NeverDead is split into a roughly ten hour campaign and some challenge and co-op multiplayer action. Gameplay reminds me very much of Devil May Cry. Bryce, an immortal demon hunter, is tasked with killing hordes of hellspawns with guns and a big sword known as the butterly blade. He’s got the unique ability to be dismembered and either reattach the lost parts or regenerate them. While it’s true your character cannot die, you can game over if your head gets stuck inside the body of a particular enemy, or if your AI help dies. Arcadia is a government agent that you team up with to hunt down demons across a variety of locales in a fictional modern day city. She does pretty well for herself in combat, and healing her is as simple as pressing Square for about two seconds. In many ways, she’s the polar opposite of the AI help in Knights Contract, which is a good thing.
A faint story exists, but it’s cast to the side and more or less there out of obligation. I found it hard to like any of the main characters, too. Bryce is borderline whiny in his dialogue and also cracks far too many bad jokes. His past is mildly interesting at best from what information we’re given and while I’m not saying I could not eventually come to like him (perhaps in DLC or a sequel), he doesn’t do much for me right now. Anyway, characters and story aside, what you have here is a third person action game with a few interesting gameplay mechanics. The most obvious of those is what happens with Bryce’s body. Both arms, both legs, and your head, can all be lopped or blown off by the demons, such as demon dogs with razor teeth or these weird four-legged spider-looking things with a blade for a head. Bryce actually gets dismembered rather easily in combat, but the only concerning dismemberment is losing your head or both arms. When you lose your head, you literally play as your head — you roll around, end over end, with no offensive ability. You can hold forward and charge up a dash, Sonic the Hedgehog style, though. This is useful for getting away from enemies to locate (and hopefully reconnect to) your torso, or to give yourself enough room and time to quickly regenerate your body, weapons and all. When you lose an arm, you can still shoot the gun in that hand, wherever it may be lying, which is pretty cool, although in practice not really all that useful. Losing a leg or two means you will be hopping around or crawling on your gut until you either reattach the missing piece by rolling (press Circle) into it or using the regenerate command (holding L3 when the meter is full).
Not being able to die may sound like this game would be easy, and to a degree it is, although there are a lot of ‘bad luck’ and frustrating game-overs, especially in boss encounters. The biggest key is to not lose your head or let Arcadia die. So unless I’m sure of where the torso is, I make certain to get far away from the enemies as quickly as I can when they decapitate Bryce. That way, I can just use my regenerate ability and be good as new. Locating your torso is never hard, thanks to on screen pointers and a white lining around any of your detached body parts. The problem is dealing with those pesky enemies that want to suck your head into their bellies. When this happens, you are taken to a super brief and simple (well, design-wise anyway) mini-game. There’s a horizontal bar with two objects coming towards one another. You have to press X as the two objects overlap or it’s game over. Succeed and the creature spits you back out.
Getting sucked in by those is one trouble, the other, more aggravating one is getting stuck or just being unable to get your head in the right position to re-attach yourself. This can especially happen in environments that you have been fighting in, given the considerable amount of destruction that most environments sustain in battle. Bryce is able to destroy pillars and walls, shoot highly explosive containers, and other objects to bring the environment crashing down on the enemy (or himself). With all of those real-time changes to the environment, navigating it can get kind of tricky. Bryce can’t jump for anything (even with the Jump ability I purchased), much less when you’re just a head, and you’ll also have to fight the camera at times as it can get hung up. All this combined with the fact that it is possible for body parts to get wedged in unreachable places, and you’re better off just upgrading the regenerate ability and using it.
Even when you do die, checkpoints are generally not that far behind, but of course you want to avoid those at all costs. The best way to keep moving is to use the numerous available abilities that can be purchased. Bryce starts out with ten ability slots that you can hot swap at anytime, simply by pressing Select. From here, you can purchasing equip, and un-equip your abilities. Different abilities take up a different number of slots. For example to increase the power of your butterfly blade by 10%, that will cost you three upgrade slots. To increase your Sprint speed, that’s just one slot. There is a good variety of ability types to play with, and more unlock at the end of levels, but the game does keep you honest with the slot limit. Personally, I keep the earn 20% extra XP ability set at all times, to make every pick up and enemy kill count the most.
