As Konami release their new IP to the world, we've spent the last two weeks playing the title to death (or as close as the title allows) to scrutinise every inch of the title and to bring you one of the most informed opinions on whether this title is worth laying down some money.
Bryce at a glance appears to be a normal thirty-something year old. That’s not the case however. He is in fact, inflicted with immortality and could boast 500 candles on his birthday cake. Cursed by the demon king Astaroth in a previous and fearsome battle, Bryce now contracts as a demon killer for hire fuelled by a desire for revenge, cold hard cash and alcohol. We take control of Bryce shortly after Arcadia, Bryce’s partner, calls in his services to investigate an alleged demon sighting at a near-by abandoned asylum, heralding the start of a new demon uprising.In the beginning...
As a new IP from Rebellion Games and Konami, the history mentioned above trickles forth throughout the title through a series of flashbacks and memories of Bryce's experiences. The key unique selling point with this title is, of course, the cursed immortality and Bryce’s ability to be torn limb-from-limb, reattaching his shredded remains or growing new body parts to order.
Whilst Bryce’s back-story is given prominence at the start of the title, it’s a shame to say that the plot doesn’t reach any great depth or level of interest throughout the campaign. Without giving anything away, you will follow an attempt to resurrect your old enemy Astaroth and set out to thwart the demon's efforts at every turn to save the human population and restore peace. There are attempts at twists in the plot as the story nears its conclusion, but it doesn’t connect with the gamer on any real level and you’ll watch the cut scenes mostly as a matter of completion. Does it harm the title? Not really, but that does mean of course that the title has to immediately fall back and hope to give gamers an experience that can hold their attention for the duration of the campaign. This clocked in at around ten hours on ‘normal’ for me, but you could easily fall short or exceed this total depending on your style of play and your difficulty settings. It’s important to note this review will approach the single player campaign and not the multiplayer challenges as, of course, it was impossible to set up a lobby for testing weeks ahead of release.That’s not a knife, THIS is a knife...
With the title falling back into its comfort zone, the combat is clearly where the developers are pinning their hopes. Bryce is capable of wielding dual firearms or a two-handed sword to dispatch his foes. Weapons come in many flavours, from the generic handgun with which you start, through to an SMG, assault rifle, grenade launcher and a shotgun. You are able to wield a different gun in each hand, which makes close quarter combat a literal blast. Ranged enemies can take a dose of lead from the assault rifle whilst stragglers and hopeful ambushers are blown away by a well placed shotgun blast. There’s rarely need to zoom in and pick out targets, a spray and pray approach is encouraged as the enemies are thrown at you thick and fast. There are times you will need to wipe out an airborne threat and the option to get a little more hands on with your aim is welcome.
When your weapons fail you thanks to armour plating for example, you can break out the two handed sword for some melee-based mayhem. It’s a devastating tool, and I actually resorted to using this over the weapons for 80% of the campaign. Sadly the combos are very limited here; you must hold down the left trigger to trigger Bryce’s ‘fight stance’ and then slash the right analog stick left-to-right, top-to-bottom or diagonally to swing the blade. That’s basically it. If you try to spam the same direction over and over, the damage dealt is reduced or the enemy may block your attack. It’s a little frustrating that there are no lavish combos on offer or some sword/gun critical attacks. For a man who has spent 500 years unleashing hell on demons for a living, he’s pretty lax with his skills. Perhaps it’s ‘in keeping’ with his character, but when you’re surrounded on all sides by enemies you’ll find yourself wondering why there isn’t a 360 degree sweep on offer, for example.
The furious hack and slash nature of the game breeds forgiveness though, and you’ll have an absolute blast tearing through waves and walls of enemies and harvesting XP points as you go. Quite often, in fact, I left the enemies spawn points intact and decimated them repeatedly to boost my XP earnings for the next reward I had my eye on. We’ll cover these in later sections.
Aside from the guns and the melee though, NeverDead
is an absolute pleasure to behold with its destructible environments. Oh, the fun! One level sees you enter a Natural History museum, which is in pristine condition when you enter. There’s very little that you CAN’T destroy though, and the cleaning crew will be weeping into their mop and buckets when they turn up in the morning. Dinosaurs hanging from the ceiling can be sent crashing down, aquatic display cases shattered and the cascading water deployed as a weapon. My personal favourite was to cut out the middle man and just slice through the supports of the upper levels and crush enemies with the falling debris. It’s really very well done and you’ll have a lot of fun exploding curiously placed red barrels and blowing out entire sections of wall to finish off a trickier fight.Taking the fight to the enemy
From the moment a level begins to the second it ends, you are almost always embroiled in a fight with the enemy. The enemies put up a fair fight, but none of them are too strenuous once your learn their tricks and tells. Sadly you’ll have plenty of time to do so as there isn’t a wide variety of enemies you’ll take on during the game. Excluding ‘mini-bosses’, you’ll face off against something like six or seven enemies in standard gameplay across those ten hours of campaign we discussed earlier. With the mini-bosses, it’s probably around ten in total. Given that enemies attack in endless hordes until you take down the ‘wombs’ that spew forth the devils spawn, you’ll be mighty sick of them by the time you finish the game. It’s a real shame and I feel there’s more that could have been done here to hold your attention. It seems as though overwhelming the player with quantity and not variety was the order of the day here. There’s a fairly transparent system in place too, with ‘devil doors’ blocking your progress from a room until all enemies have been killed. Upon entering the room you’ll often encounter the weakest of the enemies, followed by the intermediate, the difficult, and the gun-toting. If it’s a key room, perhaps a mini-boss will drop by before you’re allowed to pass. It’s not a broken system per se, but it doesn’t feel great in the last levels when you’re facing the same array of demons yet again.Trading blows
When you’re fighting, you will lose a limb or be reduced to a rolling head a lot. It’s really neat to see Bryce adapt to his handicap as he pogos around the room on one leg, or adopts a brutal backhand with the sword to compensate for the loss of his left arm. Bryce is so adept at this that quite often you won’t even realise you’re down one leg and an arm until you see the incredibly handy on screen indicator, which shows a yellow spot pointing to the misplaced body part. Rebellion Games really thought this part through and the loss of ability/power is just about perfectly balanced, allowing you to fight your way out of a tight spot and chase down the limb. A simple ‘combat roll’ over the limb with B reattaches it instantly, and away you go. If the limb is totally lost, or eaten by a Grandbaby (more on this shortly) you can wait for your power to hit its peak, as shown by an on screen indicator, and instantly regrow all Bryce’s missing parts, during which time you’re briefly invincible. As Bryce is pushed by Arcadia to try more things as the campaign moves along, you’ll discover you can equip a gun to your right arm, tear it off and lob it into the battle, firing the gun as if the arm were still attached. For maximum fun attach a grenade launcher to the dismembered arm. That’s a fearsome combination! I really enjoyed this feature, and a supporting achievement encourages players to use it as often as they can.
