Regardless of Rebellion’s recent slouch on the development front (2010’s recent Aliens vs. Predator reboot was memorably sub-par) the Oxford studio’s latest project, NeverDead, has drawn considerable attention, mainly due to its bizarre premise.
Set in the present day, the third person adventure title follows the exploits of Bryce Boltzmann, a contracted demon hunter with a conflicted past. Unlike his colleagues, Bryce has been in the profession for over 500 years now. In the early days of his career he came face to face with Astaroth, the demon king who murdered his wife and companion, Cypher, before inflicting Bryce with the curse of immortality.
Five centuries later, Boltzmann now patrols the city and its outskirts for rogue hellions with his partner, Arcadia Maximille. NeverDead eases players into the daily routine of its protagonist, though it soon becomes evident that something much darker is afoot. Responding to a call from the district museum Bryce and Arcadia find themselves escorting stranded pop princess Nikki Summerfield, who is being pursued by demons for reasons unknown.
The flashbacks into Bryce's past, though pretty, fail to give NeverDead any sort of narrative clout.
Arcadia fills the role of your one-dimensional ice queen, with Nikki fitting the naive, melodramatic archetype we see replicated in dozens of other video games.
For the most part dialogue is clunky and inorganic, two words which coincidently underpin the entire Neverdead experience.
Health bars have been the bane of many a gamer, though in NeverDead it’s not so much of an issue; Bryce can sustain an inhuman amount of damage, the game’s unique damage system substituting that of the conventional health gauge. One-part third person shooter, one-part hack n’ slash brawler you’re going to have a horde of enemies launching themselves at you, and if they strike hard enough, Bryce can end up loosing one or more of his five limbs.
Upon detachment, extremities are flung across the level. Having one or no legs severely reduces manageability, whereas the loss of arms prevents dual wielding and blocking. If you are unlucky enough to be decapitated you assume control of Bryce’s noggin with no powers whatsoever, rolling over your severed limbs Katamari-style in order to restore the demon hunter to his former status.
It’s an interesting mechanic and one you’re likely to have laugh with at first, but the fundamental flaws are quick to reveal themselves. Though there are vials which can instantly restore Bryce’s “health”, these are often sparse; the rolling method quickly becomes a common practice that soon begins to wear.
Even on normal difficulty, you will find yourself pounded by mobs and bosses. To conquer such situations you need to be fully intact, though this becomes near impossible. As you scramble around the floor looking for arms and legs, you’re likely to get your remaining limbs torn off, resulting in a repetitive, frustrating cycle.
At his disposal, Bryce has an arsenal of unlockable weaponry as well as his Butterfly Blade, a melee weapon that is controlled through the awkward use of motions on the right stick. The gunplay is as basic as you could ask for with a heavy emphasis on running n’ gunning, the sporadic pace of combat making it almost impossible to zoom in and take a shot without getting your arms plucked.
Killing enemies and collecting red tokens will unlock experience points which can then be spent on upgrades and new abilities for Bryce. Minus a few interesting exceptions, there aren’t any game-changers available from the list which happens to be laden with plenty of useless powers such as improved crawling speed and healing bullets.
Multiplayer essentially boils down to wave-on-wave clashes with the demonic hordes. Strangely enough you can play as Arcadia, though at the severe disadvantage of having one weapon and no unique abilities. It's a mess.
Boss battles are fairly disappointing too, often recycling the same “Hippo” and “Panda” encounters to try and inject a diversion between the seemingly endless waves of demons. The game’s actual bosses are no better, following pattern-heavy conventions and an infuriating difficulty gradient, artificially prolonging each battle to make them seem more substantive.
One of the more redeeming qualities of NeverDead is the inclusion of limb puzzles. On several occasions Bryce will be forced to detach his own head in order to access vent shaft or hard to go get spaces, but unfortunately that’s as intricate as it gets. If Rebellion were to scale back the mind-numbing combat and work in more puzzles and elements of exploration we could have had one of the better February releases here.
NeverDead is actually a fairly good-looking game. The menus may be criminally basic, as are the loading screens, but there is little to complain about whilst in-game. Character models are a tad over-exaggerated and don’t really fit well with contemporary city setting, but environments achieve a generally favourable aesthetic despite the sometimes narrow and confusing layouts.
In the way of physics, NeverDead has a surprising trick up its sleeve in the way of heavily-destructible environments which don’t only look satisfying but actually add a much-needed tactical element to the otherwise mundane combat.
- Premise is interesting enough to warrant some attention.
- Visually, you could do a lot worse, even by today’s standards.
- Gameplay mechanics lack any sort of development.
- The dismember mechanics become tedious and infuriating, fast.
- A cast of characters you will neither relate with or care about.
- Menus look ghastly.
- Online multiplayer is plagued by the same issues present in the campaign.
- No enough puzzle segments.
To conclude, NeverDead does very little to separate itself from the legion of sub-par, gimmick-tagged titles. The premise of playing as an immortal protagonist who can reassemble parts of his anatomy is likely to catch out a number of curious gamers, but it’s a concept that fails to shine amidst a crowd of poor design choices and a complete lack of narrative engagement.