverable blade improvements, shotguns and a rocket launcher. What players will quickly discover, however, is that most of the guns are far less useful than their bladed allies, and the combat system lacks the fluidity found in the compared series. It’s tough to aim perfectly, because the utilized indicator happens to be joined and inaccurate. The odd purchasable ability can make things better, but precision is still lacking despite those options. If that issue was improved, this game would be more balanced, but it could also use a weapon wheel. Cycling through a list of guns for each hand is cumbersome, especially in the heat of battle.
Cycling between equipped bullet blasters and your trusty blade is done by pressing a face button. Then, a shoulder button must be pressed to lock onto an enemy, before the right joystick is utilized to slash away in different directions. This system is also a bit cumbersome, but it works better than the guns do, especially if ranged abilities are included. Swords can slice through the environment in a more efficient manner, causing debris to crumble to the floor, which can hurt enemies if you’re lucky. While those things all work out in an all right manner, I found that the blocking mechanic (employed by pressing another shoulder button) wasn’t very helpful or precise.
Over the course of this review, I’ve mentioned abilities more than once. That list of unlockable moves and skill-set contributors becomes available through the use of an experience point-based monetary system. This includes points earned for kills as well as discovered boosters, which happen to look like red slabs of meat. The average cost is 10,000 experience points; a price that isn’t too hard to come up with. Though as things progress, that cost can skyrocket to the 100,000 plateau. It’s important to pick and choose the ones that will benefit your play style, as money as limited, much like ability slots. There aren’t enough of them to be found, and specific ones can take up to 4 out of your 13 slots. At least the damage boosters, movement enhancers and aiming assistance skills are helpful.
When it comes to storytelling, the folks at Rebellion Developments did a serviceable job of creating a storyline that will mildly intrigue gamers. Although it doesn’t include any exceptional moments or memorable characters, the fiction’s campy nature and cheesy jokes are somewhat entertaining. Bryce is the type of one-line spewing macho man who follows in the boots of Duke Nukem and his game complements that, with some rather close-up shots of certain parts of its female characters’ anatomy. Although rather unnecessary, an argument could be made that they fit into his rampant attempts to seduce Arcadia. Considering how often she falls in battle, it could also be said that her life is owed to the immortal being.
Clocking in at an average length for its genre, NeverDead‘s campaign is full of trial and error, with much of it being brought on by those aforementioned control issues. Though, those aren’t its only issues. Glitches are evident throughout the experience, providing moments where Bryce’s head will be sucked into a grandbaby immediately after a rewarding cutscene, or times where the environment will work against you. However, its most glaring fault comes at the hand of repetition, where just about every stage follows the same rinse and repeat gameplay structure. Players will find themselves taking out demon spawn points far too many times, as they’re overburdened by large assortments of ankle biters, spinners and exploders. There’s an inherent lack of creativity which really hurts this game, assisting its frequent moments of dismemberment, as they combine to make it more of a chore than an enjoyable time.
Despite all of the above-mentioned gameplay issues, faults and inconsistencies, I didn’t completely dislike this game. There were moments where it was enjoyable and interesting, but they were too few and far between to ever amount to much. Every time it seemed like the experience would improve, something frustrating would happen, such as the introduction of a poorly explained objective. Hacking away at enemies and destructible environments has its charm, and those problems can’t take that away from NeverDead, even though they did tarnish that guilty pleasure. Perhaps if it had more time in the oven, Rebellion‘s new release could have been a more polished game that would be at least an average interactive title. There are some half-decent elements to be found, such as all right large-scale boss battles. Though, the game shoots itself in the foot by forcing clunky platforming into one of its final battles, with regenerating health being a detriment to its predecessor.
On top of the expected single player jaunt (which could have been better with co-op), you will find a surprising secondary mode inserted onto this disc. What I’m referring to is a multiplayer option that has action based on both competition and cooperation. Up to four players can work together to tackle oncoming waves of demons or save endangered civilians. If that doesn’t sound appetizing, then a battle to collect the most eggs or get through the most enemy-filled checkpoints is in order. This online aspect features character customization (using skins with different clothes options and abilities), and does a decent job of taking this genre fare into multiplayer cyberspace. The egg collecting competition is especially fun, although even it is nothing to write home about. The main problem here is that this mode is a ghost town, making it difficult to find quality sessions.
Visually, this release is a solid effort. It uses colour well in order to create a world that complements its written elements and their campy tone. This is furthered by relatively creative enemy designs and several decent-looking main character models. It should also be noted that the elemental effects are above-average and relatively impressive. For the most part, this aspect was without major fault. Though the odd visual glitch was noticeable, as well as frequent screen tearing.
Going along with that theme, the title’s sound is somewhat exaggerated, with voice acting that happens to be of the over-acting type. Cheesy one-liners, over-the-top characters and rather weird demons all complement that designed tone. Konami even went as far as to have Megadeth create a titular-named theme song for the game, which fits its 80s thrash metal musical theme well. Unfortunately, it happens to be the only noteworthy piece of music to be found inside of the game, as the game’s other tunes are rather standard and repetitive. Hearing some of the dialogue over that boisterous music also became a bit of an issue, especially during one cutscene where the music overwhelmed the characters’ voices.
Although I had some fun with NeverDead during preview sessions, it didn’t end up being the experience I was hoping for. Repetition is the main culprit, although quite a few other problems have added themselves into the game’s frustrating action recipe. While it isn’t without the occasional moment of fun and empowering gameplay, there are just too many problems to be found, which prevented this from being an enjoyable eight hour experience. Sure, the multiplayer is half-decent and better than expected, but there’s next to nobody playing; something that will severely affect its longevity. Factoring in all of the aforementioned factors sees NeverDead as a below-average release that fails to live up to its genre predecessors.
This article is based on the Ps3 version of the game, which was supplied to us for review purposes.