NeverDead: The Game That Dismembered My Patience
If Mortal Kombat has taught us anything, it’s that there is a positive correlation between a game’s potential for enjoyment and its potential for dismembered bodies. Sure, I can probably think of at least a half dozen parental groups who would disagree with me, but they’ve obviously never performed a proper finishing move. However, aside from the hyperbolic gib counts of the first- and third-person shooter genres, there haven’t been many solid advancements in body-dismemberment technologies. That is, until NeverDead swaggered onto the scene.
In NeverDead, players are dropped into the role of Bryce Boltzmann, a demon slayer who was cursed with immortality over 500 years ago. The past five centuries certainly haven’t been easy for Bryce, who has become something of a drunk. However, he offsets his apathy by working as a subcontractor for a shadowy government agency tasked with disposing of whatever demons happen to be causing problems.
Bryce’s partner, Arcadia Maximille—despite her short skirt, ample cleavage, and daddy issues—is a straight-laced investigator who is always attempting to keep Boltzmann on task. Their relationship is filled with the type of aggressively clichéd flirtations that you would expect from a network police drama. Though, perhaps network television has rendered us somewhat immune to this type of boilerplate characterization, because I didn’t find it to be as annoying as I probably should have.
NeverDead’s defining feature is built on the subtle difference between “immortality” and “invulnerability.” Technically speaking, Bryce can’t die, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t be easily dismembered by an unending stream of demonic monster-types.
When you first get a chance to experience NeverDead’s dismemberment mechanic, it will feel nearly perfect. Lost a leg? Just hop around on the other one. Lost an arm? You’ve got an extra. Head cut off? Just roll around and recollect the rest of your body until you’re as good as new. However, NeverDead’s defining feature will quickly become its biggest annoyance.
The deeper you get into NeverDead’s storyline, the more time you spend recollecting your amputated limbs. In fact, as the enemies start to pile up, so does Bryce’s downtime. It’s also not unusual for body parts to be blown into a place that is nearly inaccessible to a disembodied head, so battles end up taking three times longer than they would in any other game while you attempt to avoid enemies and sew your body back together.
I should also mention that, even though Bryce is technically immortal, the developers have fabricated an irksome method to trigger the same type of game over event: Grandbabies. Grandbabies are floating demonoids who Hoover-up your discarded body parts and digest them. If Bryce’s head is swallowed by a Grandbaby and you don’t accurately perform a Konami-style quick time event, your game is over. Players are treated to a message ensuring that Bryce isn’t actually dead, but the result is the same.
Aside from the dismemberment mechanic, NeverDead’s gameplay is exactly what you would expect from a third-person shooter—it takes most of its cues from titles like Gears of War and Devil May Cry—but it’s not without its own set of annoyances. For example, when the narrative asks you to kill a certain number of enemies before you can proceed to the next area, it feels like you’re plodding through the obnoxious grind of an RPG.
The enemies themselves can also feel pretty underwhelming at times. And, in a game that intentionally walks the edge of the horror genre, a set of distinctly unfrightening enemies is probably not what the developer was shooting for. Essentially, there are four main types of demon, and each has its own subset with subtle variations. But they all show up very frequently and, with the exception of the Grandbaby, pose no real threat to the protagonist. However, each level is punctuated with a classically styled boss fight which brings a welcome change to the monotony.
Additionally, the controls themselves aren’t entirely well executed. It seems like the camera might have attention deficit disorder, because it often gets fixated in a position and then quickly snaps onto a new view. Gunplay feels sloppy until you equip the appropriate abilities, and swordplay is wonky at best.
However, one thing that NeverDead does very well is allow gamers to customize the gameplay to their own personal specifications. As players gain experience, they can equip perks that increase movement speed, allow their guns to shoot more accurately, make swords strike with more force, etc. With these customizations, it’s relatively easy to create a character who primarily engages enemies with ranged weapons, or one who uses a brute, button-mashing approach. Whichever style you favor, the enemies and gameplay are flexible enough to keep the experience challenging.
If NeverDead is an indication of their skill, the writers over at Rebellion are probably never going to be in danger of winning a Pulitzer Prize. The story is flat, but mostly passable. However, the characters and dialogue don’t even come close to being passable. Bryce is a 500-year-old womanizer whose entire vocabulary doesn’t extend pass sexual innuendo and terrible dismemberment puns. And, as far as I can tell, Arcadia only exists to awkwardly convey gameplay instructions and to give the developers a skirt to point their cameras up.
The weirdest part is that I kept expecting the game to finally produce some type of payoff. Graphically, the game is almost great. The environments are immersive and interactive. And I loved the fact that Bryce could tear off his own extremities to solve puzzles and distract enemies. I kept trying to remind myself that no studio would put this much work into the look and feel of a game and skip the story altogether, but I was obviously mistaken.
And that’s the biggest tragedy from NeverDead; Rebellion had all the tools that they needed to produce a truly great game, but they consistently favored mediocrity.
If I’m being brutally honest, aside from the dismemberment and decapitation mechanics, NeverDead is a goulash of sterile platitudes and worn-out stereotypes. It’s great for a few chuckles right out of the box, but once you’ve been playing for a while, the game’s shortcomings start to pile up pretty quickly. Perhaps my disappointment was magnified because the game had so much potential, but ended up being the same game we all played numerous times ten years ago.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Decent graphics. Immersive maps. 2.5 Control
Clunky controls and poor camera control. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Awful dialogue. Out-of-place musical score. 3.0 Play Value
Severely lacks polish. Almost feels unfinished at times. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best