Bryce Boltzmann is an immortal, a demon hunter, and an insufferable jerk.
Despite witnessing the last 500 years of history first-hand, he possesses the wit and wisdom of a petulant three year-old and the smug self-centeredness and entitlement usually reserved for those featured on reality television. Simply put, he’s the mayor of douche landing.
The bad news is that he is also the protagonist in third-person shoot ‘n’ slash NeverDead, so anyone unfortunate enough to play Rebellion Developments’ latest must endure his lame quips and icky attitude towards women for an entire game. The good news is that in-game, said player can pull Bryce’s arms and head off and toss them around at will. Or, better still, avoid playing NeverDead altogether.
As its title suggests, NeverDead’s big hook is that Crybaby McToolbox cannot be killed, even if all his limbs are chopped off and he is decapitated. Given the proliferation of checkpoints in modern console games, some would argue that invincibility is hardly a point of difference, however in this case it is also a lie made possible by semantics. Sure, Bryce cannot die, but death-equivalent endgame scenarios are obtainable should his head be captured by a particular brand of demon who will digest it for eternity the player is told. Fortunately, a quick-time event must be failed for this to occur, and a calamity on par with a stroke or a remarkably accurate lightning strike would have to besiege the player for them to fail it, so simple is its timing.
A marginally more likely halt to proceedings is brought by the death of Bryce’s hateful companion Arcadia, but even that takes work – shooting one of many propane tanks as she walks by generally does it, although one must still wait for her to bleed out.
Most successful attacks on Bryce will sever something, and that something will generally sail off over the horizon in a display of pure defiance of the laws of physics. The liberated limb may be tracked down by following onscreen arrows and reattached by dive-rolling – not walking – over it. That is, provided a demon hasn't consumed it by the time the player arrives. Alternatively a button press sprouts Bryce a new one, provided this method has not been utilised in the past minute or so. Failing that, potions whose abundance gives the omnipresent exploding barrels a run for their money will also get the job done, and all methods are nice enough to replace any weapon that limb may have been clutching when it flew the coop too.
Temporarily being an arm or leg short of a pair isn’t too much of a hindrance anyway; it simply cuts running speed down a quarter or so, or means only one weapon may be fired. Lose all four limbs and Bryce – with the pluckiness of Monty Python’s Black Knight – can still dish out a headbutt and throw his torso about the place with surprising effectiveness. Reduced to just a head (which may occur following a single well-placed chop from a baddie), rolling around, jumping (!) and a spinning attack are his only options. Some sections of the game are only accessible as a head, but none tax the brain enough to be considered puzzles, nor do they ramp up the tension despite the player’s relative vulnerability in this state.
When whole, Bryce dual wields any combination of the usual suspects – pistols, SMGs, shotguns, assault rifles, and so on – or may switch to his trusty sword which uses however many arms he has remaining to hold. The sword is by far the more efficient killer, even if L1 must be depressed and the sword waved with a sweep of the right analogue stick – an annoying design choice made worse by the occasional unresponsiveness of the stick and the fact that it also controls the camera. Power-ups may be purchased at any time during the game using experience points gained from killing or running over pickups that are everywhere the player looks. The most interesting one engages a bullet-time mode of sorts whenever Bryce is in harm’s way, but in larger fights where danger is constant it causes the game to stutter like King George VI.
Smart third-person games employ a floating follow-cam of sorts – the camera is able to be manipulated freely, but as the protagonist runs it moves back to an over-the-shoulder view so the player may see where they are going. NeverDead leaves camera movement completely up to the player, so turning a corner means turning both sticks or losing sight of whatever is up ahead. In a game such as this where combat is 90% circle-strafing (particularly as dive rolling is the most effective way to avoid damage here), this is the kiss of death. Wrangling controls should never trump the gameplay itself, but here it practically is the gameplay. Mapping sword attacks onto the camera stick just magnifies the problem, something already compounded by the camera’s sluggish turning response time.
That isn’t the only camera-related problem either. Most things onscreen in NeverDead are destructible, and falling pieces of the environment deal damage – a welcome touch. However Bryce then snags on the smallest piece of debris and the camera simply doesn’t know what to do, zooming in at the strangest times to effectively blind the player, and outright glitching whenever Bryce walks too close to a wall or jumps too close to the ceiling. The damage dealt to the environment is also hilariously disproportionate to Bryce’s actions – shooting a wall once with a pistol carves out large chunks of it, as if each piece of scenery can only register as “present” or “completely destroyed”.
Collision detection is also flawed, making reassembling Bryce by collecting his constituent parts a infuriating game of chance rather than skill. In addition there are clipping issues, a woefully small number of enemy types, and the speed metal soundtrack is uninspired and obnoxious, but at least it often drowns out the terrible dialogue.
The small number of things NeverDead does well – cutscenes, lighting effects, and the look of the bosses (but not their AI) – are vastly outweighed by what it does badly: everything else. A largely uninteresting game populated by awful characters that is a chore to play, NeverDead deserves to spend eternity alongside those infamous Atari 2600 ET cartridges, or perhaps digesting forever in the belly of The Biggest Loser’s loser.