HIGH The few scattered moments when the basic mechanics show their promise.
LOW The final two bosses are simply insulting.
WTF Why sell out your unique premise less than 10 minutes into the game?
Early in NeverDead, demon hunter Bryce Boltzmann jumps down an elevator shaft, shattering his body into its separate limbs. Then he rolls his head back onto his torso, gathers his limbs back up, and sends a room full of demons back to hell. To proceed through the game's various environments, he will need to do things like yanking off his head and rolling it through ducts, or tearing off his arm and using it to close a circuit. Bryce survives these dismemberments because he cannot die.
…Well, actually that's not true.
Just a little bit into the first level, Bryce encounters an enemy that will eat his head and digest it forever unless the player succeeds at a quick-time event. Failure means a game over, which puts traditional "death" mechanics right back into NeverDead, despite the promise of a different kind of challenge. From then on, virtually every combat arena will be chock-full of the little buggers, nullifying one of the game's supposedly unique features.
That's characteristic, as NeverDead seems unable to take advantage of its unique mechanics. In a few places the possibilities shine through, such as an underground area where Bryce lights himself on fire as a torch, or a boss battle where he throws his arm into a demon to attack it from the inside. For the most part, however, NeverDead is just a typical third-person shooter where your character breaks into pieces a lot.
Bryce's unique abilities see less and less use as the game goes on, exacerbating this feeling. The later chapters mostly emphasize shoot n' slash gameplay. The shooting is serviceable, though the basic inaccuracy of the guns is made worse by the need to almost constantly fire on the run. The sword is more effective, but using it is a pain, requiring a trigger to lock-on and rotations or jerks of the right stick to swing. This system feels very awkward and offers no real advantages, since controlling the angle of Bryce's slashes never accomplishes anything useful.
Even without the control issues, combat would be a joyless affair, as almost every battle consists of wave attacks by the same two basic enemy types. The fodder take a while to go down, as Bryce seems to have been kitted out with a standard-issue peashooter and butter knife. Combat drudgery ensues, only slightly alleviated by the ability to occasionally crush demons with bits of the scenery.
Using experience gained from killing monsters, players can equip abilities that enhance their damage. Unfortunately, getting the weapons to keep pace with the increasing durability of the demons eats up so many ability slots that the really cool skills (like being able to explode your arm) seem too costly to actually equip. Many of these abilities are poorly explained, and some of them seemed not to work consistently.
Inconsistency also defines the game's jumping, dodging, and reassembly mechanics, a fact that becomes especially grating when NeverDead reaches its nadir in its final boss battles. These feature the laziest possible design, with one boss regenerating his health and the other knocking Bryce to pieces whenever he wants. These features transform the game's sole interesting feature (dismemberment) from a problem-solving tool into a key impediment to success, completely nullifying the design.
The final boss also must be shot through specific targeting rings that sometimes show up perpendicular to him or at the top of a tower that must be climbed using the game's exceptionally mushy platforming. I did not check to see if this tower took the shape of an extended middle finger.
In every phase, NeverDead comes off as lazy and cynical. Its characters and plot are so disposable that even this sentence spends too many words on them. The game blows off its hook in the first 15 minutes, then spends the ensuing hours regurgitating combat that would be unutterably boring if not for the spice of fighting the awkward controls and frantically rolling Bryce's head back over his torso again and again in hopes that this time it will reattach before it is swallowed. NeverDead is garbage, and there is no good reason to ever play it.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 9 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed once) and 0 hours of play in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood and gore, intense violence, and language. Look, this is game about a guy who survives regular dismemberments. He also regularly slices up demons. There's a lot of blood. Missing from the ESRB information is that Bryce smokes and drinks alcohol regularly, and that he rifles through a female co-worker's underwear drawer.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Subtitles are available for most dialogue, and even for certain important sound cues. However, it might be difficult to process those warnings fast enough, so the final bosses might be more difficult.
Currently Sparky works as a scientist in Rhode Island, and works gaming in between experiments and literature reviews. As a writer, he hopes to develop a critical voice that contributes to a more sophisticated and interesting culture of discourse about games. He is still waiting for a console port of Betrayal at Krondor.
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