Fall to Pieces
There are many people out there who wish they could live forever. But Konami and developer Rebellion show that 500 years really can take its toll on a person. And unfortunately it doesn’t do any favors for game players either.
NeverDead is the story of a demon-slayer named Bryce who in an epic battle with the demon king Astaroth, loses his wife and is damned to walk the Earth forever. Five centuries later and Bryce spends most of his time now drowning his sorrows at the local pub in between wreaking his own bit of vengeance as a freelance hunter, trying to keep demons from overrunning the modern world.
The most interesting aspect of his curse is that Bryce may walk the Earth forever, but in his line of work, you’re due to take your lumps, especially when you’ve been doing it as long as he has. So when he gets slashed by weird four-legged demons with giant knives on their heads (ironically named “Spoons”), Bryce doesn’t really take damage in the traditional sense, although he does go to pieces. Literally. You see, as Bryce takes damage, he loses life AND limb until he is just a decapitated head sputtering around the battlefield trying desperately to put himself back together.
What is great about this concept is that it provides a clearly unique challenge you won’t find in any other third-person shooter out there, and fits in with the wonderfully abstract character designs you’ll see throughout the game, from the colorful demon lieutenant Sangria to the twisted demon minions you’ll face in every level. And the physics system is phenomenal as explosions scatter your parts to the winds and you can find some twisted humor in trying to roll Bryce’s head around the level trying to find them again before some smaller demon finishes you off.
But having the game play revolve around this concept does have its drawbacks. It becomes irritating that there is no way to really strengthen Bryce so that he’ll fall apart less often, and as the enemies become more difficult, you end up spending more time trying to put yourself back together than actually fighting demons because of it. And with the two-bit voice acting that is wrought throughout this game, including no more than a handful of nickel and dime lines that Bryce says whenever you put him back together, this mechanic will soon become the bane of both your and Bryce’s existence.
Speaking of strengthening Bryce though, there is an RPG system where you gain XP by obtaining collectibles or striking down foes, but it feels more like a tacked on system that came in later than being a game play pillar from the beginning of development as there are several seemingly useless powers and it just seems too easy to gather the XP you need to get the handful of good powers that are offered to you.
This also leads us into the enemies and how you combat them. I will say that the boss battles are some of the more ingenious and entertaining boss battles you’re likely to find in any game. They feel like a reward for working your way through each level. The problem is they feel like such a reward because the levels themselves are cut from the same uninspired cookie cutter design and each room you enter consists of the same pattern. Kill enemy spawn points, kill enemies that spawned before you killed spawn point, repeat. Over and over again.
And the weapons you use do not help break up this monotony either. Bryce can wield a bevy of modern day weapons in each hand, or use his patented Butterfly Blade. But, and this is especially true in the early levels, Bryce’s Butterfly Blade is so much more powerful and effective than many of the firearms offered to you that there is little to no point to ever not use your sword. And this turns the already monotonous levels into an even more monotonous hack ‘n’ slash fest. Of course, you also later learn how to use Bryce’s body parts as projectiles, but doing this defeats the purpose of trying to keep yourself together if you actually use it in battle and so only is useful in solving the handful of simple puzzles scattered throughout the game.
When all is said and done, there are some glimmers of great things in NeverDead. An interesting life mechanic, solid physics, epic boss battles, and colorful characters. But monotonous combat, boring level design, and tacked on game play elements keep this from rising above mediocrity.
SUMMARY: NeverDead is a classic example of an interesting premise falling flat on execution. A brilliant exercise in game physics and boss battles, this game is weighed down mostly by the mundane combat across nearly a dozen dull and uninspired levels.
- THE GOOD: Great physics and boss battles that feel like the reward they should be
- THE BAD: The grind that is working through the levels leading up to said boss battles
- THE UGLY: The toll 500 years can have on the human body
Neverdead is available on Xbox 360 and PS3. Primary version reviewed was on Xbox 360.