Bryce Boltzmann: Your deeds shall not go unpunished! I shall destroy you for my honour, and for that of my family!
Really big demon dude: Hnnnrrrggghhh, you would think that of the last two thousand years, you pitiful humans would come up with something…original.
If that line doesn’t give you an indication of what’s in store for Neverdead, then prepare yourself, for a game that oozes originality, but also happens to find itself bogged down with several other pus-filled extremities.
Set in a world where demons are real and dangerous, Neverdead follows the adventures of Bryce Boltzmann, a sword/gun for hire that specialises in an extreme version of ghost-busting, as he tackles various supernatural problems alongside his icy and annoying teammate, Arcadia.
Cursed with immortality, Bolztmann is impossible to kill, no matter how many of his limbs are removed or how many times his head is cut off from his body. It’s a unique premise that does give the game an original edge, but unfortunately, it’s this very uniqueness that winds up hindering Neverdead.
Having been transformed into a Monty Python joke for the past 500 years, Boltzmann works for the National Anti-Demon Agency, rooting out the horrid creatures for a day job. What seems to be a regular Tuesday of demon-hunting however, soon turns into a massive conspiracy theory, revolving around an end of the world scenario and an ear-bleedingly annoying teen pop star.
Sure, it may be aiming for a grindhouse style of movie horror and appeal, but at least films such as that have the common decency to not take themselves seriously, something that has been completely forgotten in Neverdead.
Boltzmann himself, is a likeable, apathetic character who makes routine quips and one-liners when the action is heavy and the limbs are scattered, but he’s the exception to the rule, as the rest of the cast hinges on Bulletstorm levels of hate and revulsion, as they do very little to stand above their 0.5 dimensional roles.
Arcadia is a piece of eye-candy with an aggravatingly icy demeanour that serves very little purpose other than to stand around and act as monster-bait, while teen-pop sensation Nicci Summerfield somehow manages to be a beyond-irritating point of view character that shrieks out brain-liquefying lines and clichés.
But hey, at least the cut-scenes are skippable, and the game comes with sound and subtitle options, so think of it as an optional version of hell. But lets talk about the gameplay, which tries to present several unique ideas and combine them into one fluid experience.
It’s not very successful at this.
Bryce, as mentioned previously, is unkillable, but that doesn’t mean that he’s unstoppable. Bryce can dish out quite a bit of damage, but he cannot take it, as he’s more fragile than a wet tissue in a hurricane.
If an enemy even looks at you, Boltzmann will go to pieces, and while this won’t spell game over, it will open the doors for demonic beach-balls to appear, small creatures that are constantly wandering around waiting for an opportunity to devour your head. Get stuck inside their bellies, and you have a small chance to win a small quick-time event and escape, otherwise, it’s an eternity of tasting stomach acids.
But outside of the gastro-prison, things are different, as Bryce can roll around and re-attach his limbs, by having to drop-jump into each one that has been dropped, every time.
It’s a convoluted method that doesn’t always work, one that could have been solved by allowing players to simply walk over the limbs to reattach them instead. Imagine dropping the TV remote control, and having to elbow drop the ground in order to get it back.
Bryce himself is a rather sluggish character, running around as if he has just sharted himself, with the unresponsive and slow controls making situations even worse.
That’s no joke, as I went into the menus and turned the X and Y-axis controls to their maximum, hoping that I would have a character who could act and navigate in battle scenarios at a speed that wasn’t glacial at best.
It didn’t help very much.
Fortunately, even if a rogue enemy runs off with your favourite arm, you can always grow back your limbs after your regen meter fills up, and curiously, your appendages return with your original clothing. Still, no one would want to play a game where the protagonist is constantly naked, but it’s a strange note anyway.
Players can also detach their limbs, and use them for several puzzles and battles, and once they’ve been upgraded, you can even hurl an arm into a crowd of demons for a decoy, and then detonate it or leaving it to keep firing bullets, while you can highlander your head off and use it to navigate small areas.
