Developer: Rebellion
Publisher: Konami
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: Single player campaign, 2-4 online.
Words By:

What if you really were really invincible, indestructible, like a modern day Captain Scarlet, only a lot grungier and not a puppet with visible strings? Bryce Boltzmann (yes, that really is our hero’s name) is immortal, made to walk the Earth for 500 years as a punishment for attempting to kill Astaroth, the King of the Demons.

This punishment is dealt out by Astaroth after a battle that cost Bryce an eye and the life of his beloved wife. In the intervening years Bryce has become dependent on alcohol to dull the pain, and has now been recruited by NADA (the National Anti-Demon Agency) to hunt for demons and remove them from the Earth by any means available.

Playing a bit like Gears of War/Devil May Cry hybrid, Bryce is accompanied by an AI-controlled partner named Arcadia, who does her fair share of fighting, wisecracking and getting knocked down at the most inopportune moments so you have to go revive her. You’ll also have to unlock doors for her and find alternative routes that she can use to access the next section of a level-it’s not exactly an original plot element but the way you do it is...

As the most bizarre immortal I’ve ever seen Bryce can literally be torn limb from limb, so that his head, legs, arms and torso are all separate elements. This happens frequently unless you play in an extremely cautious and boring way, and when Bryce’s bodyparts are spread akimbo like this you remain in control of Bryce’s head, and can roll and jump it around the level, accessing areas too small to get into with a whole body and solving simple puzzles. Later on you can also unlock the ability to detach an arm and throw it, attracting the Puppy demons and retaining the ability to fire the weapon in Bryce’s detached hand. Bryce’s arms and legs can even be used as grenades or mines.

In the main the action is full on, run & gun shooting with a fair amount of circle strafing and all the other tricks you’ve learned in other games. Bryce can dual-wield so if he loses one arm in a fight he can keep shooting with the other. Bryce starts off with a couple of snazzy pistols and later unlocks sub-machine guns, a shotgun, assault rifle and a powerful grenade launcher. You can even have a shotgun in one hand and a machine gun or pistol in the other, blasting away at everything that moves as for the most part.

The action is often too frantic and up-close for firearms so Bryce is often (and depending on the type of demon) better off using his Butterfly Blade sword, locking on to enemies with the left trigger and moving the right stick up/down or left/right to slash 'em. Bryce also has a kick or head butt (left stick click) but this seems virtually pointless.

When overwhelmed and dismembered it’s possible for Bryce to get his head eaten by certain little amoeba-like demons called “Grandbabies”, and this is the only way that Bryce can “die.” You can save him from being digested in a Grandbaby’s guts via a quick “stop the converging lines as they meet” mini game, then recover Bryce’s body and limbs by rolling around and finding them and off you go again. Failure simply means restarting from a nearby checkpoint. You really can’t die in NeverDead, and the only other way to fail a level is for Arcadia to get killed because you don't revive her in time.

All of the weapons are upgradeable and so is Bryce, but the restrictive number of ability slots is a necessary RPG-style annoyance. With every upgrade available Bryce would be too powerful, so while you’ll have to discard some spectacular and handy powers along the way, it’s worth experimenting as you unlock new ones. This does however add an RPG element to an action shooter that didn’t really need it and this need to balance powerful attacks with tough defence and other abilities (like a Max Payne bullet time-style upgrade that automatically slows the action down when you’re in danger) is highly reminiscent of Devil May Cry at times.

Brief lulls in the action while you explore a new area soon come to a clattering end when the demons start to spawn, and the first task is to find their Womb spawn points and destroy them, or they will literally keep coming forever. The levels are a mixture of bland everyday locations, supplemented with some truly awesome set piece moments that are over far too quickly compared to the repetitive nature of the vast majority of the game’s fighting action.

The enemy demons are an over-the-top but imaginative mixture, some are comical and some hideous (the common basic “Spoons” look like giant crabs with lawn edgers for heads and will look familiar to anyone who played the Oddworld games) but they all want to eat Bryce and Arcadia’s faces off and take over the Earth, so treat them all with similar contempt. There are disappointingly predictable and regular lengthy battles with oversized “boss” demons but they aren’t too frequent, are usually dead easy (as long as your patient enough) and break up the repetitious normal action. I mentioned earlier that ammo is rarely in short supply but this however changes radically with each and every boss battle, and I seemed to end up chunking away at the boss demons with pistols each and every time, with a permanently respawning box of pistol ammo the only thing to keep Bryce’s ammo topped up. This suggests a lack of forethought and/or testing, or if I’m being more cynical a desire to lengthen the game artificially.

NeverDead’s problems are with the aforementioned repetition in the run & gun gameplay (there’s nothing as clever as Gears of War’s cover mode, so it’s mostly circle-strafing) and its linear, samey levels, uninspiring upgrades and a less than elegant sword fighting mechanic. The game also has regular cut-scenes and the banter is corny and actually quite painful to listen to (I often wonder how they actually get real actors to say dialogue when it sounds so daft or hackneyed), but at least it’s not as bad as the music, which you will need to turn down or off unless your idea of aural pleasure is a particular breed of ear-rending cack most often played in Guantánamo Bay to force confessions from suspected terrorists.

If you get fed up with the solo game (and I did after a couple of hours) there are 13 multiplayer game modes to try out. They allow you to choose from a selection of the in–game characters you meet, upgrade them and play a Gears of War Horde-style survival game, search and rescue of civilians and egg hunt co-op challenges. I had trouble finding a game with a full compliment but hopefully as more people buy the game the online modes will become more popular because they’re actually pretty good, though pale in comparison to Gears 3’s outstanding online play.

And finally, it may have been intentional but anti-hero Bryce also comes off as a complete umm... wanker, he’s not easy to like and comes with a gobful of frequently repeated wisecracks and a personality and attitude that may have you willing the demons to win.

Best Bits

- Interesting, if contrived gameplay gimmick.
Worst Bits

- The gimmick's potential never seems to be reralised.
- Some fussy collision detection.
- The upgradeable firearms are disappointingly weak at the start.
- Twitchy, glitchy camera when in “head” mode.
- Samey, closed-in and linear gameplay feels old.
- Aiming is broken and switches targets arbitrarily.

by: Diddly

Copyright © Gamecell 2012