Earning XP in NeverDead is snap, especially if you take advantage of some of the very early enemy-respawn points. Similar to Devil May Cry, you will often enter a room that only has one way out. This exit will be blocked off by demonic forces, which only recede when you clear the entire room, or area. These areas can get to be fairly big, but the nuisance is dealing with the enemy spawning points. They’re not hard to locate, but you’ll quickly grow tired of these damn things, especially when one area has multiple ones (that pop up in succession). As annoying as they are, they can be a quick way to earn tons of XP. Furthermore, when it does come time to destroy them, you can usually position yourself to the side or behind them and hack away with your blade. The blade’s swath is often large enough to cut enemies in a 180 degree radius, allowing you to keep at it until it’s life meter hits zero.
I’m fine with a few rooms setup like I just described, but when they’re the norm for each level in the game, it really adds to the monotony of the experience. Additionally, if you manage to get one of those ‘bad luck’ or frustrating game-overs, it’s all the more irritating to have to start at the beginning of the room or area and trudge through it again, hacking and blasting the same enemies over and over. Eventually, you’ll work your way to a big boss fight. These reminded me of Lost Planet in that they’re generally very large bosses with yellow-highlighted weak areas that expose themselves at times. The boss fights as a whole are okay, but they tend to wear out their welcome as you continue to roll and run around the environment trying to get a good view of their weak spot(s). Plus, as a general rule, until I got my first carbine, the guns were nearly useless, due to inaccuracy and low damage. Not to mention that some enemies are simply impervious to bullets, and others, the demon dogs, jump too far and fast to make guns all that worthwhile. I should point out that ammo is limited for anything better than the default handguns, and each gun has a separate type of ammo.
I ended up using the butterfly blade for the most part, and after some awkward first minutes with its controls, finally got more or less comfortable with it. Swinging the blade requires that you press L1 to target an enemy and then you use the right stick in swinging motions. For example press up, then down. Or right, then left. The more deliberate and bigger the motion here, the stronger the cut. You can do many short, quick cuts, but at a reduced damage rate. Even though using the blade means getting up close and personal to the demons, which translates to more sudden dismemberments (for Bryce), I found it much preferred to the guns due to improved damage and accuracy. I also like how targeting enemies highlights their outline, so even when the environment is crumbling all around or bright lighting or dust makes it hard to see, you can see see where your target is.
Certain aspects of the experience felt a little slow or questionable, including Bryce’s jumping ability and these awkward kicks he would seemingly randomly perform. Out of nowhere while I’m trying to slice or blast a demon and move at the same time, Bryce would just throw up a side kick, even if no enemy was in the immediate area. It was just weird more than anything, but a nuisance and apparent gameplay flaw nonetheless. Also the responsiveness to switching between the blade and the guns. To switch, you just press Triangle, but this isn’t as fast or smooth as I had hoped. On more than several occasions, I was running around the environment, trying to switch between the two, and the responsiveness was oddly slow at times. Actually another nag on the same lines is that when you use your regeneration ability, which is often, you come back to form with guns drawn, not the sword, even if that was the last weapon you had selected. Fortunately, things like the combat roll are more responsive, but the goofy thing with it is that you have to use it for picking up your dismembered limbs, and it’s easy to over jump these. It seems like allowing the player to walk, run, or crawl over the body part would have been fine, but oddly you can’t do that.
As the campaign progresses, Bryce is able to use his body for more functions, such as throwing and exploding his arms like bombs, or ripping his own head off and throwing it to an area that you can’t otherwise reach. This makes for some decent puzzles, both in completing the main campaign and also for exploring the environment for collectibles (you can see how many collectibles are in the level from the Pause menu). In one early example Bryce has to yank his head, toss it onto some scaffolding above him, and then use his regenerate ability to bring the rest of his body onto the new, higher plane. There are some good moments like this that you just don’t see in other games.
But for all of the good ideas and good or great moments in NeverDead, there are plenty of bit-your-lip disappointments and a considerable amount of monotony to go around. However, this is one of those games that I found compelling enough to just keep playing. I’ve certainly played far worse games that weren’t nearly as creative as NeverDead, I’ll say that much. So while it’s far from perfect, it has its strong points and gave me, at least, enough reason to keep trudging through even if I wasn’t enjoying myself the entire way (not unlike Knights Contract).