Picture if you will, your favourite sitcom. It's got that horrid recorded audience laughing in the background, the jokes are corny at best and some of the dialogue is as bad as the acting, but you don't really care because it's a nice way to wind down after a long day of
reading eGamer work. That's pretty much NeverDead.
- Worth The Time?NeverWorthTheTime... what? Okay, I'll stop now.
- Things LovedThe story, the characters, the interesting dismemberment, the soundtrack, the humour.
- Things HatedShoddy implementation and game design, horrid combat system, so much wasted potential, graphics are monotone and boring, worst immortal ever.
- RecommendationWait a few months for this game to go down in price and then maybe try it out if you enjoy comedy in your games.
- Name: NeverDead
- Genre: Action
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: None
- Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3
- Developer: Rebellion Developments
- Publisher: Konami
- Price: R 435
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360
NeverDead is a title published by Konami that has been developed by Rebellion Developments (the guys that brought you Azhar’s favourite game; Rogue Warrior) and features as director, one Shinta Nojiri, making for an interesting mix of British development ties with some Japanese influence, and of course an American-accented protagonist because “America! Fuck yeah!”
You are Bryce Boltzmann, once a noble and courageous knight who travelled the world hunting demons, now a mere shadow of his former self… a few thousand years later. See, Bryce is immortal. Cursed by a demon in a battle gone wrong, Bryce lost both his humanity and his one true love thanks to his complacency and has since spent eternity regretting it. Modern day Bryce is a cynical alcoholic, a mess of a man that works as a bounty hunter pretty much just because there’s nothing better to do. He is accompanied by a female called Arcadia who is every bit as cold and harsh to the world as he is, just a bit more serious about things.
NeverDead is first and foremost an action title, but what immediately comes to the fore is the game’s comedic nature. It’s quirky and there is humour abound, from corny one-liners to full on characters that exist only as comedic devices. The game wants you to laugh and it tries very hard to do so. From the story to the dialogue to the characters, the aim is entertainment from a game that doesn’t take itself seriously at all.
If anything, Bryce is more a parody of badass than he is actually badass. His immortality grants him the ability to detach his limbs or head and lob them about, or re-attach limbs that have fallen off. Bryce takes every possible opportunity to make the relevant joke, be it about a lost arm, leg or head.
The dismemberment factor pretty much forms the gist of the game’s mechanics, at times requiring you to navigate puzzles or simply get to the next point in a level by detaching a certain limb or your head, and using it to solve the puzzle or reach the next area. You may also regenerate lost limbs at the touch of a button. As an example of how this works in game, you could come upon a ventilation shaft and not be tiny enough to fit into it, so you pull off your head and roll yourself through the shaft and into the next area before regenerating the rest of your body and moving on with the level. It’s interesting and a unique take on immortality if it were used in any sort of practical way.
Unfortunately, as interesting a concept as it might have been initially, as you play through the game you realise that the developers just ran out of ideas or didn’t really think some through properly enough, and the entire game ends up reeking of lazy design choices. There isn’t much variation although it’s easy to spot many possibilities for other cool things, but the game never asks them of you so it feels as though the newly introduced game mechanic is a waste, just a reason to be different and not actually embracing the difference itself.
You might argue that since Bryce is immortal and able to re-attach lost limbs, the game difficulty is irrelevant since it would just be three kinds of ‘Easy’ but actually you would be very much mistaken. See, Bryce is probably the greatest pushover ever to exist in a game. Even on the lower difficulties, combat is a series of dodge-rolls away from harm only to get hit anyway and instantly lose a limb, requiring you to then dodge-roll into it because that is how you re-attach lost limbs in the game, before some other enemy waiting on the other side of that dodge-roll hacks off another part of your body. In practice it’s a clumsy system that results in frustrating fights and makes Bryce seem as though he is Christiano Ronaldo getting touched, in a football game. Such is the forced exaggeration that is his reaction to any bodily harm.
Combat in the game is handled entirely in the third person, with a combination of guns (be they pistols, sub-machine guns, assault rifles of shotguns) for each hand fired by each trigger, or what is called a Butterfly Blade, which looks like a large folded butter knife. Throughout the game you fight mostly variations of demons that look like they’re straight out of Devil May Cry, together with the odd ‘shoot the weak spot’ boss battle, some that actually take advantage of your ability to detach limbs by requiring you to, for example, lob an arm into their mouths and then shoot them up from the inside to damage them. You acquire experience for killing enemies as well as collecting orbs through each level, that allow you to purchase skills that range from typical examples such as faster running or better aim, to some more oddball ones such as bullets that heal allies if you shoot them or explosive limbs for death by appendage.
