Format: Xbox 360 (tested), PS3
Developer: Rebellion Developments
The evil demon Asteroth has cursed Bryce Boltzmann – he’s been made immortal. But instead of fading into senior citizenship armed with a blue rinse and a free bus pass, he’s decided instead to put down the Radio Times and take the fight to his old enemy.
As star of Rebellion’s new third-person shooter NeverDead, the 500-year-old demon hunter must wields sword, guns and even his own exploding limbs to defeat his nemesis and defend his hotshot partner Arcadia from the multitude of freakish monsters in their path. But the question has to be asked – if he’s 500 years old, why has Bryce still not managed to come up with any convincing wisecracks?
NeverDead definitely sounds intriguing on paper – the ability to dismember your own body, in a variety of ways in order to make use of the head’s ability to fit through small spaces is suitably novel. It has a soundtrack by the legendary Megadeth, and the obligatory female character struggling with sartorial matters.
In addition, there’s a lot of scope for scenic destruction as much of the game’s environment can be manipulated, or more realistically, smashed, in order to inflict damage on the slavering hordes. Did I mention you can throw your own limbs as bombs?
So at this point, you’re pretty interested. Fire the game up, pump the volume high, and whizz through the tutorial, which introduces the various moves, combat rolls, limb re-attachment, guns and so on. The first frustration arises with the retro analogue stick sword controls – the first sequence of breaking through a chained door is explained poorly and doesn’t bode entirely well for the rest of the game.
Graphically, NeverDead is well executed, with most environments well-lit and for the most part convincing. There is however a fair amount of fumbling in the dark like a horny teenager as you struggle to achieve clear angles of entry/exit in darkened corners, but this does seem to happen to me a lot in games. Or real life. I forget which.
Anyhow, the architecture and character models are nicely rendered and clean, but I can’t deny the overall design of the title is a bit soulless – for instance, in the Natural History museum sequence, the decor is functional, with realistic signage and a stab at making the surrounding exhibit textures convincing, but without really engaging with you as an environment. I wanted a Jurassic Park-style dinosaur skeleton fest, but mainly it was shooting more of the alien dog things that make up eighty percent of the games opponents.
The trumpeted building damage aspect of gameplay is also disappointing – the scenery is mainly weightless, and often not arranged in a way as to be particularly useful tactically. You end up breaking stuff for fun rather than to assist you in your attacking play, and the sign that you need diversion from the main cut and thrust of the game is not a good one.
For the most part I found myself using the sword, for two reasons: the first being that it is the only weapon that worked against the irritating razorblade-headed enemies, and the second being that switching between weapons was a bit cumbersome, and the triggers slightly unresponsive. Added to the fact that the regular loss of limbs means you are frequently stuck with only one arm the guns just aren’t particularly fun. And games are supposed to be the one place where guns are fun.
Getting dismembered is initially amusing, and the novelty appeals for a little while as you maim and injure everything whilst hopping around on one leg, or flopping like a fish out of water when both legs go. But the puzzles using the head-throwing or rolling techniques aren’t sophisticated or complex – more functional and unspectacular, as lacking in wit and invention as the cliched dialogue from both main participants. The ability of the Grandbaby monsters to eat your severed head is so irritating that the chance of getting yourself spat back up again for another round with the same enemies rarely feels like one you feel like taking.
It looks like there was almost a good game here, trying to get out: an interesting premise, with a solid game engine behind it, in a relatively uncrowded release schedule. But when you look closer, there are too many faults. Drab and uninspired environments straight from ‘Game Design 101: 2009 edition’ don’t assist matters.
The all-important plot falls apart when you logically conclude that by killing this Asteroth, presumably the curse on Bryce will be lifted, and he will just die. But this rather intriguing mortality play never comes to bear, its existential potential obviously not having appealed to the games developers. With a bit more thought and care, I think there’s an interesting idea there, and it’s a shame that a lot of solid work has gone into executing such a wayward final product.
Bearing an 18 certificate, I did have to wonder why all the blood was rendered blue in my review copy (and presumably the finished product) when the game obviously wasn’t going to be for younger players. While not harming the gameplay in any way, the curious decision making again poses questions about some of the overall design choices.
When you’re stuck on a puzzle in NeverDead, provocative partner Arcadia often says ‘Oh! This is so frustrating’. I know just what she means.