Promising ideas are cut off at their head by shaky game mechanics.
In most video games the player takes on the role of an immortal badass. Death is rarely the end, but a temporary setback, a return to checkpoint. Konami’s NeverDead embraces the immortal aspect of the video game protagonist by introducing Bryce Boltzmann, a cursed undying immortal whose only character trait is that he simply can’t die. Unfortunately, NeverDead forgets to include the “badass” portion of the equation, and the final product is one of the most frustrating, boring and unlikeable games in recent memory.
Conceived by Konami’s producer Shinta Nojiri and developed by England’s Rebellion for American audiences, NeverDead feels like a hellish mishmash that’s trying to replicate both the weirdness of Eastern games like Shadows of the Damned and the non-stop action of Western games like Gears of War. The ludicrously named Boltzmann is a demon slayer for a government agency, and that’s all you need to know about the story, which is little more than a series of random scenes strung together with a dash of backstory about Bryce’s curse. It’s hard to care about Bryce’s story because, frankly, he sucks. Thanks to a series of awful one-liners that are repeated way too often, Bryce comes across as a generic and unlikable tool.
The obnoxiousness of the character wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the game was remotely fun or interesting. That’s even more of a letdown. Through monotonous, meandering levels, Bryce faces down hordes of endlessly repeated enemies with names that betray the staggering lack of creativity that permeates the game. There are doglike enemies called “puppies” and flying enemies called “birdies.” It’s supposed to be funny, but simply comes off as lazy. The same enemies appear again and again and again from the beginning of the game to the end, including many scenarios in which they respawn infinitely until you destroy spawners called “wombs.” That was annoying back when Gauntlet did it, and that was 1985.
During combat, Bryce can and will be blown apart time and time again. As an immortal, this kind of damage doesn’t kill him—if Bryce’s arms, legs, and head are ripped off, you roll the severed head around and pick up your missing bits or regenerate from just a head. You can also rip off your head and arms to solve puzzles—you toss your head into vents to get past doors and throw your limbs into the mouths of bosses so you can shoot them from the inside.
It sounds cool on paper, but Bryce’s structural integrity issues quickly become the game’s most annoying feature. Bryce crumbles as quickly as Lana Del Rey on stage—a still breeze blows and he falls apart. Blocking fails constantly, the dodge function rarely works and the collision detection is completely unpredictable. Every combat scenario feels the same—attack seemingly endless swarms of enemies with underpowered guns or your sloppy analog sword, get ripped apart by an attack from offscreen or a failed block, fall to pieces, collect your parts, repeat. And repeat. And repeat. When your main gameplay feature is also its biggest flaw, that’s a problem.
As an immortal, Bryce has certainly heard his share of old sayings, such as the one that states that if you can’t say anything nice, you shouldn’t say anything at all. I have two nice things to say about NeverDead, so I guess that absolves me for my torrent of negativity. I do have to give NeverDead credit for its core concept, as well as the impressive array of destruction, which allows the player to collapse ceilings onto enemies and damage them with splintered shards of the environment. But every other element of the game is simply a failure. Bryce is an awful character, and the game is frustrating to play, shallow and repetitive. The story is flat and the even the soundtrack grates, unless you enjoy an endless loop of the same generic heavy metal riff. Hell, I even hate the menu screens. It’s fair to assume that I would probably hate the multiplayer, but I honestly couldn’t say. Every time I tried to get online, I couldn’t find a match. As of the deadline for this article, there were 11 players ranked on NeverDead’s leaderboards. Eleven. I don’t know if I feel bad for those 11 poor souls or admire their bravery.
Jeremy M. Zoss writes for community newspaper The Journal in downtown Minneapolis. He’s also written for a bunch of other outlets, including gaming blog Village Voice Media. He thinks about writing fiction more often than he actually does it.