Your partner Arcadia is a human and therefore is vulnerable to damage and may die, but it never feels like it in practice. In fact, throughout my time with the game I found it easier to just let Arcadia tank ALL the things while I shot at them from distance, running in only to revive her when necessary. She takes far more hits before she goes down, as opposed to Bryce who is instantly decapitated upon being so much as poked in the side. To add insult to grievous bodily injury, there is this little fucker of a demon that, if you aren’t quick enough, will suck in your lost limbs and eat them up, or if it’s your head you are forced to play a mini-game that involves timing a button press, failing which you are effectively stuck inside it for eternity, forcing a game reload.
It’s not all bad, though. In fact — and quite the opposite of my initially done review, for the love of the internet — having mentioned all of the bad parts first, it’s time to get down to some of the better aspects of the game.
The first of those is most definitely the story. It’s certainly not anything to write home about, but the method of execution is very nicely carried out and the actual plot itself, while cheesy to the point of being cringeworthy at times, does not fail to entertain the player. The game plays out in two timelines, telling parallel stories. The first of these is the story of Bryce as a human, and is told in cutscenes between campaign missions. Young, brash, cocky, pretty much the archetypal human, Bryce and his wife Cypher battle various demons and attempt to slay them until finally they meet their match at the hands of Astaroth who curses Bryce with immortality. Very much like flashbacks, these cutscenes serve to fill the gaps and explain why Bryce is the drunken asshole that he is in modern time. That of course, is the premise for the rest of the game, which follows modern day Bryce on his latest bounty hunt that starts off as a simple mission but escalates before he finally discovers that Astaroth is back and it’s time for the two to meet once more.
I enjoyed the story. I did not expect production values that were anywhere near award winning, but I did expect to be entertained and the story provided that entertainment. Not just that, but it had me laughing as well. Smiling along at the very least. Yes it got corny and borderline flatulent at times, but for the most part the humour is genuine and fits just right.
The characters are another strong point of the game. Bryce seems to be the only character who doesn’t look like he’s straight out of an anime or JPRG, with pretty much every other character looking as though Rebellion ripped them right off a Final Fantasy game. The characters are memorable, quirky and delightful additions to the game. One particular enemy reminded me of The Joker at times, such was his entertainment value.
The game’s graphics are… well, they leave quite a bit to be desired. It is easily understood by the fact that most environments can be reduced entirely to rubble, but destructible environments are nothing new and there have been far prettier offerings in recent times. All of that brown blurriness needs to step aside so that the Japanese influences upon this game may be properly felt.
At least the sound is great, if you’re a fan of rock music. It’s an action title that asks you to fight hordes of demons, so the backing soundtrack featuring entirely Megadeth music is welcomed, even fitting, all things considered.
Coming back to lazy design for a bit, you get the feeling that Rebellion wanted to be different but weren’t keen on putting in the effort in doing it right. I’ve already mentioned the dismemberment, in this respect. There are times when you have absolutely no idea where to go or what to do, only for some glitched enemy to suddenly appear and attack you after twenty minutes running around looking for something to kill in order to trigger the next area. Or worse, you’re just not told where to go next and must guess that you need to pull out your head, throw it into a barrel, shoot that barrel causing your head to fly through the air and into an open pipe somewhere, down the pipe and into the chimney of a building you can’t enter. Or something.
Battles are another example of lazy design, with not that much variation on enemy types and most enemies being basic bullet sponges, albeit with various methods to kill them. Unfortunately, you will spend most battles simply rolling around because of how egregiously flimsy and useless the so-called ‘immortal’ Bryce is. It’s almost a ubiquitous immortality, if anything.
So like a sitcom then, NeverDead is flawed and imperfect but not terrible either. It never set out to be any different in the first place. You’re either going to enjoy it because it entertains you and keeps you going until your next viewing of an actual series — probably House — or you’re going to hate it because the recorded laughter is annoying and the jokes are about as pathetic as MySpace.
What frustrated me the most was that NeverDead seems, at first glance, to be every bit an action title. It’s even billed as one in the trailers (check out the one above for example), but really its true charm comes in the comedic value that it offers. Almost a counter-productive strength then, when you consider that the worst part about the game is the one that’s being sold to audiences through marketing.
I would not recommend a full-price purchase, however if you’re on the lookout for a cheap game that provides some no-frills, no-fuss humour and light-hearted comedy, you need look no further than NeverDead and its eternally drunk immortal.
Wait, how do immortals get drunk in the first place?