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On 02/05/2012 at 03:00 PM by Chessa DiMola
Despite sounding great on paper, NeverDead fails in its execution.
I don’t even know which direction to start ripping NeverDead to pieces from first. From the uneven repetitive combat to the unbearably frustrating “health” system, this action game is an absolute disaster.
They say first impressions paint an accurate picture of what you can expect and that’s certainly the case with NeverDead. Players begin by viewing a cutscene starring a male and female protagonist engaged in a cliché conversation with an odd looking enemy set 500 years in the past. As the scene fades, players are thrown into battle with the strange antagonist who nimbly leaps along high pillars and comes zooming at the player on the ground.
So now, armed with zero knowledge of how to play the game, players are expected to defeat this hideous creature. After a few seconds, players will learn how to jump, dodge, and shoot their dual-wielded guns; seemingly some pretty basic mechanics. Unfortunately, the shooting is unbelievably inaccurate and dodging is painfully slow. Needless to say, trying to shoot something that’s moving around at a rapid rate while getting accustomed to the controls and getting pummeled by said enemy makes for an awesome introduction.
After that jolly good time, the story transitions to the current time period, which features a busty female, Arcadia, who enjoys bossing around and shooting our brutish immortal progatonist, Bryce. As a demon bounty hunter, he aids Arcadia in protecting the city from a demon invasion which is threatening to destroy all of humanity; a cliché story, sure, but one that could be done right given the proper setting, plot, and gameplay. None of which NeverDead has.
Once the two protagonists are introduced, the game wastes no time throwing players right into the action. In the first level, players will learn how to use their two main weapons (sword and dual-wielding guns), in addition to being introduced to their first set of demons. This is also where players will familiarize themselves with the health system which, in concept, seems really neat... not so much in execution. See, one of the main focuses of NeverDead is that Bryce is immortal and as such cannot die (duh). Instead, as he’s attacked he’ll slowly be hacked apart, forcing players to combat enemies with whatever pieces of him are still connected, all while trying to put him back together again.
When the health system does decide to work this way, the result is actually fairly entertaining. Lost both arms? No problem, Bryce can still headbutt and kick. Lost one arm and a leg? You can still shoot with one hand while bouncing around on one leg. All it takes for Bryce to gather himself back together again is to roll over the lost limbs, or regenerate them after a meter fills up over time. Sadly, this funny little twist on a health system is rarely able to be enjoyed, as players will most likely find themselves being decapitated most of the time; an issue that is frustrating for multiple reasons.
First and foremost, decapitation is the only way in which players can actually “die.” As players roll around trying to find their headless torso, little creatures resembling mines are scattered about and will try to suck up Bryce’s head. Get caught in one of their suction streams and players will find themselves in a mini-game wherein they will have one opportunity to stop a sliding bar at the right spot, or else restart the area. The only defense players have against these creatures is a charged roll, which rarely kills the enemy and usually sends the head flying across the screen past the torso they need to connect with. These issues are only exacerbated by the camera's view when players are controlling the decapitated head. Because the camera follows the character's view when just the head is rolling, the camera often zooms all the way in, preventing players from getting a good look at what is around them.
To top all of this off, unlike reconnecting the rest of the limbs, players can only attach the head to Bryce’s neck. Since it isn’t easy to distinguish which end of the torso is which, players will often find themselves smashing into the wrong end of Bryce’s torso, all while trying to avoid capture. Thankfully Bryce’s partner Arcadia isn’t completely useless and will often dispose of an enemy or two herself, giving players some breathing room to pull themselves back together, literally. This is made worse by the fact that constant decapitation is nearly unavoidable thanks to the frantic combat situations players will continually find themselves in.
True to its adherence to the action genre, NeverDead contains plenty of combat, but little else. As such, players will walk into a room, battle hordes of enemies that will swarm relentlessly, and then repeat throughout the entire area. For goodness sakes, after completing four levels the majority of enemies I fought were still from the first level.
Repetition is probably the least negative aspect of the combat though. NeverDead tries to create depth by doing things that don’t work in execution, or that actually wind up hurting the player. To give an example, as players engage in combat with their enemies, they’ll more than likely wind up smashing a column, breaking a window, or destroying some random object. Unlike most games, these pieces of debris don’t disappear; instead, they fall to the ground creating a sea of things to bump into while trying to fight off enemies from every direction. Given that the camera rarely ever focuses on what the player needs it to, hitting into objects (especially without knowing it) becomes a huge problem.
Then you have probably the biggest flaw in the game’s design, which is squandering the ability to fully utilize the strengths of both weapon types. Because players will be left battling large numbers of enemies in close quarters so often, they will be forced to use the only weapon that can destroy several enemies at once quickly; their sword. In fact, with the exception of the few enemies that required me to shoot, I never used my guns. The fact that the guns are so drastically underpowered never enticed me to use them either. Even after picking up stronger weapons, including a shotgun, my firepower never felt stronger.
The upgrade system also fell short, especially since most of the upgrades seemingly did nothing. After buying two firearm power ups, it still took just as long to kill enemies. I bought an upgrade that would “snap” to the closest enemy in first person mode, but it didn’t. Then there was one to make my head roll more accurately (it didn’t), one to make my bullets fly less erratically (it didn’t help), and…well, you get the point.
In between all the frustrating gameplay, NeverDead attempts to intrigue players with its back and forth story featuring the unnamed protagonist from long ago. Had it not been really obvious from the beginning that he was just Bryce before he was cursed, it probably would have provided for some decent motivation to endure such awful gameplay.
As hard as I try to, I cannot think of one redeeming quality NeverDead has that would ever make me consider recommending the experience to someone else. Regardless of all its issues, even if I ignore so many of its glaring flaws, there’s just no substance to the game. It’s room after room of the same enemies to kill in the exact same ways while trying to overcome a dozen maddening problems.