Having been in the public eye since 2010, Konami’s NeverDead has finally arrived at retail stores throughout the world in an usually quiet fashion. Launching incredibly close to the critically acclaimed Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, it could be said that the publisher already has their hands full, but for many it will be an ominous sign that NeverDead isn’t quite the innovative experience its premise promises it to be.
The videogame experience is conducted from a third-person perspective with the emphasis placed firmly on an action packed adventure. Playing as Bryce Boltzmann, an undead demon hunter, the player is able tosustain significant damage without failing their objective. So much so, players will find they spend much of the videogame without one or two of their limbs. The penalty for loss is minimal – reduced speed for a leg and limiting firepower for an arm – and regaining your faculties is as easy as rolling into them.
As is becoming more of a tradition with the experiences of developing for PlayStation 3 gradually evolving, the once mandatory installation is nowhere to be seen. Instead, in less than a minute from inserting the disc for the first time players are met with a scene setting intro sequence. Teasingly depicting the videogame’s eye candy, Arcadia Maximille, in battle with a small but meaty dog-like creature, it’s a quick realisation that NeverDead is going to be an experience that thrives on grotesque oddities; a basis that has become seemingly rare since the might of the PlayStation2’s exclusives catalogue.
The premise is arguably the best part of NeverDead, as in play its performance is of a decidedly average calibre. It’s a real shame, as for all of NeverDead’s intended innovation its design still feels outmoded. It’s a reflection of the last generation, and not in that charming niche way, in the fact that other developers have since progressed the genre beyond this artificial design. NeverDead feels closer to the likes of The Suffering and Evil Dead: Regeneration rather than Gears of War or Army of Two, and is notable for its technical inferiority.
The gunplay in NeverDead is interesting in that of its dual-target system, but is hardly inspiring. Instead it’s the close combat that is the videogame’s most well though-out action piece: Boltzmann carries a huge sword with him, and by holding the appropriate button he will ready it. Using the right analogue stick, the player can then dictate the angle at which Boltzmann strikes with the weapon, offering a great deal of opportunity for the player to explore possible attack patterns and combinations of moves. Sadly, even this mechanic is let down by a camera that simply isn’t clever enough to support it properly; it’s a regular occurrence that after vanquishing an opponent the player will be left with a camera facing an entirely different direction than the starting point, thus leaving you desperately open to attack for more than a few moments while you readjust manually.
Throughout the videogame the player is able to unlock many new abilities through gaining experience (awarded for killing enemies as well as being found as a collectable throughout the levels). Some of these new abilities do aid the player significantly whereas others are simply for completion’s sake, but along with this comes the feeling that with so many available manoeuvres, why are lost limbs recuperated in such a blasé manner? Rolling to collect body parts feels like a half-baked idea to tie the interesting mechanic to an existing control scheme. Given the dive/roll function, NeverDead could easily have done away with the jump command – or even instigated an auto-jump akin to the The Legend of Zelda series – potentially freeing up a button specifically for this action. It’s yet another point at which NeverDead presents an interesting idea and fails to see it through; yet another point at which the design feels several years out of date.
Along with that outdated mechanical implementation is the visual design: while areas are littered with detail and characters are animated well, the lack of interactivity in the environments significantly limits their impact. These are just environments to run through, not locations with stories of years past and hidden rewards for players who choose to acknowledge each individual area as unique. While the videogame does at least attempt to warm you to Bryce, his dialogue is so trite for much of the duration that he simply appears as a walking horror fantasy cliché: the brash half-dead zombie breaking the rules to fight for justice. Halfway between The Evil Dead’s Ash and X-Men’s Wolverine, and would surely feel perfectly at home alongside wither one of them.
NeverDead has been developed by the same studio responsible for Rogue Trooper, a title which throughout its development looked to be a groundbreaking production, but which ultimately failed to deliver on its many promises. NeverDead echoes this sentiment in an eerily accurate manner: the same level of fantastic ideas with poor execution, and same likelihood of being overlooked. There is some enjoyment to be had with NeverDead, it is an action packed experience free of any damaging technical concerns, but its delivery has about as much brainpower as the many zombified enemies Boltzmann will slay on his way through the linear adventure.