Giant Bomb Review

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NeverDead Review

2
  • X360

NeverDead's one-note dismemberment gimmick wears out its welcome long before you reach the game's miserable conclusion.

Only a few arduous hours into NeverDead's campaign, its title suddenly sounds much less like a potential boon than a veiled threat. By that point, the developers at Rebellion have long since shown their hand. You've seen every mechanic, concept, and joke the game has to offer, but you still have several more hours of those exact things to slog through. The same cheesy one-liners, the same cumbersome combat sequences, the same idiotic puzzle sequences, it all just keeps repeating itself for hours and hours until it finally gets around to tossing out two of the most poorly-designed boss fights in recallable memory. By the time you're ready for NeverDead's campaign to be over with, it won't be anywhere near so. It just...won't...die.

Try not to lose your head playing NeverDead. Seriously, don't. It's really frustrating when you do.

That's perhaps fitting, given that NeverDead's conception of immortality is something akin to Sisyphean torment. Its lead character, the blandly grizzled Bryce Boltzmann, has lived for centuries thanks to an ill-defined curse by some manner of demonic asshole. When mortal injury strikes Bryce, he doesn't so much get hurt as he does just kind of burst apart at the seams. Remember those old Incredible Crash Test Dummies action figures? The ones that exploded at the arms, legs, and neck if you breathed on them too hard? That's Bryce in a nutshell.

That's also NeverDead's sole distinction. Rebellion has centered the entirety of this aggressively unpleasant character action game's design around Bryce's constantly crumbling frame. The slightest brush from a nearby enemy will send any number of limbs flying, which Bryce then has to scramble to pick back up (or find a nearby regeneration icon to magically regrow them). It's even nuttier when Bryce's skull pops off, in that you suddenly find yourself in control of a severed head that feels a little bit like what would happen if a Katamari could verbally curse its own existence.

When you aren't frantically trying to reassemble yourself, you're fighting off generically grotesque demon grunts in rooms that receive those wonderful magical demon barriers that block the exit until you've killed every last one of them, as well as the "womb" that barfs them out ceaselessly until you destroy it. You can choose to do so either with the game's clunky gun combat--aiming barely functions at all unless you go into the more precise aiming mode, which also happens to slow you down immensely--or use Bryce's comically oversized sword, which you can't swing unless you press the lock-on button, and then use the right analog stick to swing with. Imagine the shot stick in EA's NHL series, but about a thousand times less functional; that's the idea here.

The controls and combat aiming are cumbersome enough without NeverDead's myriad camera problems. Thanks to your general inability to see what the hell is going on around you, battles tend to devolve into chaotic messes in which you just swing your sword wildly and assume you're hitting things. The destructible environments--which are pretty much NeverDead's sole visual element worth lauding--also do damage to enemies, so in a sense, your best bet in most non-boss combat scenarios is to just wave your sword around like a crazed lunatic and explode every piece of scenery you can, because odds are some of that stuff will hit enemies and kill them, or maybe your sword will, or maybe they'll just knock your head off and it'll get sucked up by those skull-eating demons that skitter around every single level.

What is this even supposed to be?

That's NeverDead's way of creating some semblance of a "lose" condition. After all, Bryce is technically immortal, so how do you create a game around a guy you can't kill? By bringing out demons that will suck up your severed head in a second, if you aren't careful. Once it does devour your head, a brief, timing-based minigame pops up that, if successful, flings your head back out into the battle zone. If you fail, your head remains in that demon's digestive tract forever.

It's a potentially amusing little spin on the idea of video game death that becomes decidedly unamusing when you bump up against NeverDead's half-busted physics. Once your head pops off, your body goes all rag doll, and sometimes lands in positions that makes it nigh-on impossible to actually reattach yourself. Never mind that you're a pitiful head rolling around a dizzying and chaotic battlefield in which demons will often knock you back dozens of feet just by bumping into you. In one level section, I spent upwards of 10 minutes just trying to reattach my head. Whether it was getting sucked into a demon's belly, getting knocked back to the opposite side of the level, or getting knocked into a wall I literally could not escape from without restarting from the last checkpoint, every single possible factor combined to award this moment as one of the single most irritating gameplay experiences I've ever endured.

