Neverdead Review (Xbox360)

People often claim they’re pulling their hair out with stress but has anyone ever attempted to dislodge their entire head? A little thing called mortality prevents us from doing so, but if you eradicate that minor annoyance, imagine the disfigurement possibilities.

NeverDead, Konami’s latest third-person demon-slayer, is built entirely around this concept. Playing as Bryce Boltzmann, a dryly sarcastic, irritable demon hunter who’s immortal, you’re tasked with sending the evil legions packing. After an unfortunate run-in with demon-king Astaroth, where your wife was caught in the crossfire, it’s up to you to team up with busty Arcadia Maximille, a demon PI, to dispatch the nasties of the world.

One hell of a headache

Take away the alcoholic, abusive behaviour of Boltzmann, a character trait reminiscent of strange-fest Shadows of the Damned, and there’s a standard buddy feature at play here. Banter, irrelevance and outright lunacy keeps NeverDead from slipping into a generic hack-and-slash/shooter hybrid.

Its unique hook is dismemberment. Being blessed/cursed, (you decide), with immortality means you’re prone to collapsing into bits. NeverDead revolves around clever puzzle mechanics, many of which have you rolling around as a head or alternatively, chucking limbs into boss mouths to pepper them with bullets from the inside. Naturally the legions of hell are sharp and pointy. Most have the ability to rip your arms and legs from your body and often, completely obliterate your human form.

When you are left armless or at the mercy of comedic hopping, rolling into your missing bits will make you whole again. Obviously by removing the obstacle of death, a mechanic the majority of games rely on for their entire form, you’re excused for questioning how you fail at NeverDead.

In each level are tiny demons hoovering up your missing limbs. If you’re forced down to head form and fail to avoid their sucking proficiency, you’ll be gobbled up into their mouths. There you’re given a quick-time ‘match a moving bar with a set point’ scenario. If you line up successfully, you’ll be spat out, ready to regenerate your body or find the rest of you. Fail, and it’s game over / restart checkpoint.

There is no Spoon

Where NeverDead stumbles a bit is with its control scheme. With dual gun wielding, a gigantic sword, dodging, items, lock-on system and rippable arms/head, you’re often your own worst enemy. The lock-on system is particularly clumsy, and with a sword control scheme assigned to the right analogue stick, you often feel as ineffective as Bryce himself when he’s lacking his digits.

Frustration rears its particularly ugly head with the boss battles. Hit the weakpoint for massive damage – a standard approach, but with secondary enemies trawling the boss enclosures for your supple flesh, you’re often always lacking the necessary hands for firepower, or crawling along the floor. Add to the mix the head-hoovers and NeverDead can be a vicious cycle of dismemberment, continue screens and expletives.

With its narrative NeverDead sways from genius, self aware melodrama to wooden, one dimension trollop. Bryce and Arcadia can’t make their minds up as to whether they want to be deliciously quirky or coma-inducing boring. The game’s periodically cliché, despite its unusual gameplay, and it’s a shame.

Its locations are its redeeming feature. Unapologetically linear, they range from abandoned mental asylums to terrorised museums. The level of detail is interesting enough, and with a soundtrack provided by metal-gods Megadeth, the chaos and ultra-violence merges into an orgy of delight.

NeverDead’s tone is successfully realised, but it does come down with CRTL-V corridor syndrome on occasion. Demon design is equally inspired – with so many games focused on the undead and/or modern terrorists, it’s fresh to see a game taking creativity seriously. Our particular favourite are the axe-style Spoons, walking cutting nightmares that stumble about blindly slicing anything that get in their way.

Are you dismembering me?

So Grindhouse meets Gaming or a depressing gaming grind? NeverDead is a bit of both. In parts, it’s genius, merging humour, new gameplay ideas and old fashioned gun slinging to create a gaming experience like nothing else. Most of the time it’s a clunky mismatch of ideas that fails to deliver on its promise. It can certainly be commended on its desire to do things differently, and whether or not it stands out for good or bad reasons, it stands out regardless.

Angry 18 year olds will love it for its thrill-seeking idiocy and 35 year old regressive-types will enjoy a return to Metal madness; a time when gaming was about blowing stuff up without any need to think. The rest of us will find it an awkward, well-intentioned game that just about delivers on its potential. In a quiet period, it’ll do well; if It was released three months ago, it would be a headless chicken stuck in the discount section.

Top Gaming Moment: Rolling through ventilation shafts without the rest of your body.

Platforms Played: Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3