February 13, 2012, Author: Phil Ubee
Even for someone who regularly follows the video-game industry via the internet, social media, TV and various other outlets, there will inevitably be one or two games a year that get launched without you knowing a great deal about them. Normally these titles will slip under the radar without any fanfare, suddenly appearing on the shelves of your local video-game shop and as such rarely feature at the top of the sales charts regardless of any qualities they might bring to the table. NeverDead is one of those games.
More often than not, games that have this distinct lack of flash PR and OTT marketing campaigns will sit at one of the two extremes of utterly rubbish or complete gem, and large quantities of the gaming public might just miss out on a potential classic.
The question is, does NeverDead sit in the former or latter of those categories? Read on to find out.
Bryce to see you
You take the role of the typically butch Bryce, a rather different kind of action hero. Bryce is an immortal who is over 500 years old and who mixes the ability to drop a one liner like Duke Nukem with the all out strength and attitude of Marcus Fenix. Our hero shows this strength by regularly ripping off his arms to use as bait, or sometimes his head, which he then throws to access those harder to reach areas.
Having lost a battle with the Demon King 500 years ago that not only cost our man his mortality but also his wife, Bryce now works for NADA (The National Anti Demon Agency) and along with his mortal partner, Arcadia Maximille (think Lara croft meets Jill Valentine) is tasked with investigating several incidents of suspected Demon activity without sending the general public into a frenzy.
Dead man walking
Our Hero carries two guns and a Large Sword at all times and you will need to switch between them regularly to get anywhere. Some demons are immune to firearms, meaning you need to get up close and personal with your sword, however, if you think you can get through the whole game only using the sword, think again as some of your enemies are very adept at keeping you at bay and, in some situations, the sheer volume will require you to switch to the guns and let loose.
Once you have collected them you can swap firearms using the D-Pad. Pressing Left will cycle the gun in your left hand while Right will do the same for the right hand, and you’ll get access to all the usual suspects on offer, such as Machine gun, Rifle etc. When the bullets run out you revert to your trusty pistol. Fortunately bullets are in ample supply around the game world so running out entirely is not too much of an issue, but it is worth being selective when you use the bigger guns as those bullets are in much shorter supply.
Targeting is done via the Right analogue stick and clicking the stick in will zoom in allowing you to fire with a bit more accuracy, while you fire with LT and RT, depending on which hand you want to fire from. A tap of the X button reloads your chosen weapons and Y will switch from Guns to Blade and back again.
When wielding the blade, LT will lock onto a particular target while RT is used to block and the blade itself is controlled with the right stick. I personally found this a brilliant touch that gives you far more freedom than having your blade attacks stuck on a face button as per other titles.
Independent of your armed weapon, A is used to jump and B is used to perform a combat roll. Pressing the Left stick in performs a fairly crude mêlée attack consisting of a swift kick or headbutt, and is also used to regenerate limbs (or your entire body) when dismembered. The mêlée attacks are only useful to buy you a bit of time and space or if you’re currently armless and need to get away, as they rarely do much damage.
Speaking of which, one of NeverDead’s unique gameplay mechanics is the concept that Bryce is immortal. You can’t be killed, only dismembered. Get attacked too much and you will lose a leg, an arm or maybe both legs and both arms leaving you wriggling around like a worm trying to escape the hordes of demons gunning for you. The absolute limit though is when you, literally, lose your head and have to roll around the screen trying to find your body parts whilst avoiding the unforgiving Grandbabies.
Grandbabies are a kind of spiked ball that suck up your dismembered head and present one of the only ways you can get a ‘game over’ screen. Once swallowed, you have one chance to escape as the screen changes to a close-up of your head inside the Grandbaby, and you need to hit the A button at the right time to escape. Fail and you are forever confined to the Grandbaby’s insides.
Whilst in this state of dismemberment, you can attack or evade by pressing up on the d-pad and if you can find them, rolling through a body part will attach it leaving you with the rather bizarre situation where you might have two arms and a leg stuck out your head while you try to find your torso. Another thing to note is that you can continue to shoot even when your arms are detached and this presents another very different gameplay element which NeverDead should be applauded for.
The other way to lose is if Arcadia dies, when she takes too much damage you will have a short period of time to revive her or it’s game over. Usually this is pretty easy but there is one level early on where you are on a train line and will both get run down regularly and getting to Arcadia while avoiding the trains and the demons is extremely frustrating.
