Few games that rest on a single gag have legs to carry it to interesting heights. Modern games require all gears working in perfect harmony to achieve greatness, and if it relies on that single gag, chances are it’s going to trip on itself and fall straight on its face. That is the case for NeverDead, a game that sees the main character as a bit of a Mr. Potato Head, complete with limbs and a head that easily detach from his body, yet he’s easily reassembled with a quick roll.
Instead of following nearly every other mold in the third-person shooter genre, our hero, one demon hunter named Bryce, can’t die – and with a title like NeverDead, that’s sort of a no-brainer. Enemies can rip his arm straight out of his body, his legs can blow off, and his head is attached to his body like Velcro on tissue paper. Bryce is a ragdoll of sorts, both in combat and the damage he takes, and it’s this loose approach to combat and gameplay that help make this a truly unique experience. But, this gag quickly gets tiring, and it won’t take too long for the lack of care put into the rest of the game to shine through like a black eye.
Bryce is an immortal demon hunter. One of the central irritations in NeverDead surrounds this premise of immortality simply because developer Rebellion never really lets us in on the secrets. Not only is the storytelling extremely loose, but the characters are daft, lifeless, but delightfully campy. In fact, the entire game is built around that B-movie, campy motif, and on some levels that’s a saving grace. Bryce’s wife was killed by a demon king, so he apparently has some animosity against the baddies, but again, this doesn’t get properly fleshed out. You share the game with Arcadia. She’s not immortal, and in addition to killing demons plentifully scattered throughout each corridor-inspired level, you have to keep her alive. Why does she come with you? Again, there’s no good reason here, and the partnership doesn’t pan out like other partner-centric games like Enslaved or Shadows of the Damned. If anything, NeverDead pulls more from games like Devil May Cry, simply because of the crazy action and the mix of shooter and swordplay.
The combat has some bright moments, however. This is largely due to the dismemberment mechanics. Say you lose your left arm, instead of losing that gun, your hand simply fires the gun wildly wherever it happens to fall. This is pretty clever, and there are some interesting gameplay tools here, too. But your guns are pretty weak and they simply can’t hold a flame to your trusty sword. Actually, it’s anything but trusty thanks to the awkward controls. You hold the left trigger and swing with the right analog stick. This sounds simple enough, but it forces the camera to stay stationary and is sluggish. Just like the story, the sword controls could have been improved with just a bit more attention. Sadly, what we usually like in games – clever story, fun gameplay – is held back. The controls for your dual-wielding guns work just fine, but the camera is a bit stiff and slow.
Let’s get back to that gag mentioned earlier, that one that keeps NeverDead interesting. Losing your limbs is definitely entertaining, and Bryce can’t get over it each time something falls off, frequently offering obnoxious one-liners straight out of a straight-to-DVD horror flick. Dismemberment also plays a role (I wanted to write roll, but I mean role) in solving puzzles, usually by rolling your head through air ducts or other small crevasses. When it comes to combat, you’ll always control your head when your body is, um, blown to bits. You’ll have to roll to reattach it to your body, and then do an awkward roll to snag your other limbs. Enemies have a knack for biting off your legs but your head is always the last to go.
Levels are a bit rudimentary and cause claustrophobia in the earlier stages. You get destructible environments that can harm enemies (sometimes your enemies trigger these hazards and hurt themselves; definitely amusing) but given the game’s slashing mechanics and the need to roll to pick up your body, the more open levels feel like fresh air. There’s nothing spectacular about the graphics here, and if anything, the presentation is jarring thanks to a painful heavy-metal inspired soundtrack.
This is ultimately a game that’s uninspired and dull, but there is something here that feels a bit redeeming. Perhaps it’s the quirky character designs, largely in your obscure boss battles, or maybe it’s because it really feels like a bad movie thanks to the terribly campy dialogue and one-liners. Either way, this is definitely a niche title that will leave a lot of third-person shooter fans scratching their heads in disbelief. Some of the boss battles are clever and require clever combat techniques, and this is perhaps another saving grace for NeverDead.
That’s about all NeverDead has going for it: clever bosses and moments when dismemberment is entertaining. This is not a show stopper or a sleeper hit, but perhaps it’s campy enough to warrant an investigation for those truly devoted to this genre. If you care little for a good story, solid combat mechanics, and good writing then there’s probably something here for you. For everyone else, NeverDead really doesn’t have a leg to stand on.