I will be surprised if I ever hear anyone mentioning that they have played through this game. NeverDead was panned, disliked, and became Shinta Nojiri’s last game he ever worked on before he disappeared from the gaming industry. For those of you unaware, Shinta is known for working on Policenauts, as well as plenty of the Metal Gear Solid-titles. However, NeverDead was the first and only project Shinta designed, directed and produced altogether. Helping him along on this game was the studio Rebellion, who might be best known for the Sniper Elite-series and Rogue Trooper. For the longest time, I did avoid this title. It did not truly help that this game debut in Konami’s infamous E3 of 2010 either. However, after hearing some optimistic words about this title, I decided to give it a go. How bad can it actually be? Is it even that?
Immortality is a bitch
The star of this adventure is Bryce Boltzmann, a medieval demon slayer who has been cursed with immortality after his last encounter with the demon king Asteroth. 500 years later, he finds himself in a modern city and is tasked alongside Agent Maximille to kill demonic monsters and save what is left of the town, which is basically his day job now. The story will lead you to find a clear rival, traitors, a plot-important character, and finish what Bryce started. Honestly, the story is incredibly cliche with poor twists and no interesting events being played out. While the premise is intriguing, it sadly does not help when the overall story becomes underwhelming due to being predictable early on.
Though in respect to NeverDead, it is self-aware and never becomes offensive or thinks less of its viewer, despite its boring plot. It simply wants to have fun and takes a humorous approach to the aspect of being immortal. This is where the game shines as Bryce has gone from an honourable warrior to an alcoholic pervert, who has some poor headphones that quickly becomes a running joke. NeverDead is unapologetic and takes every opportunity it can to crack jokes, which I am all for. The characters are decent and even if some are there to simply fill a role, their bantering and dialogues contain funny moments and it becomes easy to appreciate most of the cast.
Unfortunately, there is one female character that will serve as an important element to the plot and she is incredibly annoying, similar to a small brat. It is a shame that more attention could not have been given to the rest of the cast for more character development either, as they are interesting and entertaining, but never get to grow. Luckily, Bryce’s fascinating backstory and carefree personality holds up well to never make the journey dull. There are some jokes that do not hit right at home, but when one of the demonic creatures is called a Panda Bear, you should know what kind of a story you are getting into. It is a silly adventure with silly humour.
Story Score: 5/10
No broken swords, just cut off limbs
NeverDead is a mix of a hack & slash and a shooter played out in a third person perspective, where you will travel through linear stages and slay countless of fiends on the way. Bryce can hold two firearms (one in each hand), and there is a good variety to select from. Handguns, assault rifles, submachine guns and more, provides you with a good amount of arsenal to acquire. You can easily mix up what you want to hold in each hand, though you will start every stage with two handguns and must find others throughout the levels. The shooting is satisfying with two crosshairs presented, and the left and right triggers of the controller representing the left and right weapons. You can also dodge-roll, though there are no cover system to speak of. This is because the game expects you to be on the move at all time, making fights fast and hectic.
While there is the opportunity to use a melee attack by clicking down the left analog stick, it is slow and useless. Instead, Bryce can swap out the guns for his trusty sword with the push of a button. This sword can become an incredibly strong force to be reckoned with, sacrificing the benefit of ranged weapons for fighting up close. How you control this weapon is quite unique. You must target an enemy and swing the sword by using the right analog stick to simulate swings. It is an entertaining idea and it even recognises quick movements as weak slashes, while the slow ones work as the strong ones. This functions well and even whether you swing horizontal or vertical is important to consider, due to some enemies being able to parry.
However, since the right analog stick is being used for swinging the sword, it makes the camera focused onto one enemy. You can still dodge out of the way and even block in this stance, but having an incredibly strong melee weapon at the cost of limited view is an uneven trade-off. Combat is a heavy part of this game too, especially since killing enemies and finding collectables rewards you with XP for purchasing upgrades to equip. You see, you have a limited amount of ability points, which each upgrade takes a different amount of in order to be equipped. Some examples of these are gaining more XP, stronger bullets, or new moves such as a charge attack. Most have clear uses, but a few are worthless, such as healing your allies. You can easily revive them by simply holding down the showcased button should they fall, giving this upgrade no practical function. This really shows that this game was unfinished upon release.
Since Bryce is immortal, he will only lose his limbs from attacks, which he can pick up and reattach by dodge-rolling into them or wait til a meter is filled up to regenerate all of them. This is a really neat feature, as losing an arm will affect your attacks and losing a leg will make you less mobile. Should you be down to your head, all you can do is roll around and it is here where you can die if an enemy swallows your head. Only a couple of them can, and then you will be tasked to do a quick QTE in order to escape. I really love this concept. It punishes you for not bringing your A game, but still gives you the opportunity to get your grip together.
This mechanic can also be used to your advantage, such as ripping off your arm to lure in hungry beasts to it or shoot monsters from a different place altogether. You can even toss your head through small gaps for some clever level design. Sadly, this is also where NeverDead stumbles: it never goes far enough with its creativity. I only had to throw my limbs once for a neat boss fight and most levels are straightforward with the occasional different pathways to take for finding secrets. The enemies also lack variety and while some have distinct features, such as being immune to bullets or only being vulnerable from a certain angle, most are basic and easy to defeat. This makes the concept of both the sword fighting and immortality lacking.
It is such a shame as there are some clear untapped creativity here. You can catch on fire for lighting up areas and even shoot bullets on fire if you have the right upgrades, or destroy sceneries such as columns or balconies to cause heavy damage onto enemies. I really love this attention to creative carnage, and there is a clear wish to go all out in NeverDead too. Some levels even incorporates clever hazards, like speeding trains. However, most of the stages become linear and basic with the occasional context sensitive moments where you must press X to venture further.
Similarly can be said about the boss fights, as they can become either incredibly easy and straightforward or long and tedious. They do include some creative moments, such as throwing an arm into a monster’s mouth and shooting it from the inside or dodging a charging monster to cut their head off when it is stuck, but none are balanced enough to be engaging. This is really the issue with NeverDead: it is always headed in the right direction, but never goes the extra mile for diverse creativity or polish. It is definitely entertaining and provides good creativity on the occasion, but it is more of a solid prototype than a finished product.
Gameplay Score: 4/10
I want to first complement this game’s style, as it is set in a futuristic town with neon lights and partly destroyed areas. This strongly showcases the world coming to an end, but still provides it great amounts of colours, life and identity to what is left of it. You will be travelling through mansions, museums, rooftops, grotesque areas with veins and more, giving the journey a good amount of variety in locations to visit. The fact that they are filled with destructible objects, such as vases, columns and cars, just sweetens the immersion. The same quality was given to the characters’ design, with Bryce being the highlight. He has magnets for holding guns on his back, can take off limbs, and even has a shirt with a target on it. It is over the top and silly, which perfectly fits the tone of the game.
Sadly, this is not a pretty game. NeverDead tries to mix its cartoony style with realistic textures, which in turn makes it look uneven in quality. The textures are even unpolished, and the graphical glitches are constant. Thankfully, the enemies are lovely designed, such as the creatures made out of veins holding a blade or the colourful and terrifying take on the Hydra for a boss. Unfortunately, they are unoriginal and clearly inspired by games such as Devil May Cry. This makes them forgettable, though the selection is varied enough to never get stale. The cutscenes are also poorly made, as all characters have bad lighting that makes them almost look like claymation and their stiff animations in the in-game cutscenes are off. Finally, the frame rate can chug terribly.
While the visuals are uneven, the music fares much better! Megadeth is actually involved and provides a fitting theme to the game, with plenty of the other songs being fantastic and tense metal that compliments the dark and insane tone of the game. There are even some variety to this in the form of ominous and slow ones that adds to the uncomfortable vibe thanks to the varied use of instruments, and even symphonic and electro tracks are included. This is truly a diverse soundtrack that impressively hits all the right notes. Mark Rutherford did a good job here! The only exception, is the single battle theme. Despite that it is solid, it will become repetitive by the end of the game due to its reuses and the lack of variety in notes.
The actors provide great voices to each character and it is nice to hear the performances from Jamieson Price, Michelle Ruff and David Lodge being fully utilised here. They give over the top performances and the same can be said about the rest of the cast, making the dialogues very entertaining by their direction and tone alone. Although, while slicing with the sword and shooting with the different guns sound satisfying, it becomes disorienting when the few audio glitches become present.
Presentation Score: 6/10
There are collectables to find for getting more XP, and you can discover weapons you might have missed on your first playthrough for spicing up the adventure. This can make it interesting for the new game plus, as there will be upgrades you could not afford to purchase on your first run. However, with limitations to what you can equip thanks to the ability points, it does not become interesting enough to go through the main campaign again right after the first time.
As for the included multiplayer, there is a lot here to enjoy. Up to four players can take on eight different co-op missions that consist of either defeating waves of enemies in a small or big area, or escort civilians to safety. These are quite entertaining and for the competitive players, there are five vs missions, which are also great fun. It might not be something worth coming back to multiple times, but the multiplayer is a good distraction. Unfortunately, playing with friends can only be done online.
Extra Score: 5/10
I honestly do not understand the incredible low scores this title got, as I actually had some enjoyment here. NeverDead is flawed in its design, clearly unfinished, and not something I can call good. However, it is fun. With a low humour that just wants to crack jokes, an interesting mechanic of losing limbs instead of health, great soundtrack and intriguing combat, it provides a decent setup. I just wish it could have had more time to develop, as it was clearly rushed with poor variety in both enemies and level design. The unpolished presentation is also a dead giveaway. Nevertheless, for its style, humour and solid ideas, you are at least getting something memorable. Far from anything to recommend on the spot, NeverDead is a creative oddity worth at least looking at.