Heads Will Roll
As the video game industry strives to bring blockbuster games that can compete both visually and story-wise with the best that Hollywood has to offer, the focus on giving gamers the type of arcadey, nonsensical games that were prevalent a decade ago has diminished somewhat. Here to fill the growing void is NeverDead, a third-person action game that aims for style over substance. And so far, it’s looking pretty great.
If you’ve seen NeverDead’s E3 trailer, you should already have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this game. For starters, it’s not to be taken seriously; in fact, it aims to stun with its over-the-top action, excessive gore, and deliciously cheesy dialogue. In a way, it shares some resemblances to Devil May Cry; it’s about a cocky demon hunter who has supernatural abilities and a fondness for punishing demons while spouting the occasional cheesy one-liner. This isn’t likely to be one of those games you want to whip out with family around, unless your grandparents don’t mind watching you control your character’s severed head as it rolls around on the floor.
Before I get into that, let’s start off with a little on the game’s story. NeverDead centers around a man named Bryce Boltzmann. He’s been cursed with eternal life by the Demon King Astaroth, who also murdered his wife. With nowhere to go, Bryce joins the National Anti-Demon Agency so he can seek revenge through the extermination of every demon that’s unfortunate enough to get in his way. He’s joined by the sultry Arcadia, who, unlike a troubling number of female leads in video games, can actually hold her own in battle. You probably won’t have to worry too much about saving her from stickier situations. However, this doesn’t mean she can’t die, and if she does, it’s game over for Bryce.
One of NeverDead’s most intriguing features is Bryce’s ability to regenerate wounds and severed limbs. Obviously, this comes in handy should you take too much damage in a particularly tough battle, but it extends beyond that. You can make Bryce’s body a tool or a weapon to dispatch the hordes of demons that will be thrown at you over the course of the game. Bryce can take as much damage as he dishes out, and he can use his body in interesting ways. For example, if you need a little extra firepower, you can electrocute yourself, imbuing your bullets with electrical damage. You can also light yourself on fire to brighten up a dark area or use your arm as a sort of makeshift grenade. And as I teased earlier, you can even remove Bryce’s head and roll it around on the floor to scout out an area before you enter.
Since this is a third-person shooter, you’re going to have an arsenal of weapons to choose from including your sword, pistol, and machine gun. The guns are great for giving yourself a little breathing room or obliterating the environment to your advantage—like firing at the ceiling so it crashes on your foes—and your Butterfly Blade is great for taking out the creatures that don’t have any respect for your personal bubble.
Though not much has been unveiled regarding the game’s multiplayer, there will be both cooperative and competitive Challenges that pit you and up to three friends against each other or against enemies. The former will force you to think outside the box to be clever with how you use your special abilities to come up with the best uses for your unique regenerative capabilities. The co-op is a little more mysterious, though it’s been revealed that the mode will have you working together with other players in special levels against key foes in the game.
As I hinted at earlier, the environments in NeverDead are very destructible, adding to the sense of bedlam that’s important in a game like this. This also increases your toolset for taking out the many different enemies you’ll come across in the game. Everything from pillars and miscellaneous objects in rooms will be destructible, all the way up to entire buildings, Battlefield 3-style.
NeverDead is taking some risks by trying something this wacky. If it pays off, we’ll have another crazy action game to join the pantheon of similar success stories like Devil May Cry and Bulletstorm. However, if it doesn’t exactly live up to expectations, the game undoubtedly won’t live as long as its protagonist Bryce. But with a colorful personality, excessive violence, light RPG elements, and unique regeneration system, there’s a good chance NeverDead will be a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Go to Pieces
NeverDead has to be the weirdest action game I played at E3 this year. The premise: you are a demon hunter named Bryce Boltzmann who was cursed with immortality by a demon you were hunting way back in the medieval era. Through your centuries of immortality, you have become somewhat of a jaded, cigar-smoking jerk. Now, it’s the present day and you’re heading off with your new partner, a girl named Arcadia, to kick some demon ass all over again. Sounds cool enough to me.
Bryce’s immortality is actually the central gameplay mechanic of NeverDead. You see, not only does Bryce never die, he also never feels pain. In fact, his curse is so complete that he’s actually able to heal at Wolverine-like speeds. So getting attacked by enemies poses no real threat to Bryce. The worst thing that can happen is that he’ll lose a limb or two. Getting hit with an extremely powerful attack (say by demon wielding a gigantic scythe) can make Bryce loose parts of his body. When he does, he loses use of whatever he was using that body part for. Get an arm chopped off and you’ll lose access to the weapon you were holding. Get a leg chopped off and you’ll move slower as you hop around on one. You can even have all your limbs get chopped off and wander around as a flopping torso or a disembodied rolling head.
Luckily enough, you can reattach your limbs if you find them again, and this is actually pretty easy. Each limb is marked clearly on the map with a bright blinking indicator. If you find one, all you have to do is dodge-roll over it and it will reattach itself to Bryce right away, as good as new. If your limbs are out of reach, you can simply regenerate them by holding in the left thumb stick, however, you have to be out of battle range in order to do this. If you are stuck in battle, then you can actually make your disembodied limbs explode like a bomb on command, doing massive damage to surrounding enemies. Hopefully, this will give you enough space and time to regenerate your body.
What’s hilarious is that your limbs don’t have to come off by accident. In fact, there are plenty of puzzle-solving elements in NeverDead which ask you to do things like pull off your own head in order to roll it through an air duct, only so that you can regenerate on the other side. While in battle, you can choose to rip off limbs in order to distract enemies. Throw your arm and hellhounds will chase after it, only to explode into bits when you detonate it afterward. It’s rather comical, actually, and I never got tired of seeing Bryce yanking off his own body parts.
Since you are basically immortal, the game has to have some other sort of lose condition. In NeverDead, you can lose in one of two ways. You can either let your sidekick Arcadia die, or you can be forever trapped in a position where you can’t regenerate the rest of your body. Thankfully, neither happens all that often. Arcadia can easily take care of herself and generally ends up being an asset rather than a liability. In fact, she routinely sees enemies that you cannot, cluing you to their positions. Bryce, on the other hand, can only be prevented from regenerating if he is reduced to nothing but a head, he is far away from his other body parts, and a demon either eats his head or carries it away. If that happens, the game considers is a stalemate and thus assumes that Arcadia will die eventually, so it gives you a game over.
Bryce has two modes of attack: ranged mode and melee mode. In ranged mode, each of the triggers makes Bryce fire the gun he is holding in each of his hands. While running, both reticles tend to be spread far apart, making it hard to get a lot of damage in on one enemy. While standing still, though, Bryce’s aim gets better and your bullet barrage does far more damage. He starts with dual pistols, but as the game goes on, he can pick up better weapons for each hand. No, he doesn’t have to use the same weapon in both hands; a simple sub-machine gun/pistol combo worked well enough for me.
To activate melee mode, you have to lock on to a target. At that point, flicking the right analog stick causes Bryce to swing his sword around (rather than aim, which is what it does in ranged mode.) Unfortunately, this is the part of the game I liked the least. Flicking the right analog stick isn’t very accurate as an attack input, and while it makes the game feel hectic, I found that it was very hard to get my attacks to respond properly. Some enemies can only be taken out with your sword, which is annoying because I actually found myself defaulting to my firearms whenever I could.
Overall, however, NeverDead is a lot of fun. It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on the action genre with a main character whose power is literally getting hacked to bits. It’s probably not going to be the next Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, but it’s going to be worth a bit of your time when it releases next year.