If you've been paying attention to the site you may remember that I was kind of looking forward to NeverDead, a game that first came to my attention at last year's E3 during the pre-recorded Konami press conference, where we saw a mental trailer in which a guy rips his own head off and throws it at someone in one scene, and then is conversing with a giant, green, buff, Shakespeare looking frog demon thing the next. It looked like exactly the kind of crazy I could get behind, and so I set my expectations somewhere between 'high' and 'cautiously optimistic'. Well here we are a good 7 months later and I've played it! But will it live up to my middling-to-high expectations?...
The game focuses on Bryce, a character with a scarred face, 2 pistols and a sword, and his partner Arcadia. Together they've been assigned to fight demons wherever they may appear, usually causing massive amounts of property damage whilst they do it, and working for a strange corporation that gives them their orders and funds their demon-slaying. Bryce's back story is perhaps the most interesting part if the game, as it becomes quickly apparent that he was alive and killing demons hundreds of years before the start of the main game is set. Bryce, through an unfortunate event we find out about during the game's story, has been made immortal... immortal, but not invulnerable. He still feels pain and can still be mutilated, but his head is always conscious and able to move, and it's this mechanic that aims to set the game apart from other 3rd-person action games.
The gameplay centres around combat and puzzle solving, with Bryce using his guns and swords to get past the varieties of enemies in the game. As Bryce can't "die" in the traditional sense there's no damage meter, instead he will lose limbs if he takes too much damage, eventually getting so badly mutilated that you're left as a head rolling around. If you roll over to your torso your head reattaches and then from the torso you can reattach all your other limbs, either that, or you can wait for the "regen meter" to fill up and just click in the left stick to regenerate all at once... the meter takes a while to fill up though, so you'll have to get used to doing some head-dodging. the enemies you face come in various flavours, from dog-sized demons that lunge at you (and like to play fetch with your detached arms), to walking plant-looking demons with machine guns or missile turrets for heads, to fat demons who hurl objects from around the environment at you and massive bosses that explode you into body parts with the flick of a wrist.
You fight the various swathes of demons by either shooting them, or slicing them, though I'll be honest here, the shooting's terrible. The targeting is kinda 'effed'; the aiming is sluggish and inaccurate and enemies take far too many shoddily-aimed bullets to go down for it to be fun. Bryce's blade on the other hand is much more fun, with the player holding the left trigger/L1 to ready the sword and the right stick to actually swing it. Every swing of the sword requires a flick of the analogue stick, and while obviously stolen from the original idea for Metal Gear Solid: Rising, lets you have an unnecessary amount of control over the direction you can swing. The sword cuts though enemies much faster than bullets, so it was what I focused on with my upgrades (more on those in a minute). The game is about 90% combat, and it approaches it's fights in pretty much the most disappointingly standard way possible: The player enters a room, then all the exits to the room are sealed, and "demon wombs" appear and start spawning enemies. You have to destroy these wombs or the enemies will just keep on getting spawned, and then, once you clear the room of enemies the exits open up and you can progress onto the next room, which will feature almost the exact same scenario. Every so often a puzzle will interrupt this, usually requiring you to rip your head off and get it through a small space, much like the morphball in Metroid. The combat gets really repetitive really old, really quickly, though it is helped by a neat mechanic which lets you do loads of damage to enemies by destroying objects and scenery in the world and having the debris fall on them, but even that isn't reliable enough to be a permanent tactic during battles.
The combat, while BARELY varied enough to just about sustain a full length game, has a slightly bigger flaw that is, for lack of a better word, unforgivable. In every fight there are little round creatures rolling around, who can't do damage to you directly, until you've been dismembered. They roll over to any limbs you lose and suck them in, not letting you get the limb back unless you either use some of you regen meter, or kill the creature. The disaster comes when these creatures suck up your head. If they suck up your head, and you fail the button press afterwards, then it's game over. Yes, you read that right, in the game "NEVERDead" you can fucking DIE. Why?!?! Why did they feel the need to include this? The one unique conceit the game would have over other third-person action games is that your character can't die, and yet you find out they haven't adhered to that within the first fucking hour. The first time my head got sucked inside one of these creatures and it gave me a game over screen my jaw hit the floor, what an unbelievable mis-step! Why was it necessary??? All the 'game over' does is force you back to your last checkpoint anyway, so the penalty of death is as minimal as it could possibly be, literally making the inclusion of these creatures bafflingly pointless, seemingly only there to piss you the fuck off. Absolutely retarded.
There's a small glimmer of hope, aside from the usual array of collectibles every game under the sun requires nowadays (yes, there are collectibles in here aswell), there is exp everywhere. Everywhere you go there are red icons you can pick up that give you exp, which factors into the game's upgrade system. You only have a set number of slots for Bryce, with more powerful upgrades taking up more slots. The upgrades are varied and actually pretty clever, ranging from simply increasing sword damage, to letting you jump higher, to crazy upgrades like an upgrade that auto-dodges attacks for you, or letting you turn your self-dismembered limbs into grenades or land mines. You can buy more slots and switch upgrades out whenever you like, conceivably allowing you to switch tactics mid-battle, but that would be far too much trouble for a game with such tedious combat. The fact that everywhere you go there are experience giving pick-ups is actually pretty cool, it means you're always working towards better upgrades and it encourages exploration in a non-invasive way. It was a neat touch, and a pleasant surprise amongst the disappointment of the rest of the game.
I think you can probably tell by now that the game wasn't everything I was hoping it was cracked up to be, but I need to make an important clarification here, I didn't complete the game. I suffered a problem in my PS3 review copy whereby after my first 6-hour play session, upon turning the game on the next day, it had not saved any of my progress. I contacted the PR firm that sent me the game and they assured me that nobody else had a similar problem, which is good news, but obviously unfortunate for me. That being said, it's not that I don't think this review is trustworthy (6 hours was MORE than enough time for me to give it the score it got) but for all I know the latter parts of the game's story MAY be epic and turn the whole thing around, and while I highly doubt it will, I intend to play the game all the way through post-release, so I'll obviously let you guys know is that happens. Also, in the interest of full transparency, there's a multiplayer mode to the game, but I couldn't connect the PS3 to the internet, so I have no idea how that would even play.
I felt very let down by NeverDead, in almost every way possible: The combat was dull; the game didn't save my progress; the story progresses in an incredibly Japanese way, that was kind of a bit too obvious (you'll see); the controls are loose and unresponsive and you actually CAN die. The few bright spots (the upgrade system, the interesting universe and back stories) are dwarfed by the glaring mistakes and design decisions that almost cripple the game. I feel like there is fun to be had in NeverDead, if you know what to expect and prepare yourself for it, but not for the price of a brand new retail game. If you see this in the bargain bin in the next few months (which is likely) it may be worth the price of admission for a tenner, and ofcourse if you rent games there's no reason not to atleast give it a try, but if you do give it a go then do yourself a favour... ignore that it's called NeverDead. That name's just a massive dick move from Konami. Not cool guys, not cool...