When it comes to combat, Neverdead is a mixed bag of good ideas and failings. Gun combat is handled with dual-wielding, with the left and right bumpers controlling the akimbo action, while hitting the analogue stick button allows for a woefully inadequate lock-on function.
You’ll find yourself swearing quite a bit at the TV, as what should be exciting and action-packed gun kata sequences always wind up with Boltzmann being swarmed by enemies, as the cramped environments are just not conducive to what should be run of the mill fire-fights.
Instead, you’ll be spamming attacks with your melee weapon, a massive sword that can pack itself up into a portable shape. This is one aspect that developer Rebellion got right however, as controlling the sword is an easy and brilliant task, thanks to the right analogue stick being responsible for horizontal and vertical swipes and slashes.
But it’s a very unbalanced form of gameplay, as you’ll find yourself constantly preferring the sword over any firearms, a shame considering some of the great guns that are lying around. But when you’re charging in, bodiless head first after a demon had sneezed at you, waiting to regenerate so that you can hack away again, it becomes an extremely frustrating experience.
Environments, cramped as they may be, are also destructible, allowing for Boltzmann to bring the roof down, in order to crush himself and any nearby enemies, and it’s a gameplay mechanic that also serves a purpose in several boss battles.
Bryce also has several upgradeable abilities, purchased with kills and collectible demon souls, which can be used to enhance him, but only a few can be kept active at a time, at least until players can afford additional skill slots, so you’ll have to choose wisely.
On the visual front, Neverdead doesn’t look too bad actually. A lot of work went into designing Boltzmann, which is evident in his mannerisms and style, while the environments are crammed with breakable objects and the demons look truly threatening and unique, although the Japanese school of religious thought, that has demonic beings always wanting to resemble angels has become tired and clichéd by now.
Bryce may look original and haggard, but his co-stars most certainly don’t. Arcadia is a perfect fusion of no-nonsense blonde ambition and a revealing ensemble, a character design that has been seen countless times, while young Nicci wears so much useless jewellery and shiny spandex, that she glitters like more brightly than entire collection of Twilight vampires.
At least Rebellion got the soundtrack right for Neverdead. A score by cult heavy metal rock band Megadeth blares out during action sequences, perfectly framing monster and Nicci shrieks, while the guns and destructible environment sound realistic and plausible.
Plus, as a fan of good rock music, I’d love to own that Megadeth Neverdead score, more than the game itself.
Neverdead takes a few great ideas, and tries to mix them together, resulting in a game with conflicting styles of action that refuse to play nice with each other. Having a character who is fragile and easily breakable is one thing, and certain aspects of the immortality do work beautifully, but you’ll find yourself spamming melee attacks in situations that just beg for rapid fire gunplay all too often.
Sluggish and painfully clumsy, the few shining aspects of Neverdead are just ruined by the poor choices in design, stripping the uniqueness of the title of any salvageable quality.
Design and Presentation: 7/10
Not exactly bad, Bryce is a great-looking character that carries centuries of torment on his shoulders, and finds himself surrounded by a generic supporting cast. Demons are imaginatively designed, despite feeling familiar at times with their angelic inspirations, while the environments, claustrophobic as they are, present some unique challenges and ideas.
A rocking sound track keeps the game from totally disintegrating, while cheesy dialogue and bad lip-synching provide more laughs than exposition from time to time.
I’d rather rip my thumbs off and see if they’ll regenerate than give Neverdead a second play-through. Once is enough, and while the multiplayer of Neverdead is filled with challenges and scenarios that will test your skill and patience with friends, it’s also gives into the fiendishly unbalanced and annoying gameplay that permeates throughout the title.
While I never really had any particular high hopes for Neverdead, I was hoping for an enjoyable action romp, even if it was generic in nature. I couldn’t even get that however, as the few times that I did find myself enjoying Neverdead, were overshadowed by the various flaws, bugs and unbalanced gameplay, trebucheting my enjoyment into a castle wall of pure excrement and missed opportunities.
I honestly wanted to enjoy Neverdead, but the damned game just wouldn’t let me.
[Reviewed on PS3, played on normal difficulty]
Neverdead was reviewed by Darryn Bonthuys