Outside of the combat, the other key part of the game centres on Bryce unlocking new abilities. These are purchased with XP gained from kills and collecting orbs dotted around the levels. The orbs are almost always in plain sight but there are additionally some hidden collectibles that might be on a high platform, hidden behind a wall or in a pipe or vent that’s only big enough for your head to travel. This adds a slight puzzle element, which also includes needing to open doors that can only be reached as a head or charging yourself with electric or fire to open a pathway.
Dismembering yourself is undoubtedly the element that sets NeverDead apart from other titles in the genre and it uses this mechanic well in the main. Learning the right time to throw an arm, a great way of distracting the smaller demons is a key to success, as is ripping off your head to get to the harder to reach places. The downside is that the puzzle elements grow quite repetitive after a while and with very limited slots for upgraded abilities the desire to push for all the XP and collectibles will soon fade.
You look like death
NeverDead has some decent visuals overall with some incredibly well drawn levels and some pretty crazy looking enemies. The animation of Bryce and the other main characters is also very good and the blood spurts out Monty Python style when you dismember yourself. The bosses are as big and bad as you will see anywhere on home consoles.
However (you knew it was coming, right), in my playthrough I have witnessed quite a few graphical flaws. These include regular drops in frame-rate, enemies that literally just appear in front of you as you turn around, characters floating in mid-air, plus some screen tear. On top of this, on occasion and more when you are reduced to just a head, the camera can get a bit stuck making escaping the Grandbabies a bit of a nuisance. None of this has too negative an effect in terms of the overall experience but it is there and it is quite regular.
The sound is a mixed bag too, though not in quality. In the main menus the background music is a kind of spooky affair that would be comfortable in a zombie flick or accompanying a ghost story. When in-game, during the fight sequences, it is a very much Rock focused. This fully fits the action on-screen and, as Bryce has a fairly Rock look to him, feels completely natural. When the action calms down, the music become quite serene and actually sounds a bit like Hexic. Each of these directions sound great on their own, but it does feel like the background from three different games.
The sound effects are pretty solid, with the odd bird in the background, footsteps when you walk and the weapons all sounding pretty meaty. Explosions pack a realistic punch as does the destruction of the scenery, and overall the voice acting is pretty solid.
Bryce has a few select one-liners, delivered in a fairly gruff, dead-pan manner, which suits the character, but they do become a bit repetitive quite quickly. Likewise other characters are well cast with Nikki in particular being pretty much the perfect, annoying brat.
My biggest gripe with the sound is that far too often the volume of the voices just drops. This actually goes beyond my usual moan about not being able to hear the person next to you unless you are looking directly at them, as it has absolutely nothing to do with distance or even line of sight; it just seems totally at random. You simply have to have the subtitles on or you will miss half the story.
Multiplayer takes the form of challenges with an equal selection of co-op and competitive game modes for up to four players. Co-op challenges are Onslaught; your basic survival mode and has you seeing off waves of demons that gets higher with each round, and Search and Rescue, which has you seeking out civilians and leading them to safety.
Competitive game modes are Egg hunt, which is a bit like capture the flag and sees you finding and retrieving Easter Eggs that you need to get back to a goal area, and Fragile Alliance which is basically a race mode.
Each mode has its merits and there is definitely some fun to be had if you can find people online to get the games going. Unfortunately as NeverDead is not a high-profile release, the numbers online are pretty slim and you need to be prepared to be patient while searching for games or sitting in a lobby.
Dead or alive
NeverDead does a lot of things well and all the while it dares to be different, trying to add something new to the mix to get the player using new ways of reaching platforms, beating puzzles and killing enemies. This is something that it should be applauded for.
Unfortunately, no matter how hard it tries, you cannot fail to notice similarities to other games in the genre. For example the giant sword and XP orbs could be lifted straight from Devil May Cry and Bryce’s one liners are typically Duke Nukem.
The multiplayer, while offering a degree of charm and fun is, frankly, dead and possibly the biggest crime for me is that a game with two protagonists in the campaign does not offer co-op.
Add to that some pretty basic graphical glitches throughout and it’s difficult to wholeheartedly recommend it. Despite all those negatives, though, I have to say this I did find an enjoyable game on the whole. You’d do well to give it a go and decide for yourself.