If there was ever a harsh condemnation of the concept of immortality, it would be called 'Neverdead'. It turns the romantic notion of the carefree immortal (happily and perpetually existing for the sake of existing) on its ear. Bryce Boltzman, the protagonist of Neverdead is exactly what you'd expect from a 500 year old. I'm pretty sure that if I was cursed with immortality by a demonic overlord, I'd also be a bile-filled creature who spews one liners at the drop of a hat. This would be particularly true if you take into account 5 centuries of unresolved guilt, anguish, depression and substance abuse.
Accompanied by his feisty and methodical handler, Arcadia Maximille, our immortal hero finds himself working for a shadowy agency (hilariously called NADA or National Anti-demon Agency). Initially it seems that Bryce's only interest is merely having enough money to pay for beer, but a parallel story delves deeper into how Bryce became such a broken, twisted and cynical creature.
At first glance, it would seem that Konami and Rebellion Developments have a winner on their hands. After all, this is a game with all the charm and quirkiness of an Evil Dead movie. If you squint your eyes, Boltzman even resembles the Chin (Bruce Campbell). You would be forgiven for thinking that Neverdead could compete with the other supernatural action heavies, like Devil May Cry and Resident Evil.
However, a perfectly enjoyable game is hidden under a pile of design flaws. The irony is that the characters and their respective designs are superb. The game even features destructible elements in its gorgeous environments that would make Dice (and Battlefield 3 gamers) envious. It's clear that a lot of thought and work has gone into bringing Bryce, Arcadia and their enemies to life. Even the voice acting hits the right spots, and the score by Megadeth will leave you headbanging. However, what could easily have been a cult classic, soon turns sour, as frustration levels soar.
It would have been perfectly understandable if there was only one problematic design issue, like an overly sluggish main character or even a camera system that leaves you screaming. However, Neverdead tries to go for the trifecta. Not only is our immortal hero awkward to control, but the ill-conceived camera system makes it far too easy to be flanked by a mob of monsters.
Additionally, one of the selling points of Neverdead is Bryce's ability for spontaneous dismemberment. On paper, it sounds like a brilliant idea, but in practice it becomes a cumbersome and superfluous hindrance. The problem is that Bryce is unnecessarily fragile. He will explode into his individual parts after the slightest touch. What makes it worse is that the system is very inconsistent (which isn't helped by shoddy hit-detection either). For instance, there are times where Bryce will simply stumble backwards after being hit (or merely drop an arm or a leg). However, most of the time, it feels like his head and other body parts are trying to launch themselves off into space. The randomness of the dismemberment gimmick works fine during normal fights, but it becomes a hair-pulling session during a boss fight. Which is a real shame because the boss encounters and even the boss designs are extremely well done. The combined effect of a problematic camera, a sluggish main character and a finicky dismemberment gimmick will be enough to drive you to tears.
Considering that Bryce is immortal, and NeverDead is an action game, it should be obvious that something would exist to counter his immortality. Rebellion introduced two ways to add a sense of urgency to the game: the first is babysitting Arcadia. Put simply, if she dies, the game ends. Fortunately, Arcadia is more than capable of looking after herself. The second method is to deal directly with Bryce's immortality. It brings us back to his knack for having his parts severed. Rebellion introduced a bunch of annoying little demons that can suck up Bryce's severed head. If they're successful, the game ends, because presumably Boltzman would be trapped for all eternity while his head is being digested in a demon's digestive tract. The only problem with this is that Bryce's end or his survival lingers on a single quicktime event. I can understand balancing a "game-over" on reviving Arcadia, but having your head sucked up by a tiny demon, and having to press a button at the right time is just more than my fragile sanity can bear. It would even be fine if it was a rare event, but it happens during almost every battle, since all fights will result in a scramble to reassemble Bryce's body (or waiting for the regeneration bar to fill up). It's one of those offbeat features that Neverdead seems to relish in, yet no one else finds it particularly amusing.
Combat is a mixed bag, because while Bryce can dual-wield a shotgun and an assault rifle with ease (and his swordsmanship will leave samurai warriors green), the camera issue continuously crops up. Fortunately, there is a slight solution, however it involves collecting demon souls and purchasing a specific ability. This ability adds bullet time prior to an enemies attack, which at least allows you enough time to dodge an attack with a well-timed combat roll. The only downside is that Bryce can only keep a few abilities active at a time, so you have to choose between buffing your swordplay or gun action or getting flanked by angry and vicious dog-sized demons.
Where dismemberment works perfectly is during the sparse puzzle sections. It's a real shame that NeverDead doesn't make full use of it, because throwing a severed arm or even a head to reach a hidden area is hilarious and ingenious. One puzzle in particular provides a glimpse of what could have been. In one specific area, Bryce has to reach his friends, but he finds himself in a room with a bunch of pipes. The only way to navigate the puzzle is to use a series of colour-coded switches. These move a set of pipes in a simple pipe maize. Bryce has to tear of his own head, and use his head as a cannon ball in a makeshift water cannon to reach the entrance to the maize. It's absolutely brilliant. However, it's also the only good puzzle in the game.
Neverdead oozes potential, but only the most tolerant and forgiving gamer will feel satisfied. It could have been this generation's Devil May Cry. Instead, it finds itself stuck in a morass of design flaws that will leave most gamers limping aimlessly to the finishing line. There is potential hidden within, but we'll have to wait for a sequel before Konami and Rebellion can redeem themselves.
- Amusing characters
- Visually pleasing
- Great detail and character designs
- Megadeth score
- Dodgy-hit detection
- Frustrating and sluggish controls
- Camera system is not ideal
- Dismemberment fails to impress