Developer: Rebellion Developments
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
In the age of sequels and “threequels”, it’s always good to see a brand new IP brought to the masses. Konami and Rebellion have done exactly that with NeverDead, a third person shooter with a difference. With the game’s interesting take on death, and Shinta Nojiri, a man who has had pivotal roles in the Metal Gear series, at the helm, NeverDead has a lot of pedigree behind it.
But, the third person shooter genre is one that is always growing, and has a lot of heavy-hitters as it is with the likes of Gears of War, Uncharted and Mass Effect. So, where does the undead, demon hunter adventure of NeverDead stack up against the big guns? Does it pass its predecessors and live on forever more, or does it just drop the first two syllables in its title and become straight up “Dead”?
STORY: You are the demon hunter, Bryce Boltzmann, who is a demon himself. However, 500 years ago, you were just a mere mortal in a battle with the demon king, Astaroth. Boltzmann was cursed with immortality after his wife was brutally murdered by the nasty Astaroth in said battle. So, fast forward to present day, and Bryce is a vengeful soul that wants retribution for his wife’s death…and money for booze and fags. Every demon hunter has to let his hair down I guess. In the modern day, you are accompanied by your NADA (National Anti-Demon Agency) partner, Arcadia Maximille who employs you to help with the slaying of demons. Bryce must try and stop the emerging demonic plague and save the Earth from being overrun by Astaroth and his merry band of snarling creatures. Mental.
GRAPHICS: Throughout NeverDead, there are a number of different environments with varying degrees of colour and atmosphere. In one of the areas, you battle demons in dark and dingy sewers where there is a cold and uneasy feeling to the proceedings. This is a stark contrast to some other places in NeverDead like an apartment you frequent on occasion. The amount of different locations is a nice touch and keeps the experience from getting stale. However, there is nothing special about any of them. It doesn’t look awful, but it isn’t mind-blowing. It’s just fine. Character models are quite good without being brilliant, in particular, the protagonist, Bryce Boltzmann, along with a few of the enemies you face off against.
Destruction is a also a major part of NeverDead. Pillars, walls, ceilings and so much more can be ripped from their foundations and fall on unsuspecting enemies to lend you a helping hand. Some objects look better than others when tumbling to the ground, but sadly there is an inconsistency. Some walls will crumble if you slash your blade toward it, but a wire fence or glass window may not even budge.
SOUND: One of the major failings in this entire game is sound, and from the word go too. Firstly, the music makes no real lasting impression on the whole, the score is terribly unfocused, jumping from overly ambient tracks that resemble a Múm b-side, to heavy metal tracks that a young Metallica would be embarrassed to play in their garage. The title track, which is actually performed by Megadeth, is ok, but that’s about it. Two particular metal offerings always appear in the heat of battle and begin to become laughable with their regularity, and their annoying four note riff being repeated over and over and over and over. They soon become the, “Ok, I’m about to fight some baddies now” songs.
The voice work is some of the worst I’ve heard in a while, with cheesy one-liners being the order of the day. From the prologue, this is evident, the first villain in the game is a mix between the campy delivery of Alan Carr and a character design based on Lou Ferrigno. The over-the-topness wouldn’t be so bad if it was done in an ironic sense, but it’s not, at all. The constant one-liners are meant to be hilarious and if they are, it’s a case of, “so bad, it’s good” syndrome. For example, the female lead in the game had one doosey that summed up the acting for me; “You know what bugs me, eggs over easy and bad jokes”, I guess she wasn’t the biggest fan of the VO work either.
From a technical standpoint, it’s also really poorly mixed down. There are a number of times where the music overpowers the dialogue and without subtitles turned on, you may miss some of that “comedy gold”. Seriously though, something as simple as levelling the audio should be done properly and the player should be able to hear every line of dialogue clearly and distinctly.
