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Neverdead (Xbox 360) artwork

Neverdead (Xbox 360) review

"Playing NeverDead is akin to walking into the game version of a carnival house of mirrors. Everywhere you turn, you see something that looks like a component to a decent action game, only to find it detrimentally mutated in some way. "

Bryce Boltzmann has a problem. He's been bestowed immortality after losing a duel with Astaroth, the Demon King… but had all of his reasons to live taken away from him at the same time. That was 500 years ago. Since then, he's become a demon hunter for hire who pretty much hates his eternal life. However, when several events fall into place that may present the answer to his problems, it'll be all he can do to keep his head on straight while he fights for vengeance and resolution.

Unfortunately, Astaroth is hardly the worst of Bryce's problems (or yours). The true predicament--which you together share--is that to complete Bryce's quest, you both are stuck with a game that fights you every step of the way. Welcome to NeverDead.

Neverdead asset

At its core, NeverDead is a third-person action game in the vein of Devil May Cry, Bayonetta or God of War. You wield dual guns and a sword, and are given an array of equippable special powers as the game progresses. Play experience and personal skill-building lead to victory even through significant challenge, and when you get good enough--either through reflexes or in-game enhancement--you're made to look and feel awesome every step of the way. A good, stylish action game makes the player feel great while overcoming near-insurmountable odds via practice.

Those odds are certainly present in NeverDead. Unfortunately, the wonderful moment where you feel great about yourself for triumphing over adversity never manifests because the game's mechanics, all the way down to their most basic elements just don't work correctly. You'll be hearing a lot of this through the review, so brace yourself for a list of grievances.

Your standard ranged combat options--the guns--simply aren't effective against any enemy you come across, outside of a couple who are outfitted with explosive weak spots. The lowest cannon fodder in the game can require a full clip or more to take down while dual-wielding automatic weapons (and that's with their highest upgrades equipped). This leaves the sword as your only competent means of dispatching damage through the game, which gives rise to complications of its own due to the imbalanced enemies, which come in three types. There are standard enemies which can be destroyed by anything, enemies who are invulnerable to guns, and enemies who are rigged to explode either after defeat or after being after struck on a certain weak point. The game wastes no time in attacking you with all three types at once, and in principle, there's nothing wrong with this. Unfortunately, since guns are ineffective, your only real recourse is sword-kamikaze tactics. You are 100% guaranteed to suffer damage in any and every encounter, against even the weakest of foes.

Neverdead asset

Then there are the power-ups. Sadly, you can only equip a limited amount of even the more basic enhancements, which is a disappointment. There are powers which enhance your guns (which again are, as stated before, useless), your melee attacks, and your mobility in a variety of situations. It's worth noting that the really novel enhancements that would have added a lot to the game's technique--such as the ability to turn your limbs into explosives--don't show up until near the endgame or past it in some cases. It's also worth noting that a lot of these enhancements either don't work very well or they take up too many slots to be useful, forcing players to constantly swap powers to adapt to even the tiniest of combat situation changes. The worst part is that some enhancements are completely useless, bugged or both. For example, there's a power that enables a bullet time effect when Bryce is in imminent danger of being hit by an enemy. However, the slow motion doesn’t give any extra attack or defense options; it simply makes the game slower so as to allow you to more easily relish the moment when Bryce inevitably gets hit. Even "better," the power activates even when you are positioned entire building stories vertically above or below an enemy, meaning there are times when the game will dramatically slow down even when nothing is in the vicinity.

The game’s stage design is also suspect. Broken walls and paths are everywhere, and while it’s nice that there are some pretty big playfields, trying to find your way around them without any sort of map or radar proves to be a mild nightmare. Holding Down on the directional pad will lock your camera in the vague direction of your next objective until you let go of it, and you can't move while looking in that direction. All of the broken walls, floors and debris means you’ll either fall through things a lot, or--almost as often--fall through a surface and off of the game world. The coup de grace is a late-game boss which takes place in an uneven, rotating stage, trapping you in alcoves while ground-based enemies take decapitating potshots at you. There’s no end to the frustration.

Speaking of decapitations, they’re NeverDead's one true innovation. As a result of his titular immortality, Bryce technically can't die (though the game goes out of its way to contrive a few overly-prevalent circumstances that can still result in game-overs). Should he suffer a harmful blow, Bryce can literally fall to pieces and regenerate when necessary, as well as replace his lost limbs by dodge-rolling over them. This system, in theory, also allows for remote fire (throw limbs somewhere, shoot away) and a rudimentary form of fast-travel (throw head, regenerate after a while). Sometimes, it all works and the aim of the game shines through, justifying its approach to the genre as novel. The overwhelming amount of the time, however, the core mechanic is pretty useless. Later in the game, every bit of damage you take reduces you to a head in one hit, causing you to waste inordinate amounts of time rolling around recollecting limbs or waiting to regenerate. Thanks to this "feature," NeverDead contains about 55% actual action and 45% rolling around to put yourself back together to restore what little effectiveness you have as a player.

Neverdead asset

Every flaw mentioned so far would fall into the category of “nitpicking” on its own. A player can get around ineffectual guns or even the constant head-rolling (there's even a power-up that lets you roll faster, one of the few that's worth the XP cost). The bullet time effect is needless and can be ignored, the sword can get you through the game, and the story can be laughed at in spite of itself. The problem is that all of those flaws are in the game together. They unite to drag down the experience by producing a slow, brutal slog for the player.

It doesn't help that NeverDead is propped up by graphics which were outdated three years ago, and yet the game sounds even worse than it looks. Aside from a theme song composed by an artist from Megadeth, generic rock music with barely a melody to speak of assaults your speakers constantly while characters spout decently-acted but badly-written one-liners over the course of the entire production.

Playing NeverDead is akin to walking into the game version of a carnival house of mirrors. Everywhere you turn, you see something that looks like a component to a decent action game, only to find it detrimentally mutated in some way. There are several better options out there, some of which have had HD remakes released if you're desperate. Stick with those, and stay far away from this.


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Freelance review by Jason Grant (February 28, 2012)

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zippdementia posted February 28, 2012:

Is Jason Grant the pseudonym of someone who has been writing here for a while or is he truly a three-shot reviewer, with two reviews having taking place over three years ago?

Anyway, this is a great review. I love the idea of slow down occuring even when the enemies are way below you. hilarious.
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honestgamer posted February 28, 2012:

He's definitely an individual and the three freelance reviews that he has contributed are the only content I know of that he has posted on the site. With any luck, there will be plenty more to come!
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Suskie posted February 29, 2012:

Anybody else think the guy in that cover shot looks like a relatively young Jack Nicholson?
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JoeTheDestroyer posted February 29, 2012:

I didn't until you said so. Now all I can imagine is this guy telling Shelley Duvall he's going to 'bash her brains in.'

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