Directed by a renowned Japanese game designer, developed by a British studio and featuring a script that shamelessly panders to the American mass market… really, how weird could Konami’s NeverDead possibly be? The answer is predictable – it’s plenty weird – but the surprising thing is that for the most part it’s actually pretty good weird. The finale is a bit of a let-down, repetition intermittently sets in all the way through it and visually it’s never anything more than serviceable, but the demented, take-it-or-leave-it tone of everything is rather delightful and there are more than a few moments of genuine invention and wit; particularly during boss battles.
You play as an insolent (and perpetually drunk) immortal mercenary named Bryce – a moniker that was cleverly thrust upon the hero so that he could constantly use “Slice ’em, and Bryce ’em!” as a battle cry – who is locked in a centuries-old clash with a powerful demonic entity and a handful of his oddball minions; one of whom is a flatulent man-frog with a penchant for Medieval dress. How the game’s female lead gets involved in all of this is considerably less important to NeverDead’s creators than the need to keep the action constantly flowing; she’s there merely to provide a very basic engine to drive you from action set-piece to action set-piece.
At first, the game is basically a stable Devil May Cry tribute which definitely places more emphasis on the swordplay than the guns, but after the solid opening hour it starts spreading its wings a little; amusing puzzles start to appear (many of which require you to dismember yourself) and the appearance of devious little “Grandbabies” make the combat immeasurably more taxing. Though re-attaching a lost limb is as simple as rolling over it, once you’re down to just Bryce’s head these Grandbabies scurry after you furiously and attempt to inhale you. If they manage to do this, you’ll have to complete an elementary QTE before you can continue. Fail it, and it’s Game Over, but a generous checkpointing system means that this only occasionally gets truly frustrating.
Bizarrely, one of the most compelling gameplay touches comes in the form of a character ability that isn’t even available to purchase until well after the halfway point. ‘Sixth Sense’ automatically triggers slo-mo when you’re in any form of imminent danger, and it’s a hugely effective tool for dodging powerful enemy attacks, or evading falling rubble and masonry. Speaking of which, although the dismemberment mechanics are undeniably novel, in many ways the best thing about NeverDead is way that handles those destructible environments. Almost every part of every level in the game is destructible, and though the utter havoc that can ensue (if you’re not careful) will occasionally result in you getting stuck behind some of it, falling debris is so lethal that you can use it to dispatch entire groups of enemies at once.
Unfortunately NeverDead goes off the boil somewhat during its final stretch, as almost every encounter results in all of your limbs being severed at once instead of just one at a time – to ramp up difficulty in place of improved enemy AI – but even this doesn’t manage to neutralise its aloof goodwill. It may not have the class, sheen or authentically punkish attitude of last year’s premier B-movie pastiche Shadows of the Damned, but NeverDead is every bit as mental, and some of it – like the slightly drowsy but very, very thoughtful thumbstick-based swordplay – is destined to remain unsung. There are even a few quiet pre-boss interludes that take place in the heroine’s apartment, and they’re nothing more than an excuse for some thoroughly dumb (and thoroughly welcome) moments of immature slapstick.
Now that we all predominantly rent our movies by post (or simply stream them online) the lost pleasure of haphazardly grabbing a garish post-pub video rental before closing time and then hoping for the best seems to have been lost forever. NeverDead’s brazen B-movie pitch – with its bad puns, utterly nonsensical helter-skelter plot and reliance on deafening bombast – might as well have come straight from Blockbusters’ bottom shelf, and yet it somehow manages to engage throughout as a single player experience, despite having been apparently tailor made for a room full of rowdy, inebriated nincompoops. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Neverdead is currently due for release on the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 on Friday, February 3rd 2012.
Watch the latest Neverdead trailer below: