Neverdead is a fairly unique third-person action game, especially after a holiday season that was filled with sequels. However, execution really is everything, and Neverdead is constantly falling apart at the seams, much like its main character.
The last work by the developer, Rebellion, was 2010's Alien vs. Predator, which I generally enjoyed as it made some inventive use of alien play mechanics. Rebellion's track record has been a little spotty, from the downright awful Rogue Warrior from 2009 to the better Star Wars Battlefront PSP ports.
Neverdead feels like a lot of Rebellion games tend to do: high concept but with some serious flaws that keep the game from feeling fun. Neverdead's big hook is that its protagonist, the wise-cracking scoundrel Bryce, is literally "neverdead." When Bryce takes damage, his limbs begin to fall off, but Bryce never really dies. There are only two ways you'll see a "continue" screen: Bryce's head is devoured by a demon, or one of Bryce's human companions dies.
The Neverdead concept doesn't stop there. When Bryce loses his limbs, he can pick them up by rolling over the limb, which will reattach it. Bryce can rip off his limbs for strategic reasons, like tossing a gun arm down the gullet of a boss monster to blast away at its insides. A number of puzzles require something similar, usually involving Bryce tearing off his head to roll it down ventilation shafts or other hard-to-reach areas.
When Bryce becomes limbless, a small meter begins to fill in the bottom right corner of the screen. Once this meter maxes out, you can click in an analog stick to instantly regenerate any limbs he might be missing; if Bryce only has his head left, you can even have his whole body brought back this way. In combat-heavy zones, you'll also find a number of markers that instantly refill this meter.
Combat feels like a constant chore regardless of the number of regeneration points in a stage. This is mostly due to how unpredictable the in-game physics are. There's a ragdoll mechanic going on; when Bryce gets hit or a limb is severed, it'll fly off and flop around for a bit. This makes more sense than just dumping his severed limbs at his feet for a quick and easy pick-up. Often — and this especially frustrating in stages that involve multiple floors or catwalks — you'll get your head severed and have it fly into the air, only to land on a perch or walkway that's pretty far away from your body.
The mobility of your head or limbless body is pretty awful. The head has a limited jump and roll mechanic in addition to a boost mechanic that can't be aimed well. The torso and head are equally slow and limited, and losing your legs is pretty much the worst thing that can happen.
To make matters more annoying, there are little rolling demons in every battle whose sole purpose is to suck up any stray limbs, including your head. You have a limited time to hit the demon after it bites down, and if you take too long, the limb will be gone and you'll need to wait for your regeneration meter to fill. About midway through the game, there are a ridiculous number of these little rolling demons, and as the stages get more complex, open, and multitiered, it's an absolute nightmare to manage your limbs.
Certain stages are poorly designed for the mechanic of limb separation. One stage involves running through a subway tunnel while trains zoom at you from both directions. Every time you get hit, your body explodes into a mess of parts, and by the time you've gathered up everything, it's just in time to be hit by another train. It just isn't any fun when you combine this with wave after wave of monsters to kill, including respawn pods that fill the stage with demons.
Back to the combat, Bryce has two modes of attack, melee and ranged. Ranged feels mostly useless since a majority of enemies swarm Bryce on foot. Additionally, your guns feel underpowered, even when you switch between assault rifles, pistols and shotguns. Bryce is far more handy and competent with his sword, which has an interesting control mechanic using the right thumbstick to control the swing and angle. Later enemies manage to make the swordplay feel tedious since far too much damage is needed to take them down. Bryce's defensive options are pretty limited and never feel very fluid or intuitive.
Neverdead incorporates an experience system to improve Bryce's overall abilities, but this also seemed poorly realized. I was constantly swimming in XP, but had little reason to spend it. That's because you're limited to a certain number of abilities that can be equipped at any given time. Every ability has a point total, and Bryce has a point limit that dictates how many abilities can be equipped at one time. That point limit is ridiculously small in comparison to the point cost for late-game abilities. You'll occasionally unlock an ability that increases your point capacity for equips, but they are too few and far between.
The online mode is co-op and spans a number of levels. I'm generally down for some co-op fun, but since Neverdead's co-op missions are little more than wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies, and I didn't care for the combat to begin with, I found myself not really enjoying the online co-op. To its benefit, I had no issues connecting with other players, and it supports up to four at once, so it is technically sound.
Visually, Neverdead isn't a bad-looking game. I dig its urban nightmare design, and the bosses all look, well, pretty boss. The enemy design gets a little repetitive; it falls into the standard video game palette swap approach as the difficulty and stages advance, so I was disappointed to see that new bad guys weren't constantly being tossed at me. The CGI cut scenes look pretty slick, just like we expect modern video game CGI to be, and there are some pretty decently directed action sequences that stand out.
The voice acting is also good, and that kind of surprised since I expected a bunch of cheesy one-liners. Bryce is a sort of antihero, mercenary-for-hire type that makes him a little tough to like, but there's some smart story sense in slowly fleshing out his backstory. He becomes a more interesting character to play over time, and by the end of the game, I figured I wouldn't mind seeing him reappear somewhere down the line. The side characters are pretty forgettable, though, except for one "pop princess" character who managed to really get on my nerves.
Neverdead isn't a great game, and that's disappointing. It doesn't take much time with the game to figure out what does and doesn't work, and that makes it all the more baffling that it's not better than it is. The idea of severing limbs and tossing them about and never actually dying is great, but the combat and physics that surround it are downright bad. Neverdead is certainly worth a rental, as you might be able to stomach its shortcomings better than I did. This is a title that you'd play on a rainy day when you have nothing else to do; it's certainly not a game that you must play immediately.
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