This week, Zero Punctuation review NeverDead.
If I had to come up with some snarky, bitter, asshole definition of my job, it would be "coming up with new ways to say something sucks the liquifying offal out of month-old roadkill week to fucking week." Shit, wasted that one.
But there are a great many different flavors of bad on the spectrum of mashed raccoon guts to excite the connoisseur. There's your barely functional bad, like Superman 64, which plays like someone made a big pile of models, textures, and programming routines and throw them all one by one into a whirling cement mixer. There's your technically functional but nonetheless agonizing bad, like Kane & Lynch 2, an experience like duct-taping the outlet pipe of a drawing pin-making machine over your mouth. There's mediocre bad, like Gears of War, the worst kind of bad to try and write funny things about, because it's just a conveyor belt of creatively emaciated gray cardboard boxes bouncing off my head. NeverDead, on the other hand, fits into the category of having enough good ideas to be a pretty excellent game had they been had by an actual game developer rather than the short bus full of donkey-headed circus children it ended up with.
So you start out NeverDead - it does the Resident Evil thing where a scary voice reads out the title, but it sounds kind of bored and resentful about having to do so - and we leap into the story of Bryce Boltzmann, a scarred and cynical demon hunter hobo who gets all his clothes from the dumpster outside the tanning factory and works for some kind of demon hunting agency under the supervision of the world's biggest bitch, who does nothing but belittle him for his poor hygiene and dress sense. Hey, glass houses, lady! Maybe Bryce goes into action looking like someone left a coconut on a garbage bag full of Oxfam donations, but at least he doesn't pull his zipper down so far that his cleavage is doing a passable impersonation of the San Andreas Fault.
Bryce is also immortal, capable of regenerating from any injury, having been cursed by the king of the demons five hundred years ago when the king of the demons wasn't entirely clear on what the word "curse" means. Oh yes, they don't call it NeverDead because he's fastidious about changing the batteries in his TV remote. When a demon summoner shows up representing a chance to end the centuries-long stalemate, Bryce must race to enlist them before the demons can, or at least he would if his legs didn't keep flying off every time he scratched his balls.
The reason why I can say NeverDead is a game of good ideas, at least, is that I guarantee the next few things I say are going to make you want to play it. Since Bryce is immortal, enemy attacks can't kill him, they can only detach his extremities, and Bryce can still function with any arrangement of limbs missing. The man has spent his five centuries mastering hopping at the speed most ordinary men can sprint. Every gun can be dual-wielded. As a torso, he can still flop around with deft twitches of his hideous, calloused winkie. And when reduced to a head, he can still roll merrily around in search of a stump. Which needn't necessarily be a neck, And you can end up a rolling head with four limbs attached, flopping about like a complaining octopus. You can also deliberately tear off your head (to throw down vents and narrow passageways to solve puzzles and uncover secrets) and tear off your arms (still holding guns that can still be fired) in a complete lack of responsibility towards body parts not seen since the zombies from Quake 1.
Yes, you're probably thinking this all sounds very fun and very original (assuming you've never played DecapAttack on the Sega Genesis), but where it collapses is in implementation. Yes, you can fire a gun from a disembodied arm, but good luck hitting anything when the rest of you is across the room trying to hop away from an exploding dog. The main problems are that Bryce has an attachment to his limbs about as firm as that between a greased-up Spaniard and his poorly restrained kidnap victim and that half the development team wanted to be the new Devil May Cry while the other half wanted to be the new Resident Evil, and they opted to compromise rather than take it to the usual games industry tradition of bare-knuckle cage match. So you can switch between using guns or a ridiculously oversize novelty sword, but the camera remains in the Resident Evil 4 piggyback position suitable for mid- to long-range shooting and bugger all else. So demons can and will blindside you from every angle. The very first enemies you meet can send your head flying off in one hit, invariably seconds after you finish pulling yourself together after the last time it happened.
Being a master strategist, I would prioritize killing the monster spawners, which all have way too much health and react to my inept slashes like an Easter Island head reacts to a stiff breeze, all the while gobbing little snapping buggers to nip at my heels (currently lying in a wastepaper basket on the other side of the room). So the average combat sequence looks like we're watching an extreme close-up of bees fighting over a discarded Golden Gaytime.
The best constructive criticism I could offer would be to travel back in time to the first gameplay planning meeting with a large hessian bag and some day laborers with cricket bats.
"Hey," said one developer looking up from his Lego set, "if our character's immortal, then there's not going to be much challenge, is there? Why don't we put in another character he has to escort" - and that's as far as he gets before disappearing into the hessian bag, and his piglike squeals are drowned out by the grunts and thwacks of the day laborers at work.
"And," says another developer sticking whiteboard markers up his nose, "let's constantly put some monsters around that can instantly game over you if they suck in your disembodied head, but you can avoid it by completing a quick-time even" - get in the fuckin' sack!
"You know what I hate?" interjects a third developer emerging from underneath his pillow fort. "Using nice, convenient button presses for sword attacks when we could be rattling the right analog stick back and forth and up and down like a clumsy teenage boy's first time at third base!" "Thank you for sharing," I would say. "You know what I hate? You not being in this fucking sack right now!"
Then there's the prerequisite upgrade system that tries to mix things up a bit by only allowing a limited number of upgrades at a time that you have to slot in and out, Paper Mario style. But before long you'll have a preferred loadout and therefore no conceivable use for any more experience points that are the only thing the game has to reward you with.
But as I said, there are sound ideas here. I enjoyed the puzzles where you have to navigate narrow passageways as a disembodied head - it was almost like an analogy for drunken cunnilingus. NeverDead might have been good if it weren't for the hideous combat, but unfortunately, it's mostly combat, so it's like saying drinking from that puddle of water would have been fine if it hadn't recently been pissed out of a rhino. Also, if it had been better written and better animated so the copious blood particle effects would actually successfully obscure Bryce's limbs suddenly reappearing with an ugly "bing!" And if there was a better system for switching weapons so you weren't cycling through guns one by one looking for the one you want in the heat of battle like a man trying to find his front door key before the velociraptors arrive.
So yes, if all that were fixed, NeverDead would be good. Or if that's too tall of an order, maybe you could just nail a poppadom to a gazelle.
- Kill it and another just grows in its place: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- But regenerating clothes and equipment as well as the limbs is just the kind of bullshit I will not stand for
- Stick him in a wood chipper and he'd solve world hunger