Game Rant's Anthony Mole reviews NeverDead
Emily Dickenson begins one of her most famous poems with "Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me."
Unfortunately for NeverDead protagonist Bryce Boltzmann, Death isn't as nice to him. In fact, the two aren't even on speaking terms - as Bryce has been cursed with immortality. But does eternal life (or the inability to die, depending on your viewpoint) turn NeverDead into one of this year's surprises - or does the intriguing mechanic ultimately hinder the game?
NeverDead begins 500 years in the past, with Bryce and his wife, Cypher, doing what they do best - hunting demons. Here, players are introduced to the game's shooting mechanics - so long as nobody worries too much about the fact Bryce has assault rifles in a clearly Medieval setting. When it comes to the gunplay, the shooting could be a lot tighter. Ultimately it works, players won't feel like as though they are fighting the controls - but, as it stands, there is a lot of room for improvement. In the opening level players are also introduced to boss fights - which are drawn-out and, at times, uninspired - as if Rebellion did whatever they could to inflate their length. The boss fights are a lot of fun, for a time; however, by the end, players will likely be fatigued as a result of the amount of time it takes to complete even the most basic boss encounter.
Once the prologue is complete, the game fast-forwards to a modern day setting - where players will be taught to use Bryce's melee attacks. Bryce carries around a sword known as the Butterfly Blade, which is controlled by the right analog stick. If it sounds awkward, that's because it is - at least the first time players use it. After a few close range encounters, the analog controls will begin to feel more intuitive - though they will likely still alienate a portion of the audience. Unfortunate really, as in the first few levels of the game melee combat is pretty essential - since Bryce's starting pistols are pretty weak, even against low-tier enemies. Once players find the shotgun and assault rifle, gun combat becomes much more feasible.
An integral part of the combat is destructibility, almost everything in the environments can be destroyed. Players don't really need to destroy objects when fighting smaller enemies, but against those with a lot of health it really helps to cut down the time Bryce will spend bludgeoning creatures with his Butterfly Blade. It's also immensely satisfying to pull out the blade - and watch every single object in the room collapse onto the ground.
The combat, as a whole, does need work. Much like the gunplay, everything is functional but very little of it is refined. The lack of polish should come as no surprise, given the game is developed Rebellion - most recently known for Alien Vs. Predator and Rogue Warrior. One would hope that with Shinta Nojiri (known for the Metal Gear Acid series) on board, NeverDead wouldn't have suffered from these gameplay "quirks" - but, it seems, having one of the top-tier people at Konami couldn't even help.
Thankfully, the combat becomes much more fun once players unlock the "Sixth Sense" and "Aim Lock" abilities. The latter allows Bryce to snap to the nearest enemy when zooming in, making it much easier to target baddies. "Sixth Sense" allows the game to go into slow motion whenever Bryce is in danger, sort of like Vanquish - except it's never player initiated. The main issue here is that these abilities would have been very beneficial to the game if they were implemented from the start - instead of having to be unlocked. Thankfully, both can be acquired very early in the game, but one can't help and wonder how much better the game would have been if they had just been core-offerings.
The rest of the abilities are pretty standard fare. As players gain XP they will be able to purchase abilities that increase weapon damage, give bullets elemental abilities, increase movement speed, etc. The abilities do help, but most of the time they can be ignored, unless (of course) it's the aforementioned "Sixth Sense" and "Aim Lock" abilities.
One of the key draws of NeverDead is Bryce's immortality - though it should be noted that players can still see game over screens. If players have been decapitated, the Grandbaby demon will try to eat Bryce's head. If players get sucked into the demon's body, they willy need to time a button press in order to escape, or else face eternity digesting in its stomach - read: restart from the last checkpoint. The mini quick time event isn't that difficult to complete, meaning that even if a player finds themselves on the brink of eternal digestion, it shouldn't be too hard to escape. However, the QTE event quickly over-stays its welcome because, frankly, Bryce is pretty weak. One hit from an enemy is enough to send a limb flying, and it can become frustrating, especially when Bryce finds himself surrounded by a large group of demons.
The other way in which players can fail missions is by having Bryce's partner, Arcadia, die. Thankfully, Bryce isn't always being followed by her, and when he is, she can (surprisingly) handle herself pretty well. Most of the time, when Arcadia goes down it's probably because the player happened to shoot a red barrel she was close too, and not because she's problematic in a fight. When Arcadia does go down, reviving her is easy, all players have to do is walk towards her and hold square (or X for 360 players). That's really it. Gamers can still move while reviving - since there's no "reach down" animation. Keeping things simple with the AI certainly helps to prevent the title from feeling like an extended escort mission.
Due to Bryce's immortality, he can also dismember himself at will, using his arms to help in combat or his head to solve puzzles, similar to Sir Daniel Fortesque from Sony's MediEvil series. Players will find themselves pulling off Bryce's head to enter narrow passage ways like vents - and to find hidden collectibles. Pulling off arms can be used to draw puppy demons to a certain area, but players will hardly find themselves using the mechanic all that often - since it's more feasible to pull out the Butterfly Blade and slice enemies into bits. Gamers can purchase an ability to give Bryce's limbs explosive abilities - but, once again, players will probably just push the dismemberment mechanic to the back of their minds. At it's core, this is what the gameplay in NeverDead is like - it works, it's fun, but it could have been greatly expanded upon.
There's a mutliplyer component too - which are basically modes that center around co-op style missions and challenges. It's a lot of fun, unfortunately, on the PS3 version at least, it's pretty empty. Sad too, as what is there is mostly enjoyable. That is, if only Rebellion hadn't added in multiplayer trophies and achievements.
Thankfully, if there's one thing NeverDead does well, it's charm. The characters are fun, and while the story isn't a deep tale looking at the human condition - it's enjoyable (though some players might take issue with the ending). Still, the puns and intriguing game mechanics are sure to keep the player entertained - and that will be good enough for some players. For those who need their gameplay to be refined with deep mechanics, there are certainly better games out there - but for those who are able to forgive some gameplay flaws for the underlying charm, there is certainly some fun to be had with NeverDead.
NeverDead is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for this review.
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