Immortality has its drawbacks. Yes, you do get to live a life free from the health concerns that haunt mortal beings, but the rolling snowball of past regret can incapacitate you in your day-to-day living. Outstanding gifts rarely exist without some drawback, and that frustrating dichotomy is exhibited in NeverDead. Like Bryce, its perpetually living protagonist, NeverDead has abundant strengths. A number of unique elements urge you to continue playing to see how this demon-hunting tale concludes. But the pieces fail to fit together, which results in a rocky adventure in which exciting highs are frequently interrupted by maddening lows. Uneven as it may be, if you can brave the agonizing setbacks, NeverDead delivers enough riveting successes to keep you invested.
Five centuries ago, a man named Bryce Boltzman was born. Through a variety of supernatural events, he was transformed from an ordinary man into an immortal demon hunter. When you live so long that all of the people you love have passed away, finding motivation to carry on is the most difficult challenge of all. Bryce hides his overwhelming bitterness with repetitive jokes that lack the acerbic wit or incisive criticism to make him an enjoyable character. His mortal partner, Arcadia Maximille, is devoid of personality. So though these two characters spend most of the game together, an engaging bond fails to develop. In fact, Arcadia's purpose is unclear. Because she can die, it makes little sense that she tags along with Bryce in his demon-hunting missions, and she frequently needs to be rescued since she's susceptible to the monsters’ snarling attacks. It's an odd pairing, and though there are brief flashes of heartfelt emotion, most of the time the heroes exist as either passive participants or minor annoyances.
The action is able to compensate for the poor cast, at least when it's running on all cylinders. On a superficial level, NeverDead is a typical third-person shooter. Though there aren't any cover elements (nor is there a need for them), the moment-to-moment action is fairly predictable. You have an arsenal of standard guns--pistols, automatics, and the like--and mow down enemies in a variety of predictable locales with equally predictable level design. Corridors lead into courtyards where fights erupt, and the flow continues in this manner until the ending credits roll. Aiming at your foes while running around arenas works well enough, though it's hardly noteworthy. As a pure shooter, NeverDead is functional though nowhere near as exciting as its more prestigious peers. Thankfully, there's much more to this game than tired tropes.
As the title of the game implies, Bryce cannot be killed. However, though neither pain nor death causes him fear, he can still be put out of commission by his abundant enemies. Attacks cause his arms, legs, and even head to pop cleanly from his body, and in your dismembered form, you have to scour the playing field to reassemble those pieces. Obviously, your actions are affected by what part of your body is removed. If, for instance, you lose your left leg to a ravaging puppy, Bryce mutters about his absent appendage while hopping around one-legged. Losing an arm is handled in an even more interesting way. Once disarmed, you can no longer aim your reticle at those attacking you, but because you still have control over your fingers, you can spray bullets wildly from wherever your arm is currently located. This is particularly useful if an enemy is gnawing on your fleshy forearm.
If you sustain enough damage, or the enemy lands a clean shot at your neck, you wind up as just a head rolling around. In this form, you can perform a speed roll to travel quickly, but you're pretty much helpless against demonic spawn. You need to quickly locate your torso so you can reattach yourself (assuming you maneuver to your neck stump, which is rather tricky during a chaotic fight) and then round up your legs and arms. If you wait a few moments or nab a power-up, you can regenerate instantly. However, if you fail to find the rest of your body, you can be hit with an abrupt Game Over. There are only two fail states in NeverDead. As a head, you can be eaten by a creature, and if you're too slow to perform a simple minigame, you end up in its belly forever. Otherwise, the only way you can fail is if your partner falls in battle and you don't resurrect her quickly enough. Neither of these situations happens often, so you don't have to worry much about passing into the afterlife.
Implementing challenge in a game without death is no easy feat, and it's when developer Rebellion tries to ramp up the difficulty that things take a turn for the worse. Reassembling your body after being dismembered can be a frustration because enemies are apt to repeatedly attack your prone form before you have time to move out of the way. Watching helplessly as your head gets battered around levels is a serious problem, especially when you have to perform a time-sensitive action. Navigation is also clunky. You can destroy the environment to hurt enemies, which serves as an inventive and satisfying strategy. However, battlegrounds get so cluttered with physics-enabled junk that getting around, either by walking on your legs or rolling as a head, is extremely finicky. This is compounded by a petulant camera that sticks on every object and wall you come across. Although you rarely fall in battle, fights often become tedious affairs because simple actions are hampered in so many ways that they fail to coalesce into satisfying action.