Limb-er up for a legless adventure
It’s a depressing fact of life that should you become a majorly successful human being, you’ll face an inevitable downfall that will leave you a laughing stock to the cretins whom once worshipped you, now desperately trying to slam you. Rock stars have succumb to sod’s law, estate agents have their minor tumbles and as NeverDead proves, noble demon hunting knights of yore can also very easily spiral into a multiple century downfall. Bryce Boltzmann was once as stereotypically noble as heroes come, a brave strong, and witty knight who easily sliced and diced his way through evil. Of course, that was before the demon prince of hell Astaroth defeated him and gifted him with the curse of immortality. Half a millennium on, depressed by his failings, the fall of human decency and the rise of sub-par Nando’s outlets, he’s become a wisecracking sleazeball, trading his shining armour in for a more tattered garb. The only thing that’s stayed the same is his love for slicing demons into confetti, so much so he now crushes them for the government, and with the impending return of some rather hellish creations inbound, his hobby could really come in handy right about now. I guffawed at this concept of immortality at first, wondering why on earth I was being offered various difficulty levels if nothing at all would lead to my demise. As such, NeverDead offers a different take on death. Whenever you receive a blow that would kill an ordinary human, you’ll simply lose a limb, or practically explode ligaments all over the place. Even if you’re left beheaded, you still have a chance to scout out your torso and reattach yourself before returning to the fight. Only two things can lead you to game over. One, your disembodied head can be vacuumed by a rather sickening monster that will leave it to digest for all eternity. Two, your co-op pal Arcadia could take a few too many daggers to the waist and could die without you help, y’know, being a pathetic mortal and all. Thankfully, you won’t be waiting hand and foot on the madam, in fact she’s something of a valuable asset. Equipped with a machine gun, she can look after herself and doesn’t need to be told what to do, only needing reviving when the going gets really tough (or when you accidentally shoot explosive barrels directly next to her) which is somewhat refreshing in a day and age where you practically have to babysit A.I. partners. It’s doubly reassuring considering, despite your infinite lifespan, you’ve still got a whole host of problems to contend with. Rather than rely on tons of button bashing to slay through the game, NeverDead focuses more on stick twiddling massacres…and is just as ridiculously frenzied. Dual wielding firearms can get the job done, allowing you to rapidly penetrate one side of a foe with a machine gun whilst battering them the other side with a shotgun, but the real fun lies in the swordplay. Whilst locking onto an enemy with the Butterfly Blade, flicking the right analogue stick wherever you wish allows Bryce to cut in the same direction with his sword. Thanks to this rather simple set-up, you can easily muck about with varying slashes to work your enemies into a delightful rhythm of guts. It feels like a system that should blend into the motion control crowd, but sneers as it deems itself to cool to bother with that rabble. Should conventional battling not work out, however, you can always just smash a few pillars and let the floor collapse around foes. Losing you limbs in combat may also mean disembodied arms will offer support, wildly spraying bullets as they bob up and down the floor like a deadly expiring fish. There have been moments where I’ve had to roll around war-zones in an attempt to gather all my lost body parts whilst they mindlessly fought back, and attempting to grab hold of such vital components is still rather tense despite the lack of death. It’s this juggling of staving away legions of demons and protecting your ligaments that adds much more to the action than any health bar ever could, and is a great compromise (and somewhat ironic pointer) to the over-used regenerating health tactic so many titles seem to use nowadays.
One the few games you’re encouraged to play completely legless
When NeverDead turns up the madness, though, things can get a little too hectic. Dicing through environments can screw up any plans you had to stay safe as unexpected slabs of ceiling break your neck off. Although I found it hilarious to attempt to piece myself together in some moments, there were times when I could only control the cranium that did get on my nerves. When you do become decapitated, it can also be rather difficult to calmly re-attach yourself and continue playing when there’s an army battering it about the place like a pinball. As you won’t be dying a lot, this isn’t necessarily unfair treatment, as you’ll always find your way back to your torso eventually, but there are moments where your head will just bob about crazily in any directional, and enemies can sometimes land heavy attacks in such a precise rhythm that you’ll just end up completely limbless again once you become complete. You kind of just want to pull a time out so you can actually do something vaguely productive whilst getting your HEAD back in the game! There are nice fresh additions to the paranormal hack ‘n’ slash genre here, already making NeverDead stand out for not simply being another Devil May Cry clone. Unfortunately, they’re not ambitious or strong enough to really carry the game to new heights. New beasts are rarely introduced, and you’ll be frequently battering the right stick to do away with all of them, changing up tactics only if you come across a boss. There’s an array of abilities to unlock, but a majority focus on simply upgrading the power of basic attacks or investing in EXP boosters rather than fancy combos and awesome abilities. Some of the coolest allow you to use severed limbs as grenades or unleash fire and electric bullets whenever you absorb said elements, and they do add a tactical edge, I just wish there were a few more of them. It also would’ve been nice to see dismemberment used in more creative puzzles rather than constantly using it for combat and only giving the grey matter a few seconds for a workout before tearing through demon hordes once again. You’ll certainly be having fun slicing though buildings like you’re in Lurpak Land, but you’ll always secretly be wishing the game could just go that little bit deeper, and ultimately feel more rewarding in the process. Games focusing on the rise of the underworld don’t need to look pretty, and although NeverDead thankfully doesn’t rely on heavy shades of brown and grey throughout, only a few environments you explore can be deemed imaginative. Even levels later on with the world torn asunder at your feat feel like walks in the higstreet. Despite a sheer unwillingness to flaunt its visuals with fairly generic locales however, NeverDead is consistently smooth, no matter how frenzied things become. You won’t succumb to technical curses leaving you jittering and slumping, and your slaughters never let up no matter how gory they get. Although the surroundings may not be stylish, they are practical when it comes to the gameplay. Bryce also slays everything he sees to a soundtrack provided by Megadeth, and although their talents couldn’t exactly b
e stretched thanks to the repetitive waves of enemies who face up to you, it still fits perfectly with the action NeverDead rolls with. With only nine levels on offer, the single player campaign feels rather light, especially as you won’t be visiting the ‘Game Over’ screen a lot. Should Bryce wish to dig himself out of his hermit cave and socialise, however, you can fight with up to 3 others in online challenges. Should you be a trophy hunting weirdo like myself, you’ll also find a list that goes beyond the simple ‘Complete Chapter XX’, highlighting certain challenges to complete in levels. There’s not a lot to detract from the story, but there’s little tid-bits to feast on should you want more violence after the credits roll. It’s clear that NeverDead knows it’s not the next ground-breaking blockbuster to hit your console. For every nice new idea it chucks in, it’s herded through with some rather familiar design that doesn’t exactly stretch creativity. If you’re happy to shell out on a glitzy, blitzy turbulent force of masochistic mayhem with a dash of Suda 51esque insanity, you really can’t do much better than NeverDead. Those who’ve trained their reflexes to ninja-like abilities and whom see hack ‘n’ slashes as extreme tests of skill however, may tear through the game without breaking a sweat and not bother returning. It’s simply a wacky, frenzied and altogether fun blood-bath that love to spray innards on screen in whichever way possible, and is one the few games you’re encouraged to play completely legless.
The Bad: Basic locales do nothing much to excite, Waves of enemies tend to repeat themselves, Fun combat doesn’t evolve but simply stays the same