Great games often spring from a single brilliant idea, like a protagonist that can pull himself back together after being blown apart. Unfortunately this is also the case for many really crappy games. Where does NeverDead's mangled pile of people parts fall?
If you're any good at reading charts, you probably have already sussed the answer to that particular brain teaser. If you've been following NeverDead's marketing pre-launch marketing push (or lack thereof) you might have seen this coming. Despite starring a former demon turned demo hunter that really knows how to get it together, this was a game fated for mediocrity.
And that's exactly where the assembled video game critics placed it, on average at least. Their individual opinions are a bit more scattered.
You can tell a lot about a game by the stuff it asks you to pick up. Take Uncharted, for example, which squirrels away unique archaeological treasures off the beaten track, a conceit entirely in keeping with the series' fiction. Super Mario 3D Land's medals tease you into tricky tests of platforming skill or inquisitive probing. Batman: Arkham City, meanwhile, has the Riddler trophies, each an entertaining environmental puzzle to solve. In NeverDead, collectibles hide in plain sight, happily giving off a bright yellow glow. In NeverDead, collectibles are called 'collectibles'.
Collectable 'collectibles' just about sums up the lack of inspiration in NeverDead, and that's doubly disappointing given a genuinely decent idea at its core. 500-year-old demon hunter Bryce Boltzman is immortal, you see, which means he responds rather differently to serious injury than you or I.
Official Xbox Magazine UK
When you're making a game with a lead character who can't die, you're left with a serious jeopardy deficit. NeverDead's problem was always going to be generating tension. Your partner, Arcadia, can die, triggering a game over, but it's unlikely. And her death would be desirable anyway - the banter between her and hero Bryce is cyclical, bottom-of-the-barrel sass.
Immortal you may be, but your arms and legs eject with indecent regularity, and your head falls off at the drop of a hat. When you're rolling around as a head, you're likely to be eaten by a Grandbaby. If it gets you, there's a live or die QTE. Your head gets knocked off a lot, and Grandbabies respawn infinitely, so this happens far too often. Unfortunately, death by QTE is one of the less obnoxious decisions in the game.
...the demon hunter thing is not NeverDead's main selling point. That's reserved for Bryce's ability to be torn limb-from-limb and not die. Not only that, but he can reattach his limbs simply by rolling over them.
It's a crazy premise and a crazy game. The sheer volume of wackiness on offer acts as an incredibly strong force in making you want to like it. I really want to like this game. Unfortunately, try as I might, the execution of the gameplay makes liking it an incredibly difficult job. It's almost as if the dev team at Rebellion have tried to create an action game in the Japanese style of over-the-top action and constant challenge, but have failed to balance the ideas with the interaction.
The environments are barren, the sound is glitchy during cut-scenes and the camera is awkward to shunt around. Worst of all, NeverDead gets repetitive really quickly. The combat can probably take most of the blame for this. With little in the way of set-pieces or palate-cleansers, NeverDead's first few hours tend to dump you into a series of muddled interiors before barring the exits after you move through each doorway, trapping you in rooms filled with monsters. In order to proceed, you have to take out a selection of demon spawn points while they burp a tasting menu of otherworldly horrors into your face. Once they're destroyed, the exits open up again, you advance, and the whole thing repeats itself.
Occasionally there's a very simple puzzle to tackle in between bursts of violence, but it doesn't save you from the relentless application of an uninspiring formula - and NeverDead's moment-to-moment demon slaughtering isn't quite entertaining enough to cope with such a bare-bones approach to design.
The whole shtick of having your body dismembered as damage can be very frustrating too, especially with the dodgy hit-detection and inherent randomness over which limb will be lost. Rather than being the challenge that it was intended to be, it just becomes annoying after a while. Enemy variety is quite poor too, with about half a dozen minor cronies at most, while bosses from early in the game end up becoming sub-bosses later on. It feels like a real dearth of creative input. And the game design compounds this by failing in any proper inspiration. It really does devolve to you moving from room to room, where the path only opens up once you've defeated all the enemy waves.
As mentioned, there are some exciting action sequences and these have some good variety to them. Unfortunately, the memory of these is sullied through the repetition of rinse-repeat sequences of trudging through each enemy wave. Disappointingly, the developers didn't make use of the dismemberment abilities for more puzzles, as there are a couple in the game that leave you wanting more. Arcadia, Bryce's sidekick is a complete waste of space in terms of gameplay. She can hold her own in battle reasonably well, and you rarely have to look after her or really do anything with here. She seems to be purely there for the story as opposed to gameplay. Finally, there is a minor but disappointing lack of consistency in the controls, occasionally leaving you frustrated at a lack of response.
Official Xbox Magazine
Rolling credits needn't mark the end of your explosive shenanigans, as you can hook up with a few friends online for four kinds of timed multiplayer. "Onslaught" unleashes unyielding waves that'll torture any fewer than four players, but it takes only two to enjoy a race through the infested checkpoint courses of "Fragile Alliance." Shepherding dopey civilians through "Search and Rescue" missions and gathering golden treasures in "Egg Hunt" matches could've been just as enjoyable if the maps weren't such an unreadable maze of corridors - a simple mini-map would've made these modes much better.
Still, even if NeverDead isn't quite the quirky prize it might have been, it's certainly an idiosyncratic (and often one-legged) dance through entertainingly outlandish territory.
Looks like this one doesn't have much of a leg to stand on. Thank you, I'll be here all week.