Sometimes a game just seems to come out of nowhere and completely blows you away. This can be attributed to your own general ignorance, but sometimes a game just doesn’t get the coverage it deserves. Konami’s latest effort, from the director of the Metal Gear Acid series and UK developer Rebellion, is such a game.
It’s probably the best Japanese game to ever be made outside of Japan. With the sea of sequels (and threequels) released over the past two years, each recycling the same stale ideas over and over again, you can understand why some in the gaming industry feel that innovation is dead. To those that feel this way I present Neverdead and ask you to think again.
At its roots NeverDead is a third person hack and slash/shooting game that owes a lot to Capcom’s Devil May Cry series. Your character can freely switch between guns and blades with the touch of a button. Shooting is handled by pulling the triggers, while slicing with your blade is performed by pushing and pulling on the right analogue stick.
Combat is fast paced and frantic, with dozens of explosive objects and destructible parts of the environment all creating a palpable sense of chaos as you go about destroying the demon legions. There is something really satisfying about entering the beautiful environments and smashing them to pieces, all in the name of killing demons.
You play as Bryce Boltzmann, an demon hunter whose ability to die was taken from him after being defeated by the Demon King over 500 years ago. Since then Bryce has wandered the earth as a demon hunting gun for hire. Now finding himself in the employ of a paranormal agency, and partnered with sassy lady partner Arcadia, Bryce is tasked with getting to the bottom of a recent surge in demon activity that seems to centre around a teenage pop star.
The game’s script is a little convoluted – what do you expect from one of the co-writers of the Metal Gear Solid games? – but it has some genuinely funny moments in it. Similarly the voice acting has a hokey quality to it, but it is performed with enough enthusiasm to make it a real highlight. Occasionally you will hear the odd sound clip repeat itself, usually when Bryce looses a limb, but overall the quality of the sound design is pretty good. Did I mention that heavy metal band Megadeath perform the game’s main song? No? Well, they do, and it is great.
Where NeverDead really shines is through its innovative dismemberment gameplay mechanic. Where in other games if you were to loose your head it would result in a game over screen, in NeverDead getting decapitated is merely an inconvenience. As Bryce is immortal he cannot be killed. Ever. Should you find yourself taking a great deal of damage then you may see your limbs fall off. This is not the end of the world, as all you need to do is dive close to your limbs in order to reattach them. You also have a regenesis bar at the bottom right of the screen which, when filled, allows you to regenerate your missing limbs.
However during each mission you are joined by your human partner, Arcadia, and she is very mortal. If she takes too much damage, be it from the enemies attacking or your overly enthusiastic sword swipes, she will collapse and will require reviving. It is fortunate then that Arcadia is generally quite tough and is able to take care of herself for the most part. You will just need to keep an eye on her and make sure that she doesn’t get overwhelmed.
Of course that’s not to say that there aren’t any threats to Bryce’s safety at all. There are a number of annoying little critters that love to swallow your severed body parts roaming around each level. These creatures are able to consume your missing limbs, which can quite the inconvenience. Should they manage to catch your severed head, and you fail to escape their clutches, you will be digested in their guts for the rest of eternity, and as such will have to restart from the last checkpoint. This can lead to some frustrating moments when you can see those creatures coming but are unable to get away quick enough. Fortunately, save for a few moments towards the end of the game, the checkpoints are frequent, meaning that you’ll never have to replay too much to get back to where you were.
Between battles it is sometimes beneficial to remove your own head and have a little explore. Along the way you may find a number of hidden collectible objects, supplies, or extra experience points. Each level features many navigational puzzles that can only be solved by removing your head and rolling through tight gaps, or puzzles that require you to make good use of your immortality. While rarely being particularly challenging these serve as a nice respite from the chaos of the demon fighting.
One of the most interesting features of the game is the way that natural hazards, such as fire and electricity, which would cause you damage in other games, essentially become power ups, allowing you to inflict extra damage on enemies. Similarly in one level in the sewers, there are no lights and in order to navigate your way through the dark tunnels you need to repeatedly set yourself on fire.
The interesting gameplay mechanics are also present in the game’s boss fights. One boss battles takes place inside the stomach of a hideous monster, who turns his body to alter your perspective on the landscape, making up suddenly become down, while another has you shooting through magical portals, and charging your blade with mystical energy. It is clear that they have put a lot of thought in to the boss battles, and for the most part, they have come up with some very interesting fights.
Defeating enemies earns you experience points, which can be spent on purchasing upgrades for Bryce improving his basic abilities – weapon power, jumping height, that sort of thing – and you can also unlock some more extravagant powers. A personal favourite of mine is the ability to rip your own arm off, with gun still in hand, and throw it at a crowd of enemies and pelt them with a hail of bullets. One thing to keep in mind is the fact that you only have a limited number of upgrade slots, with the more useful upgrades taking up to four slots each. What this means is that you will be required to switch your upgrades on the fly as you face different challenges.
You can also earn experience through the game’s online multiplayer challenges. These range from co-operative missions, in which you have to defeat wave after wave of enemies, to competitive challenges, like the egg hunts, where you have to find hidden eggs and return them to your base. As of writing the game’s online mode was unavailable for testing, so we cannot attest to how it performs. However if they have put as much effort in to the online component as they have everything else then they are on to a winner. Konami are clearly dedicated to the online challenge mode as they have already confirmed that they will be providing more missions as DLC at a later date, and I look forward to playing the multiplayer when the game is released.
In summation NeverDead is one of the first big surprises of the year; an original game, full of charm and character, and innovative gameplay. Why we didn’t have this game rammed down our collective throats leading up to its release I’ll never understand.
Graphics: 4/5 – A strong clear visual design, with impressive destructible scenery.
Sound: 5/5 – The voice acting may be a little hokey, but it is performed with enthusiasm. The rock soundtrack provided by Megadeath really sets the tone well. Also, anyone that doesn’t smile at the game’s cheesy pop music that plays during the credits has no soul.
Gameplay: 4.5/5 – Although a little frustrating at times, the dismemberment system is a revelation. There aren’t many games out there these days that manage to pull off something so unique.
Longevity: 4/5 – Although the main story mode lasts about 8 hours, you are encouraged to replay it in order to earn enough experience to buy all of the upgrades. There are over a dozen online multiplayer challenges to play through, although at the time of writing we were unable to sample this mode.
Overall 4.5 out 5
Refreshing, innovative, and fun. NeverDead is a great fusion of East and West making it the first must have title of the year for console owners. If you’re fed up of repetitive sequels then you could do much worse than give this game a try.
- Luke Mears