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E3 2011: NeverDead Preview

23 Jun 2011  by   Paul Younger
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In the early 90s, Tyco Toys had a line of action figures based on the mannequins used in vehicle crash testing. These Crash Test Dummies had a couple of buttons on them, that when pressed would send their limbs flying off in all directions. I imagine these toys were supposed to have some kind of traffic safety awareness purpose, but mostly it was just fun to pop their arms and legs off.

NeverDead follows the same concept, with added demons and over the top voice acting.

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In this third person title, you are Bryce. Bryce is immortal, thanks to a slightly confusing backstory in which he tried to defeat the Demon King five hundred years ago and lost. Rather than being killed, he was rendered immortal (which seems more like a gift than a punishment to me, but maybe the game will expand on this). Since then, Bryce has carried on fighting demons. Which just goes to show that the whole immortality thing really was an ineffective punishment.

E3 revealed just how this immortality gimmick is going to play out, by positioning Bryce outside a looming stately home (it later transpires this is a museum) and has him mauled by a bullish devil-dog. This attack lops off his arm, which flops around on the floor but keeps firing off one of the guns that it’s possible to equip in each hand. That’s … unusual for a videogame.

Not only can Bryce easily ‘re-equip’ his arm by rolling over it, he can also opt to rip one off and use it as a rudimentary decoy. Those squat, bulky dog creatures with huge jaws (kind of like toothy versions of HoundEyes from Half-Life) are known as ‘puppies’. So they like to chase things. Such as arms. Once they’re bounding after the appendage, you can kill them at your leisure.

Unlike real life, dismemberment in NeverDead appears to give you a considerable advantage. Arms that you’ve ripped off will regrow eventually (such things are linked to an in-game timer) and you can even force your way through a locked gate by grabbing electric circuits and reconnecting them. Sure, it’ll blow your arms off, but that’s really no big deal. You can always kick any enemies who get too close until your limbs reappear.

The dismemberment mechanic extends to the ability to pull off your own head, with no small amount of effort, and toss it up to hard to reach places in order to collect items. During these sequences control switches to your head (presumably because that’s where the brain is), which rolls merrily around the place while Bryce’s body has a bit of a lie down.

E3’s demo made it clear that there’ll be some light puzzling involved with this ability, as to gain access to the museum building it was necessary to toss Bryce’s head into a fountain and launch it inside. This leaves your lone head a touch vulnerable, and while you buy time to regenerate the rest of you (yes, you can regrow your entire body if necessary) it’s important to make use of some ‘headspin’ attacks to fend off nearby enemies who have a taste for five hundred year old face.

Inside the museum, things are just as weird. By hanging around near fuse boxes (so much of this game will need a ‘don’t attempt this in your workplace’ sticker) Bryce can become infused with electricity and use this as a weapon against demonic foes. Throughout this section, the limb dismemberment and attachment gets even more bizarre. At one point, Bryce’s head found itself stuck to a single leg and twitching around the place like a breakdancer on PCP. According to Konami, you may even find yourself controlling little more than a sad, lonely torso. Shades of Deus Ex, there.

If, for some joyless reason, you fancy fighting with basic weapons instead of bits of your own body, there are a selection of guns in the game too. E3 only had the submachine gun and handgun on offer, by apparently there’ll be grenade launchers and assault rifles too. Slightly more interesting than these is the Butterfly Blade which you wield using the right control stick on your controller of choice, making its attacks a bit more involved than simple button mashing. This sword has a limited range, but who knows, maybe later on you’ll be able to grasp it in a detached hand and throw it at someone.

Destructible environments will be present during certain segments too. There was quite a bit of this on show inside the museum, where it was possible to shoot upper level walkways down on top of hapless enemies. Bryce can get himself crushed by rubble too, but this isn’t too much of a problem to someone who’s immortal with detachable arms and legs. Support columns could also be brought tumbling down, but it’s not entirely clear at this stage just how much of the environment can be destroyed or how these pieces will be marked.

Developers Rebellion should be given credit for coming up with an original concept and running with it (hopefully not to the extent that its poor legs fall off). Eschewing a traditional health bar in favour of detachable limbs is an idea with a lot of potential, and it’s interesting to see that the mechanic will be used for both combat and progression through the game.

Rebellion insist that NeverDead is “”actually a very serious game”, which perhaps holds some water if you focus on the plight of Bryce and his five hundred years of having to buy new clothes every time his arm flies off. But the longer you watch footage of an attached head and arm twitch and snake their way across a virtual floor the less credible that statement feels.

Personally, I hope it’s as absurd as possible and able to sustain the strangeness beyond the central premise. NeverDead is due “this winter” on PS3 and Xbox 360.

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