Silver Lining: NeverDead's transforming man

Taylor Cocke
T. Cocke|05.08.12

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'Silver Lining' is a new column from freelancer Taylor Cocke dedicated to pointing to the pieces that showed the most potential in recently released, bad games. Even in the mediocre, we can find a silver lining.

Games tend to take death rather lightly. Characters die constantly, extra lives are collected and wasted, and respawns are regularly infinite. NeverDead eschews it (almost) entirely, adding an interesting layer to core convention of death in games. As a whole, however, NeverDead is mostly a mess. Combat leans toward the tedious, and the dismemberment mechanic is poorly implemented and clunky. Even the story is paper-thin and mostly unfunny, in a genre not generally lauded for well-crafted narratives.

But it could have worked. The concept of playing as the immortal Bryce Boltzmann is one that's fascinating, especially if he's unhappy with his blessing and/or curse. He's able to lose and reattach his limbs and head at will, even if it causes him a good amount of pain. He's bitter. Plus, the same demon that literally immortalized Boltzmann killed his wife in the process. With all the free time he has, it's understandable that he may be a little whacked in the head.

We could have gotten a story about a man forced to abandon all hope, even if he does not have the means to do so physically. Instead, we got the story of a snarky, sneering jerk with no redeeming qualities.
%Gallery-145558%Somewhere buried underneath the clumsy action sequences and Megadeth tracks, there's a story of a man transforming from a hopeful, joyous demon hunter who revels in dispelling evil from the world. The problem is, developer Rebellion Developments seems to have forgotten to show the process. We simply see the beginning and the end; the innocent and the fallen. We're not shown his fall from a promising young demon hunter to the defeated tool of the government he's become.

Really, though, I'd just like to see a montage of Boltzmann getting dismembered set to some horrible/amazing '80s tune.

It's difficult to show the player how much something can hurt when there's no possibility of failure. Without the threat of death looming over the player, why would we ever care about the pain that Boltzmann feels whenever an enemy lops off a leg?

This is actually one of the ways I feel that NeverDead achieved something interesting. In practice, each significant hit results in an incredibly annoying search for an arm or leg to reattach. Frustrating the player to the point of throwing a controller matches up thematically with the feeling losing an appendage for the thousandth time. The pain would eventually be dulled to the point of being reduced to what we'd feel with a paper cut. That's made obvious by the frequency at which Boltzmann pulls off his head to toss it through obstructions.

In this way, Boltzmann is actually made to be a heck of a lot more human than many game characters. It's not terribly often that I actually feel upset when my character gets hit, and it's too bad that the one time it happens is when NeverDead actively frustrates the hell out of me. There has to be some middle ground there, a thin line to be walked between frustration and sympathy.

Like the Greek myth of Prometheus, he's punished for helping humankind with unending, daily pain ... and that's not even mentioning the loss of his wife. His story has all the makings of one about unrequited martyrdom. There's a powerful tragedy in there, and it's incredibly frustrating to watch it slip away.

Under the awful jokes and poorly placed, awkward references, there are several very cool ideas that should have been taken the center stage. With a competent narrative, there could have been some great gallows humor (sans the actual gallows). NeverDead really had the potential to be something really fascinating, if not great.

Taylor Cocke is a freelance writer currently living the Bay Area, who has written for 1UP, Official Xbox Magazine, Playstation: The Official Magazine, VG247, and more. Follow him on Twitter @taylorcocke.
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