Incidentally, that award only lasted for about four hours, because later in the game, I came across the game's second-to-last boss, which then ripped that dubious award away for itself. To put it succinctly, NeverDead's boss fights are obnoxious, laborious affairs that test your patience far more than your skill. Everything is pretty much just a variation on "hit the weak point until it morphs into something else, then hit that something else's weak point," with only the occasional life-regenerating quirk thrown in for good measure. It's bad in the beginning, still bad in the middle, and by the time you get to the last couple of boss fights, you'll wish you'd never put this disc in your console to begin with. There is challenge, there is frustration, and then somewhere, thousands of feet beyond frustration, there is NeverDead, gleefully flipping you off as you endure yet another horrendous boss fight.

What's really baffling about NeverDead is how utterly pointless all of it feels. Even the most superfluously silly games usually try to justify their existence in some way, either by being somewhat funny, or doing something that feels remotely unique. Instead, NeverDead puts all of its chips on its barely-amusing-for-a-minute dismemberment gimmick, and then proceeds to do absolutely nothing to build out the rest of the world around it. It's as if someone with a genuine disdain for the games of Suda 51 sat there, trying to pick apart what it is that people like so damn much about his works, then proceeded to didactically try to assemble those ideas into a game without ever completely understanding them.

Presumably Arcadia is there to titillate, but all she does is irritate.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the game's story, which might as well not even exist. The back story of Bryce is told through a few cheesy cutscenes in which we learn all about how he and his demon-hunting wife were defeated by the earlier-mentioned demonic jerk, leaving her dead and him forever cursed. Knowing this back story does little to endear Bryce to the audience, as the tragedy of his former life and the shittiness of his current life never quite come together into something you'll remotely care about.

The real issue is that Bryce's role as a modern day demon hunter is severely underwritten. He's a pile of really annoying one-liners--most of which involve hacky passes at his female compatriot, a non-immortal human named Arcadia--and no actual personality. He bitches ad infinitum whenever he loses a limb, repeating the same three or four lines until you actually get around to regrowing whatever limb he lost. His sexual deviancy and utter disregard for personal hygiene elicit mild chuckles during their first couple of examples, but by the hundredth time you've heard Bryce crack the same basic one-liner he's been cracking all game long, you'll really wish he could be killed. Immediately.

The surrounding cast and plot is no better. Your companion Arcadia is written as little more than sarcastic cleavage that you have to rescue a tad too often (except when you can't because demons keep knocking your damn head off). The demons you hunt are largely bland monsters devoid of personality. The sole exception is Sangria, a Duke of Hell with the personality of a Southern dandy and the visual aesthetic of Mark McKinney's Chicken Lady by way of a catastrophic acid trip. He's such an over-the-top goof that at a point, I almost started rooting for him to make good on his evil plan and dispatch Bryce and company. That evil plan, by the way, inexplicably involves a petulant teenage pop singer who looks like she wandered in out of a dinner theater production of Final Fantasy X-2. You will hate her.

This is nowhere near as cathartic as it should be.

Therein lies NeverDead's greatest failure--it mistakes lazy sarcasm spouted by lousy characters for clever outsider humor. Suda 51 has made his reputation crafting very strange games around very strange characters who sometimes aren't immediately likable. The difference between what Suda does and what Rebellion has done here is that Suda still finds time to add layers to his characters that make them far more interesting than they initially appear. Even a chucklehead badass like Shadows of the Damned's Garcia Hotspur morphs into something far more interesting as that game goes along, due in no small part to unexpected character touches and unpredictable humor. The writers of NeverDead never find a way to deliver any more than the expected. Bryce never morphs into anything beyond what we expect him to become. His personality never grows into anything worth laughing at, let alone sympathize with.