GAMEPLAY: Thankfully, the gameplay is quite fun and frantic. Basically, there are two ways to play NeverDead; as a shooter, or as a hack n’ slash. The gunplay in the game is flawed to a certain degree. Some weaponry is far more powerful than others, making some guns irrelevant, and the aiming isn’t up to its competitors standards either, with the camera being erratic at times and the aiming not as tight as it should be. However, one bonus with the guns is being able to dual wield any two of the 5 available in-game, at any time. So, you can have an SMG in one hand and a grenade launcher in the other. As I said though, the combat is frantic, which makes wielding a sword way more fun! The butterfly blade (the first sword you have in the game, which can be upgraded) turns this game into God of War rather than Gears of War and is all the better for it. Enemies come at you at an alarming rate and with the fluidity of blade’s movements, you control it with the right analogue stick, the swordplay is the way this game should be played for the most part. Using the right analogue makes more sense in this case than if the face buttons were used.
The game’s main selling point is the fact that you can’t die. There is no “failed mission” screen, other than a few occurrences such as your dismembered head being digested by an enemy called a Grandbaby, your partner dying, or falling off of certain areas, but that last one is rare. If an enemy attacks you, you may lose an arm, a leg, or you may be completely dismembered altogether. When you lose an arm, a leg or any of your limbs, you must roll over them to re-attach yourself, find a regeneration item or wait for a short time and you will be able to regenerate with the click of a button. I must say, the immortality aspect is cool. It is a nice original touch that, after a while can get irritating because it can happen a good few times, but for the majority of the adventure, it is something that makes this game stand out.
Like many shooters nowadays, you are facing your foes with someone by your side. In this case, Agent Arcadia Maximille is redundant. She fires her gun on occasion, may even kill an enemy or two, but you wouldn’t miss her. There is also a revive mechanic in NeverDead, as seen in other games like Gears and Saints Row, which is again rarely used as, in fairness to Arcadia, she tends to be able to dodge the snarling demons.
One of the greatest tricks that developers can play on the gamer is hiding the repetitiveness of video games. More often than not, some of our favourite video games are the same thing over and over for 10 or so hours. Shoot the bad guy, run to the next area, rinse and repeat. NeverDead does exactly that, it repeats. But sadly, whilst playing, it’s really noticeable and becomes boring. There are a number of reasons for this. There are only a handful of enemies in the game and then there are a few slight variants on those aforementioned enemies. Throughout the game there are also a few puzzles, but the word “puzzle” is used very lightly. Other than one or two occasions, they too, become repetitive.
Boss fights in the game are really disappointing too. Other than one, maybe two, in particular that are really cleverly done, the bulk of these are mundane, regular old boss fights. That’s a shame because so many interesting things could’ve been done with the combat because of Bryce’s separating limbs. You can perform certain melee moves without your arms and perform a Sonic The Hedgehog style spindash when you are sporting just your cranium, but when you’re missing any body part, the main aim is to put yourself back together really.
LONGEVITY: The single player portion doesn’t have anything major to keep you coming back for more once it’s completed. There are certain little collectibles that are scattered around each mission, but they feel like they’ve been put into the game because, that’s what games do now, have silly and pointless collectibles. Something that’s more useful is the XP system. Whenever you kill an enemy, or collect XP icons in the world, you gain more XP points which you can then use to upgrade your demon slayer. Whether it is an improved range in blade swiping, better manoeuvrability when decapitated or something as simple as sprinting.
The online multiplayer portion of the game comes in the form of challenges. There are 13 challenges in total, spread across many areas you encounter in the campaign. Within the challenges are four subcategories; Onslaught (where you fight wave after wave of demons), Search and Rescue (evacuate civilians from an area), Egg Hunt (Hunt for eggs..duh) and Fragile Alliance (race against others through a number of checkpoints). There’s a good bit of divergence in here with a mix of co-op and competitive action for you to sink your teeth into once you’ve finished the main game.
VERDICT: Sadly, this could’ve been so much more. A brand new game with new characters and an innovative take on death doesn’t save NeverDead from the predictable and formulaic combat. It tries so many things, for which it is commendable, but falls short on so much more. With the awful acting, the volatile camera and sub-par gunplay, NeverDead doesn’t stack up well against its peers in the third person shooter world. But, it isn’t all doom and gloom, as I’ve said, the dismemberment, even though that can tend to get annoying at times, is really creative and the swordplay does improve the enjoyable nature of the combat. All in all, even though there are some interesting elements to NeverDead, it falls short on more than it excels in.