To pick up on that earlier point, yes limbs can be eaten by one kind of enemy in particular! They’re always present in the fight, like a nagging vermin waiting for their moment to steal a victory. They can deal you no damage otherwise, but the second a limb is dropped they’ll pounce on it and attempt to digest it before you can knock it free of them and reattach it. This is one of the only ways in which Bryce can be beaten; if you’re reduced to a lonesome head rolling around in search of the missing pieces these critters will suck you in and attempt to stomach you. You have a chance at escape by timing a button press to hit an escape window and be hurled outwards. You’ll sometimes be required to detach your head deliberately by pressing LB and RB and throwing it up to a unreachable location, then regenerating once you’re there. There were some fun little mazes in air vents and such, but I feel this was underused throughout the game and I would have liked to have seen a few more of these kinds of plays.
The dismemberment system works well, but for me there were only two issues with this system. Firstly is when Bryce is reduced to a rolling head. You can reattach yourself to your torso by approaching your severed neck, but it HAS to be just right. That’s a complete nuisance if your crumpled torso has fallen to its knees making bouncing on the bleeding stem a very difficult task in itself, never mind the dozens of enemies battering your poor head around as if they were flippers in a pinball machine. The second issue is the frequency with which you can fall apart. In the most furious of battles you’ll reattach your head only to suffer the indignity of being immediately blasted apart again. It’s not a deal breaker, but sometimes you find yourself pleading for a chance to get back in the action and get some momentum going again.The AAA - AI, attributes and achievements
OK, so you’ll be torn asunder more often than not and you’ll spend a lot of time having a blast with just one arm to fight with, but what about your partner Arcadia? If she dies it’s game over. The biggest blessing is the fact that Arcadia can take a massive beating. Her AI is largely par-for-the-course; she won’t astound with you any great feats of combat prowess, nor will she ever really knowingly aid you. She will, however, take her blows and bullets like a hero and I was required to revive her probably less than a dozen times throughout the whole campaign. To this end, it’s a big win for NeverDead
. Why some games burden us with the thickest and most vulnerable of partners is a mystery. Rebellion thankfully toughened her up, and this girl soldiers on like a champ.
Perhaps one of the best things about NeverDead is the XP you will earn and find dotted across levels in collectible form. Bank enough XP and you can equip some pretty nice upgrades to Bryce. An extra 60% enemy damage from environmental damage? Melee weapons power increase? Two target reticules condensed into one? There’s a LOT on offer here upgrade wise, but as you can only equip a small number at once until your slots are full, you’ll have to make some tough decisions and trade offs to suit your style of play. Thankfully the system supports hot switching, so at a moments notice you can hit ‘back’ and re-equip a preferred load out for a boss fight, or to harness the power of the environment for example. There’s plenty to unlock, and it will take some time to manage this (and the associated achievement), but you can easily unlock half of them in one playthrough so you’ve plenty to choose from for your second campaign run through on hardcore. Think of it as a New Game+ style approach. Your skills, XP and attributes carry over, so a first playthrough on normal is advised. If you want to be a hero though, I can confirm that difficulty based achievements DO stack.
Finally, on the note of achievements, what are we looking at here in terms of difficulties and ratios? I picked up around 460GS after one playthrough of the campaign on normal. With a little bit of mopping up this could be brought up to around 600GS. Throw in some multiplayer and some not *too* time consuming XP harvesting to unlock all abilities and this one is certainly looking favourable for completion for you score addicts out there. Unfortunately, I have to refrain from comment on the multiplayer as I was unable to find any other reviewers to join up with during my time spent with the title.The final verdict?
is a fun romp, with sprawling and frenzied fights. Whilst the enemies and tactics may not be hugely varied throughout, the massive customisation options and XP system is very rewarding and ultimately manage to draw you back into the game for 'just one more checkpoint'.
In a campaign that doesn't set out for 'most original plot', there are a few moments that stand out from the rest of the gameplay. You'll soon find that the title details what is required of the player early on in the game, and does little to shake things up or increase the tempo throughout the campaign. For a new IP, it perhaps plays a little too safe and doesn’t take enough risks.
You'll get at least
two play-throughs out of this, with a probable third for collectibles and missed achievements. The 'hardcore' difficulty setting will prove a challenge worthy of your new found upgrades and skills but it's one which, with a little patience, you will be able to manage. Throw multiplayer challenges on top of this and you'll be looking at enough play time within the game to justify laying down your money.