The best advice I can give you if you’re planning on playing NeverDead is not to take it too seriously. Sure, the subject matter may have some heavier elements to it…the burden of immortality, loss, demons, love…but in much the same way that you wouldn’t take Army of Darkness or Plan 9 from Outer Space seriously, I reiterate: NeverDead is not a game to take seriously, because I honestly believe it is a game that doesn’t take itself seriously. If this is not the first review you have read for NeverDead, then I am sure you have seen quite a lot of negative criticism, and quite a few low scores. Part of the criticism is valid, but part of it stems from the reviewers doing the one thing they absolutely should not have done when approaching NeverDead: they took it seriously. You may feel that I’m becoming redundant, but it’s a very important point and it should be thoroughly impressed upon you before you continue.
When taken seriously, NeverDead’s dialogue, voice acting, plot, character personalities, and character designs are, at best, incredibly cheeseball and overdone, with a hint of 90’s themes thrown in for good measure. The hero, Bryce Boltzmann, was cursed with immortality 500 years ago when he and his wife failed to defeat the demon king. With his wife’s death in battle and the demon king’s curse of immortality upon him, Bryce transformed over the course of half a millenium from an overly-earnest, stereotypically virtuous good guy into the near-epitome of a 90’s anti-hero. His inordinately sincere statements about honor, goodness, and rightitude (I may have made that last one up…) become cynical statements about his pay, his curse, and his disdain for others. But of course, underneath the gruff exterior beats a true anti-hero’s heart of gold, which finds Bryce putting himself in harm’s way to save others, even if he’s grumbling while doing it (and even if his immortality makes it fairly safe for him to do so).
To be honest, the campy nature of the story, dialogue, voice acting, and characters is one of my absolute favorite things about this game. The 90’s design elements that are painfully obvious when looking at Bryce (all he’s missing is two dozen pouches and he could be a Liefeld original) are a part of what I loved from the decade that primarily defines my childhood and youth. Sangria, Duke of Demons, is one of the recurring villains, and first battled in the game’s opening credits and introduction scene by a young Bryce and his wife Cypher. He is designed…strangely, to say the least. Wearing clothes that would fit in the court of a British monarch, Sangria manages to speak with a drawl more at home in Gone with the Wind. His design and voice acting are my primary support when arguing that this is not a game to take seriously.
Just as the hilariously terrible puns about dismemberment and decapitation become very repetitive and, eventually, annoying, the gameplay suffers from finding yourself in the same battle over and over. The pattern unfolds thusly: Bryce enters a room/area. Demons flood into the room/area or are continually spawned by demon generating demons. The collective “demonic energy” blocks all of the exits. Bryce kills all of the demons and all of the demon generating demons. The “demonic energy” dissipates, and the exits are now accessible. Rinse and repeat…and repeat…and repeat. The boss battles are of the variety that present you with a boss while throwing the same regular demons at you as before, making them somewhat more frantic than they otherwise would have been. The bosses at least provide some variety. The Sword Pig, a giant pig-like creature with a face like a marlin, rushes you in an enclosed area while you either dodge around or temporarily incapacitate it by using your environment, exposing its giant yellow vulnerability for an anus. The Quad Jaw, made up of a rotund body with three different heads, must be lured into stretching one if its necks out for you to hack at, transforming into a giant flying bug once all three heads are disposed of. Throwing your arm into its mouth and remotely firing it reveals this transformation’s weakness, which you then attack with your remaining limb. The boss fights are not as entertaining as the overall campiness of the game, but they are a close second.
That brings us to a fork in the road. I mentioned voluntary dismemberment, so do we discuss the wonderful immortality mechanic? On the other hand, I mentioned firing your weapon, so do we instead discuss the sloppy shooting mechanics?