And that's not even to mention the variety of technical gaffes and awkwardly built mechanics that permeate much of NeverDead's experience. Certainly Suda's games are known for their sometimes frustrating jankiness, but that's pretty much all NeverDead consists of. It's all of the jank with none of the charm.

I haven't even mentioned NeverDead's multiplayer component--a cooperative arena battle style mode that brings to bear all the worst traits of the single-player combat, and somehow makes things even more chaotic--but at this point, do I really need to? Nothing about NeverDead works, even when it's working as intended. No amount of perfunctory challenge maps can make up for a game design so functionally lazy, so utterly indifferent to your enjoyment, that it can't even be bothered to make its lone gimmick work even slightly well within its hacked-together world. If the developers in charge of NeverDead didn't care enough to make it a remotely enjoyable experience, why should you care enough to bother with it?

Alex Navarro on Google+
96 Comments
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Posted by MildMolasses

Reading this review, I don't understand where the second star came from. It reads like a one star review

Edited by iAmJohn

@theodacourt said:

This definitely sounds like a one or zero star game. What redeeming features does it have? (or doesn't it have any?)

@MildMolasses said:

Reading this review, I don't understand where the second star came from. It reads like a one star review

Because you asked:

@Alex said:

@kerikxi: I considered [giving it one star], but stacking it up against games like Blackwater, Velvet Assassin, and everything else that's gotten a one star review around here, I couldn't quite bring myself to do it. I dislike this game rather vehemently, but I can't call it the kind of soul-sucking clusterfuck that those other games most certainly are. It's a bad game with few redeeming qualities, but it's not a thermonuclear disaster, either.

I would also just like to point out that I think the whole "questioning why something is a two-star review instead of a one-star review" thing is silly and beside the point. What is the difference if it's "irredeemably awful" or "awful, but not the kind of awful that made me want to dump acid in my eyes"? All that matters is that Alex is telling you not to play it, guys.

Posted by apoloimagod

All that flak and 2 stars? Sounds like it deserved no more than 1.

Posted by Catarrhal

"And that band… is Megadeth."

Posted by Driadon

Err...at least the screenshots posted look pretty, a lot of the shader work looks really damn good. That said, not gonna buy this in a million years.

Posted by Stahlbrand

So, by proving the mutual inverse of the hypothesis that Japanese developers can't try to cater to Western tastes without embarrassing everybody involved, can we postulate therefore that developers should stick to their strengths, or at least never try to adopt the trappings of developers with distinctly different contexts?

Posted by WilltheMagicAsian

@Stahlbrand: So when did Rebellion become Japanese developers?

Posted by Nux

Poor Alax always getting the bad games.

Posted by Little_Socrates

I didn't think this game was actually going to get a review, but I guess the trend of Alex playing garbage games continues?

Posted by Freshbandito

@WilltheMagicAsian: what he's saying is that this is the mutual inverse, a western developer trying to cater to a japanese style of game (suda51 games) and failing much like when japanese developers try to make gears of war and make something awful and that this shows that all developers should maybe just stick to what they do well and leave cultural game stylings to their particular culture

Posted by jillsandwich

God damn, I love reading Alex reviews.

Posted by WilltheMagicAsian

@Freshbandito: Yeah I see that now, my bad.

Edited by Napalm

This game isn't bad, but two stars is fitting. The game is most fun when you're fighting lower level enemies, and having to deal with putting yourself back together. Where the game falls apart is when they also throw on one-hit dismemberment bosses that pound you over and over, or they attempt to translate the dismemberment into a long-winded mechanic. Doing stuff like throwing your head in a vent to get to a new area and respawn works, but it's when they want you to light yourself on fire and make your way through a needlessly confusing and dark subway tunnel while fighting enemies, is where the game falls apart.

I like this game's style. It's enjoyable, but falls just under average in some respects.

