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Neverdead review: Devil may try


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Death and dismemberment are nothing new in the eternal battle between good and evil. As we are taught from a young age, the forces of evil are forever ravaged by those of good. Heads are severed, bodies split in twain, souls imprisoned. As a general rule, however, such terms are rarely applied to the hero.

NeverDead attempts to buck the trend by giving us Bryce, an immortal demon slayer who finds himself constantly burned, electrocuted, stabbed, shot, sliced, digested and torn apart. Even when reduced to nothing but a rolling head, Bryce will always be ready for more. The question is whether you'll be ready too.

Gallery: NeverDead (E3 2011) | 35 Photos

Bryce's immortality is central to NeverDead. Beset on all sides by demons of every stripe, he must shoot or slice his way through the horde, knowing that they could lop off any or all of his limbs at any time. As you might imagine, it's pretty hard to swing a sword with no arms -- and walking without legs, well, that's just impossible.

A little mutilation isn't enough to stop an immortal though, and Bryce can simply roll over his limbs to reconnect them or, given enough time, regenerate them entirely. It's a unique mechanic that leads to a handful of inventive experiences. The best is probably Bryce's ability to pull off his own head and toss it to distant locations, usually into air vents or otherwise inaccessible areas. Think of it like a really gross version of Metroid's morph ball.

The novelty wears off, however, when you realize that, since Bryce cannot die, every single enemy is designed to dismember him at every turn. It's not uncommon to poise for a killing blow, only to have a demon knock Bryce's head off, cancelling his attack and forcing him to slowly roll his head back to his body. It is exactly as annoying as it sounds. Also, as a side note, Bryce may not be able to die, but you still get a game over screen if a certain enemy manages to swallow his head.

Most enemies can be shot to death with a variety of weapons collected throughout the game, but it's rarely, if ever, preferable to simply cutting them down with Bryce's sword. Aiming controls are very twitchy and, frankly, most guns aren't terribly effective anyway -- and let's not forget that once you finally draw a bead on your baddie of choice, there's a good chance that another baddie is about to take your head off. There are a few techniques Bryce can unlock that will increase the effectiveness of bullets, but I never found them worth it.

More often than not, it's just easier to start slicing with the sword, which is accomplished by locking onto an enemy with the left trigger and swinging the right stick in the desired direction. Even as effective as it is, the swordplay isn't very engaging, in my case devolving into a Mr. Miyagi-like mantra of constant side-to-side swings. The third combat option involves NeverDead's destructible environments, which fall apart around Bryce as he shoots or cuts into them.

It's possible to kill enemies with falling debris, though it usually seems to result only by accident. In fact, enemies will often destroy the environment themselves, causing debris to crush and kill other enemies. Using the environment as a weapon is a smart (and occasionally amusing) idea, but its execution feels about as haphazard as the debris itself.

It doesn't help matters that combat scenarios all play out the same way: The exit is sealed off, enemies pile in and Bryce has to take them all out in order to clear the way. The setup is similar to other character action titles like Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but where those titles bestow players with seemingly limitless techniques, Bryce's repertoire is limited at best. Ultimately, it leads to a repeating cycle in which Bryce cuts down dozens of enemies, possibly forced to destroy several enemy spawning Hellmouths in the process and maybe capping things off with a mini-boss. Things get somewhat more interesting as Bryce acquires new optional abilities -- particularly the ability to detonate his missing limbs like grenades -- but fighting through what is essentially the same encounter over and over again wears thin by the end of the campaign.

There are a few genuinely well-designed bosses to battle, including a bizarre, three-headed monstrosity with the body of a cockroach and the heads of a rabbit, panther and crocodile. My favorite is probably Sangria, a fat demon with Elizabethan garb and an effeminate southern drawl. Heaven knows how an Elizabethan demon acquired a southern drawl, but far be it from me to complain. Boss battles are one of the highlights of NeverDead, though some of them are recycled to the point of boredom (I'm looking at you, electro-whale).

Beyond actual gameplay, the narrative weaved through the action won't be winning any awards -- prevent the resurrection of the demon king, etc. In particular, some of the dialogue is downright cringe-inducing. ("Here's the elevator. I'll press the button.") Players should also prepare to hear the same one-liners repeated ad nauseam, with Bryce sometimes even spouting the same one several times in a row. Furthermore, while Bryce is memorable enough, the two main female characters -- a by-the-books "agent" and a whiny pop singer -- are about as generic as they come. Still, the story isn't any worse than most action titles (quick, name the main villain in Bayonetta).

When all is said and done, NeverDead's immortality mechanic is certainly intriguing, as are its destructible environments. You may even develop an attachment to Bryce by the end of his quest. If the combat was more involving, and the destruction more deliberate, the developers at Rebellion might have been on to something. For now, in trying to tread new ground, NeverDead's greatest success is in finding the middle.

This review is based on review code of the Xbox 360 version of NeverDead, provided by Konami. The reviewer was unable to try multiplayer due to low player population.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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