Rebellion has been around a long time; even before their big Atari Jaguar hit Aliens vs. Predator they had been a name in the industry.
After the PSX generation the developer made a couple of flawed gems/underrated masterpieces. The first was Sniper Elite, a brilliant sniper game that has never been rivalled. The level of detail in the game mechanics combined favourably with the fact that it was fun to play as an American soldier infiltrating Berlin as the Russians invaded, engaging in constant cat-and-mouse games with other soldiers as you sought out your target whilst using every trick in your repertoire to thwart any pursuers alerted by your shots. There has been no game quite like it. The second was Rogue Trooper: based on the 2000AD comic book character of the same name, the game tried to meld different types of game play – stealth, out and out shooting and crowd control – with a solid set of gadgets. It also featured a horde mode before horde modes existed.
After this Rebellion disappeared into the PSP wastelands; they promised to make top quality games on that handheld and pretty much failed. A major return to console happened with the dismal Rogue Warrior and the pretty average Aliens vs. Predator.
Now they bring us NeverDead, a game that harkens back to the inventiveness of their first AVP title and Rogue Trooper.
You play as Bryce, an immortal who cannot be killed, and the game revolves most of its core mechanics around the fact that the protagonist is impossible to kill. I was expecting something similar to Knights Contract at first, but unlike the tank character in that game Bryce tends to fall apart at the slightest hint of violence… literally.
Arms, legs and head can be separated in a humorous manner. Enemies will run off with severed arms as these appendages fire their still-gripped weapons, and Bryce’s head will roll around while you guide him like a little Katamari back to his body before collecting his missing limbs. At other points you will wilfully remove your head to solve puzzles and detach arms to use as an explosive device or as a decoy for one of the larger enemies.
Aside from this gimmick NeverDead also employs a dual combat system. You can wield two guns at the same time and engage enemies from a distance, with the usual assortments of pistols, sub-machineguns, automatic rifles, shotguns etc. You can also switch to a sword and get in close; the game uses an interesting combat system similar to Obi-Wan and Alone in the Dark where you have to flick the right stick from one direction to another to perform strikes, allowing players to string together fluid swipes back and forth.
Refusing to rest on its laurels the game ensures that these aren’t the only weapons at your disposal. Most of the environment is destructible, allowing you to tactically drop pillars on enemies or collapse ceilings on would-be pursuers.
There is also a canny upgrade system that allows you to pick and choose from a selection of abilities (like the aforementioned combustible limbs) and buffs to improve your performance. Wisely, Rebellion has allowed the player to change these on the fly, meaning that you never find yourself upgraded in a fashion that does not suit the situation.
The problem is that Rebellion seem to have been so excited about the sheer number of features at your disposal, with all the interesting possibilities appearing in short bursts, that none of them are cohesive enough to make the game particularly good.
The ‘hilarious’ nature in which Bryce is amputated is entertaining the first few times it happens. However, the game delights in infinitely spawning enemies that can reduce you to giblets in seconds and it becomes tedious to have to roll your head over to wherever the game decided to ragdoll your body for the umpteenth time, only for something to rip you apart almost instantly and have you loop through that same routine again.
The deformable terrain as a weapon is a nice idea and there are some great moments where you will catch an explosive barrel that triggers a chain reaction of collapsing masonry that devastates enemies and looks impressive in the process. The problem is that this mechanic is far too unpredictable, as not everything can be destroyed in every area and the bits that can be are not signposted particularly well. Planning carnage ahead of time is rare unless you have already played the section before and know which bits break and which rooves cave-in.
That said, you are likely to become quite familiar with some levels after you have to replay sections multiple times due to the fact that Bryce isn’t as invulnerable as you are first led to believe. I’m not sure why Rebellion thought it was a good idea but someone decided that while reduced to a head, your most sluggish form, it would be possible to get swallowed by creatures called ‘grandbabies’ and if you fail a mini-game while ingested the game over screen appears. These little vermin spawn for as long as there are enemies in whatever combat arena you might be in. This fact, coupled with the frequency with which Bryce finds himself an ambulatory cranium, can lead to a massive amount of irritation.
The combat also suffers from not being fully thought out. The ranged combat is initially too feeble to be relied on and the melee is too finicky for the kind of scenarios you find yourself in. The sword combat might have worked if there were fewer, more powerful enemies that needed to be engaged with well-timed slices. Instead you will frequently find the screen teeming with creatures and have to resort to cheap, frantic slices and then exploiting enemy path finding problems to keep yourself intact.
NeverDead seems to be a victim of its own ingenuity, with too many ideas and not enough of them trimmed down and streamlined to make an enjoyable whole. I can’t help but feel it would have been a better game if they had taken just two of the multitude of ideas on display and got them into a working game with an enjoyable experience around it.
Instead NeverDead is a missed opportunity, a potentially special game with plenty of little moments that some developer (possibly Rebellion themselves) should take inspiration from and incorporate into a better game.
Despite how negative I have been, amid all of the muddied, half-baked mechanics in this game there are still hints of what Rebellion are capable of. Who knows, under the right circumstances and with the right publisher this development team could still shine.