Also to be honest, the shooting is fine. It has the same issue with Red Faction: Armageddon, in that you need to crank up the sensitivity because it's too low, but the sword combat works for the most part once you get the hang of it.

Posted by Faltru

Why do you do this to yourself?

Edited by deerokus

@SaturdayNightSpecials: I think Konami had a lot of control over it, though, and outsourced the heavy lifting. Developed by Rebellion, but it seems like most of the creative side was done in Japan.

Rebellion made two of my absolute favourite games of the last gen - Sniper Elite and Rogue Trooper were fun, with really interesting and original gameplay mechanics. It's been a long time since they put out anything that good, and they're on a long streak of turning out complete shit, now. This, AvP, Rogue Warrior, Shellsock 2, World Championship Darts for the Wii, FFS.

Posted by GaZZuM

I also gave it 2 stars... I dunno, the game just oozes 'two-ness'.

Posted by Redbullet685

Its a Rebellion game. What'd you expect?

They made Rogue Warrior. The only really good part is the credits, not because it's over, but because the slapped all of Mickey Rourke's one liners onto some beats while the credits play.

Posted by ajamafalous

Not to be that guy that nitpicks review scores, but with zero (unless I missed something) positive things said about this game, shouldn't it be only one star? 
 
 
 
Either way, good on you, Alex.

Posted by Hizang

This is such a shame, I remember really liking the concept of the game when it was announced.

Posted by NuDimon
@Stahlbrand: Konami did not make this. Check out Rebellion the guys responsible for this game below...
 
http://www.giantbomb.com/rebellion/65-2952/
 Now please tell me how you manage to call this european developer for a japanese developer? ;d
Posted by Eyz

Awww... :(

I expected so much more out of this one :/

Posted by probablytuna

Aw man I was so looking forward to this game.

Joking aside, looking at all the criticisms Alex provided, I can't help but think why did it deserve two stars?

Edited by AssInAss

I was hoping for another Stubbs the Zombie with the dismemberment mechanic, but this game seems like it forgot to make a fun game around that.

Alex delivers another hilarious review, I feel like I share your pain.

Rebellion, how far they've fallen. Shellshock 2, Rogue Warrior, AvP 3 and now Neverdead. Garbage bin games. Actually, they've only made 2 decent games, Rogue Trooper, and AvP 1.

Posted by Napalm

@ajamafalous said:

Not to be that guy that nitpicks review scores, but with zero (unless I missed something) positive things said about this game, shouldn't it be only one star? Either way, good on you, Alex.

He's already stated why he didn't give it one star. Essentially the game is mediocre in every respect, but it's not actively broken and unplayable.

Posted by theodacourt

@iAmJohn said:

I would also just like to point out that I think the whole "questioning why something is a two-star review instead of a one-star review" thing is silly and beside the point. What is the difference if it's "irredeemably awful" or "awful, but not the kind of awful that made me want to dump acid in my eyes"? All that matters is that Alex is telling you not to play it, guys.

Yeah, we should get rid of scores and call something just good or just bad...sigh.

I don't have an interest in this game and I never have, and I appreciate that this review is serious purchasing advice for you. I guess I'm more interested in the actual criticism and 2-stars would indicate some level of positivity, no matter how small, to earn that second star. I didn't feel it was explained in the text and there was some incongruence there, but there was clearly something to earn that star so I thought maybe I could ask. Alex answered and I thank him for it.

I guess I could be wrong though and criticism should have no part in reviews. A stamp of 'seek out' or 'avoid' is all anyone really needs anyway. It's not like film reviews moved away from technical reviews into actual criticism once the art form was established, and game reviews certainly won't go the same way.

Posted by louiedog

If Alex's personal life is anything like his professional life I assume he's run up some bills at various underground New York S&M dungeons. The guy certainly seems to be drawn to pain.

