Never Dead – E3 Preview

June 8, 2011 Written by Tyler Minarik

With Never Dead having an immortal protagonist, it immediately raised concerns for the possible effects on gameplay, but also piqued my curiosity about the results. My original skepticism about the concept after playing as another immortal character with a vulnerable AI side kick (see: Knights Contract) has been greatly alleviated since playing the E3 demo of the game, and raises hopes that more innovative ideas will be seen in the full game.

Our main character, Bryce Boltzmann, has long been a demon hunter and, after the unfortunate death of his wife and subsequent curse that rendered him immortal, we find him partnered with a woman named Arcadia. Our demo starts outside a museum, where Bryce and Arcadia are fighting their way through waves of minions towards an unknown goal. Little story line was revealed in the demo, but the gameplay mechanics were interesting enough to keep me playing for quite awhile. Bryce’s immortality allows him to be ripped literally limb from limb, and put himself back together again. Despite losing a leg or an arm, he never stops moving, and can keep shooting with one remaining arm while hopping around on his surviving leg, or having lost all limbs can flop around as just a torso (which is pretty funny to watch). Regaining limbs is simple. Each one is clearly marked with an indicator where it lies, and all one needs to do is dive roll over it to reattach it.

A couple very unique and innovative game mechanics are tied into the system of lost limbs. Bryce doesn’t necessarily need to be in battle to lose any. At any time holding either shoulder button on the controller causes him to rip off his corresponding arm, which can then be thrown across the room. Certain enemies, like some dog-like demon creatures, will chase after thrown arms and eat them up, and in a surprising twist tapping the corresponding shoulder button causes it to explode. Turning limbs into a bait bomb isn’t limited to ripped off arms, if an enemy causes Bryce to lose a leg or any other number of body parts, tapping the shoulder buttons causes them to combust, which can effectively eliminate a large group of enemies when timed right. Clicking in and holding the left analog will then cause any destroyed body parts to regenerate out of Bryce, making him ready to go with more combat. Bryce can also rip his own head off too, which for some sick reason makes me laugh, and that can also be thrown across the room. Bryce’s head is the one body part he needs to remain intact, so this is mostly useful for mobility, such as a part in the demo where throwing his head in a fountain launches it into the next building. The inclusion of this ability hints at more light puzzle elements to come, probably involving navigating as a rolling disembodied head, which is unique and humorous.

Bryce’s disembodied head is one of his two weaknesses in the game. Any time his head is knocked off the rest of his body, the player takes control of it, rolling around and trying to pick back up other body parts, or simply trying to regenerate them. During this time, enemies will try to run over and suck his head up, and if successful they digest it, resulting in a game over. Unfortunately for Bryce, he still lives when this happens, but as a pile of gunk in some demon’s digestive tract. His other weakness is his partner, Arcadia, but thankfully she actually serves as an asset in the game rather than a liability, as so often happens in these situations. Arcadia is equipped with a decently powerful gun with equally decent AI, and will dispatch enemies herself as you fight, and generally seems to know how to avoid massive clusters of dangerous enemies. If she does go down, Bryce can run over and revive her, which thankfully only takes a moment and doesn’t cause a very large break in the action. If for some reason Bryce is unable to resuscitate her though, it results in game over. At the moment, it seems like this won’t be much of an issue since she only went down twice in my play time, and I otherwise never paid attention to her location. Hopefully that remains true for the later and more difficult portions of the game, since I’m told that Arcadia will accompany Bryce for about 90% of the game.

Bryce also has access to a couple handy weapons. He starts off the demo with twin dual wielding pistols, but can also switch to sub-machine guns on the fly. What was much more interesting however was his sword, which is necessary for dispatching enemies who are highly resistant to bullets. Rather than simply tapping X or another arbitrary face button to swing the sword, its swings are controlled by flicking the right analog stick while locked onto an enemy. Holding the right analog in any direction cause Bryce to hold his sword that way and charge power, and flicking the stick in any other direction after cause him to swing in that direction. While this is nothing ground breaking, it does make melee attacks a little more fun and hectic to use while also giving a greater sense of control. Throughout all the battles I played much of the environment was destructible too, which proves to be a cool feature when toppling a pillar to have it crush enemies, or blowing up gas tanks that send massive chunks of stone flying across the room. In some of the more hectic battles this became as much of a detriment as an aid sometimes, since the rubble impeded mobility, which when also missing legs and arms can make it very difficult to maneuver the room.

I honestly didn’t have high hopes for Never Dead when I initially picked up the controller, but by the end of the demo I found it to be a humorous game that manages to mix up the often repetitive third person shooter genre with its unique twists. If the final game fleshes out with more weaponry, a good story line, and more witty use of Bryce’s limb lopping abilities, Rebellion Developments could have a real hit on their hands. Hints were dropped of a multiplayer mode being included too, although at this time they’re unsure of whether that will be cooperative or competitive. Either way, it looks like Never Dead will be a fun shooter with plenty to set it apart from the pack when it releases later this year.