Well, we’ve done good/bad/good so far, so let’s jump to the sloppy shooting mechanics and keep our pattern up. Bryce starts off with a pair of handguns that can eventually be swapped out with other weapons as they are encountered in the world of NeverDead. Each weapon pick-up counts as one, so picking up a shotgun does not mean that you are able to equip a shotgun to each hand. Each hand can be independently equipped with any of the weapons, however, so you could run around with an assault rifle and a shotgun, if you were so inclined. Regardless of which firearms you choose to equip, the accuracy is not exactly what I would call…good. From a distance, attempting to pick off an enemy with most of the weapons is a futile effort. At close range, you can’t help but hit something, but at that point, the guns are rarely the best choice anymore, as the melee weapon provides a much better close-range experience. Bryce’s sword, counter to the firearms, is well balanced, fun, and can be easily targeted. Holding the LT targets and enter swing mode (that may not be what it’s actually called, but it is what I’m going to call it), which is then followed up by wildly swirling the right joystick to wave your sword around in the air like you just don’t care. It’s far more satisfying, and effective, than the shooting mechanic.
That is, if you can always see what you’re doing, or get where you’re going. The controls and camera can be clunky and slightly unresponsive at times. For the most part, this is a non-issue. With default settings causing the camera to rotate very slowly, and certain pieces of debris creating more of an obstacle than size and shape would seem to indicate, combat movement and awareness can be affected if great care and attention is not paid to Bryce’s surroundings.
The immortality mechanic is very well done. When Bryce loses a limb (or two, or three, or his entire body), and he most certainly will, on a very regular basis, he is able to simply combat roll (or roll his head) over the detached body part and reattach it instantly. If the body part is…otherwise indisposed, or too far away to bother with, Bryce has the ability to regenerate anything from a single limb to his entire body. Aside from involuntary dismemberment, Bryce is capable of detaching either arm and throwing it, and is able to retain remote control of the arm’s firing ability (until the bullets in the detached weapon run out, no reloading remotely). He is also able to decapitate himself in order to throw his head into hard to reach areas. Bryce can’t die. Even when he is decapitated, he can’t die. “Well, if the character is immortal and can’t die at all, where’s the challenge?” Well, yes, Bryce can’t die at all. He can, however, have his decapitated head ingested by a “grandbaby” demon and spend all of eternity being digested endlessly within its stomach. This is a “death,” resulting in a checkpoint restart.
NeverDead offers a great deal of ability upgrades that can be purchased using earned XP, which is earned by either finding red angel wings and collectibles or by defeating enemies. Bryce can be equipped with a limited number of abilities and upgrades at any one time, but that number can be increased by purchasing ability slot upgrades. Some of his upgrades include the ability to remote detonate a manually detached and thrown limb like a grenade, shoot fire bullets or electric bullets when Bryce is either on fire or electrified, an increased XP earning ability, and more. With the limitation on how many upgrades can be equipped at one time, you’ll find yourself swapping purchased upgrades now and then in order to take advantage of them all, resulting in slightly varied playing experiences.
Do you find yourself stepping away from a game before completing it, and not returning for days, weeks, or months on end with no recollection of how to play the game beyond the most basic of concepts? NeverDead has a feature that I feel should be included in every single game, and that is an unlocked tutorials screen in the menu. Every ability that you have learned, every interaction or menu that you can use in game, everything that ever had a tutorial screen pop up, are all contained on one easy to navigate screen in a detailed list. Coming back to NeverDead will be one of the easiest reacclimations you will ever have in a video game.
Is the game perfect? Far from it. It is extremely campy, it has problems with its shooting design, it has issues with movement and the camera, and the gameplay gets very repetitive. On the other hand, it’s extremely campy, has a fantastic melee mechanic, handles the pros and cons of immortality very well, contains a lot of ability upgrades, and is one of the easiest games to come back to after a long hiatus because of its unlocked tutorial screen providing you with detailed explanations of how to play the game (not just a controller layout). In spite of its problems, NeverDead is entertaining, and isn’t that what you’re playing the damn game for? Is it worth a full price purchase? Maybe not for you. Maybe the cons are more important to you than the pros. Rent it. Borrow it. Wait for it to go on sale, maybe. There are far more disappointing purchases you can make, that’s for sure.
|Dialogue/plot/characters so bad they're fun|
Solid melee mechanic
Unlocked tutorials screen
Great immortality mechanic
Lots of ability upgrades
|Sloppy shooting mechanic|
Occasionally clunky controls/camera