Edited by Stahlbrand

@Freshbandito said:

@WilltheMagicAsian: what he's saying is that this is the mutual inverse, a western developer trying to cater to a japanese style of game (suda51 games) and failing much like when japanese developers try to make gears of war and make something awful and that this shows that all developers should maybe just stick to what they do well and leave cultural game stylings to their particular culture

Thanks for clarifying that for those who misunderstood my point. Cheers.

also @NuDimon: flagged for your reference.

Posted by Undeadpool

The one good thing about crappy games? Alex Navarro vomiting acidic blood all over them.

Posted by Yagami

But... what?! No quick-look?! Didn't Ryan say there would be quick-look of this game on "I love Mondays"?!

Oh well.. Read through the review and it saddened me a lot. Such a shame.

Posted by sanzee

Were there really people out there who were excited for this game?

Really?

Posted by dudeglove
Posted by Sharpshooter

One of these days Alex they'll give you a good game to review.

Posted by KontX

Such a shame. Though part of me still wants to pick this up when it reaches DNF pricing.

Edited by PoisonJam7

That's too bad. I was hoping this game would turn out well.

It's also disheartening to hear that the analog stick controlled swordsmanship didn't turn out well either; since I assume it's the same mechanic that Metal Gear Rising will be using. (Since both are Konami published games, and therefore probably their tech.) Hopefully Platinum Games will be able to refine and hone the mechanic and do better things with it ... I have faith in them, (I'm a huge Bayonetta fan, if you couldn't tell ;) ) which is more then I can say for Rebellion.

I must also make mention of one thing: Although I'm sure this game is indeed as terrible as you say it is Alex, I can't help but feel you made one too many comparisons to Suda51's games. Who ever said this was meant to be competition to his games? I can see the similarities between this and Shadows of The Damned, but I don't ever recall reading anything that says this game is inspired by it or meant to be compared to it. I could be wrong though, and this is just my opinion.

That being said, it's still a disappointment that this game sucks so much. Chalk up the first disappointing retail game of 2012 that I was looking forward too.

Posted by Cretaceous_Bob

I don't really understand why so many good developers get dismantled but Rebellion is still in business.

Posted by Andy_117

@limecloud said:

Were there really people out there who were excited for this game?

Really?

Excited? No. Endlessly intrigued? Of course. I thought that the game was about pulling your WHOLE body apart, though. That you could, say, rip your own arm off and play as a flailing arm to crawl through airvents, or put yourself back together with legs where your arms should be and punch-kick people to death. ...no. It's just a DMC-esque shoot-a-slash thing where your head falls off. Y'see? The concept could have been pulled off really well.

It looks like my skepticism of the final product was well worn. I'm not surprised, but I'm still disappointed.

Posted by kyrieee

Why does Alex review all the bad games?

Posted by President_Barackbar
@kyrieee said:

Why does Alex review all the bad games?

Because it's the only way he can get off anymore. Sad story really.
Posted by StopHmrTyme

Seems like a poor game, But was it better than Robocop for the Xbox?

Posted by KamikazeCaterpillar

Can't say I'm really surprised by this.

Posted by Zaxex

That review is really scathing. I'm sure the game sucks, but forcing yourself to trudge through a game you don't like probably skews the review somewhat. I haven't played it so I can't really comment on the quality of the game, but I would've though it would have a few redeeming aspects, rather than being downright antagonistic. There were more criticisms in the header than compliments in the review as far as I can tell. That said, it's a personal review and it's done its job, I doubt I'll get NeverDead. There are probably ways of conveying the messages of "don't buy this game" and "I didn't enjoy this" without going for the jugular quite so much.

Posted by fox01313

Also enjoyed with playing Stubbs the Zombie & remember quite well how the dismembering mechanic worked well. Too bad that this is just too damaged to be much fun.

Posted by jasondesante

quick look?

Posted by Bigandtasty

"Sarcastic cleavage" is my new favorite phrase.

Posted by wumbo3000

After watching the quick look, I feel like Alex gave this one star too high.

Posted by Aarny91

I feel this reads as more of a one star review than two. Damn this look woeful.