"Tis But a Flesh Wound!"
Zombies and vampires in the media are getting a bit long in the tooth. The ubiquity of the undead as gameplay fodder mixed with gamers' frequently changing and painfully short attention span means that battling for their dollars against other high-profile releases requires a unique gameplay hook. NeverDead attempts this honorably with main character Bryce Boltzmann (he is technically neither a zombie nor a vampire, but his immortality and decaying body function much the same). Finding the right footing is imperative when introducing a new IP, and while attempting to configure just the precise balance between offering both challenge and accessibility, NeverDead's execution is left a bit wanting.
If nothing else, NeverDead exudes a wondrous visual style and charismatic atmosphere reminiscent of a Grasshopper Manufacture game (e.g. Shadows of the Damned, No More Heroes, etc.) with its bright, garish beauty and crass dialogue and situations. The various tawdry locations are as fragile as Bryce is, and that brittle nature makes for some fine destructive exploration. Really, if only the story and combat would match its visual splendor, NeverDead would be a niche gem. Regrettably, the former is practically a nonissue while the latter is serviceable but drags the experience.
Not being able to die indicates that any semblance of challenge needs to come from elsewhere, whether it is tougher enemies that require specific and ever-changing strategies to topple, or mind-bendingly rewarding environmental puzzles. Rather than employing either of those techniques, NeverDead opts to shallowly satisfy. As Bryce's body has existed for hundreds of years, he expectedly crumbles apart at the mere touch of even the lowliest grunt. Through Bryce's constant dismemberment, you maintain functionality, able to continue playing without any arms, legs, or even your whole body.
Certainly, this main gimmick offers some freshness in gameplay as you are tasked with changing your strategy on a whim; it is exhilarating being able to toss your own arm as an operational decoy and / or weapon. And yes, rolling around as only a head is amusing at first, but the plodding pace and weak offensive output in this state make recollecting your severed pieces a tedious and repetitive affair.
Further, while the horrid supernatural foes are fantastically designed, the lack of variety in enemy types does not help mask the faulty combat. With a fair amount of focus on balancing third-person shooting and sword-based melee, NeverDead's combat system is in the vein of splendidly ridiculous franchises like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Unfortunately, being weaned on either of those stellar games will make NeverDead feel dated (but by no means unwieldy) by comparison. Neither ranged nor close combat feels smooth, a detrimental attribute to this genre. Coupled with the suspect combat and wearying dismemberment mechanic, some boss battles often devolve into a lengthy war of attrition.
The other main problem in NeverDead is how detached Bryce is, not just physically, but personality-wise. Understandably, the loss of a loved one and the curse of immortality hold innate emotional gravity for a good storyline (see: Lost Odyssey with its bountiful heartrending and heartwarming tales), but the opportunity is fumbled here with little for the player to relate to. It has been centuries since he lost the love of his life, and picking up in a modern era setting, Bryce's character has changed from a gallant hero into a womanizing drunkard. There is little time spent on reflection or development, so you are left with a one-note cast of characters. The narrative picks up toward the end, but it feels rushed due to a lack of cohesion.
All in all, you'll find a single-player campaign of nearly 10 hours and over a dozen co-op challenges of various modes for up to four players (racing, treasure hunting, and a strange escort / defense type). Then, there is the always-reliable Horde-type mode, here called "Onslaught", which tasks your group with fending of waves of obstinate and increasingly dangerous enemies.
With all of the overt negativity seeping from this review, you would think I did not enjoy the experience. This is not the case. There is no arguing that the game lacks any sort of refinement, but it is a thoroughly entertaining romp with a flat, yet mysteriously appealing cast, attractive scenery and dreary, yet unique gameplay. Much like its fragile main character, NeverDead is an action game full of good intentions and novel gameplay ideas that just fall apart at the seams a tad too frequently.
GameDynamo's Score for NeverDead (PS3)
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Writes for a few media outlets, does graphic design work for a few clients, as well as production work for a few studios (all poorly). Believes the best correlation between the words "twilight" and "sparkle" has less to do with vampires and more to do with a sarcastic pony.
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